Friday, September 10, 2010

Keira Knightley – Movies Spotlight – September 2010

Keira Knightley, best known for Pirates of the Caribbean, is both a super star A-lister and a very good dramatic actress. Her new film, Never Let Me Go, is this month’s must see, a dystopian story based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s book. It is directed by Mark Romanek, written by Alex Garland and has a fantastic cast with Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. The film is being hailed as a potential Best Picture nod and Knightley for a supporting nod. She may be best known for her blockbusters, but it is her work in smaller more serious films that sets her apart as an elite young actress.

Early Career:

Knightley was essentially born and raised to be an actor. Her parents are award-winning playwright Sharman MacDonald and theatre and TV actor Will Knightley. As a young girl, her drama teacher was the gifted Ian McShane (Al Swearengen in HBO’s Deadwood). She got her start acting in local amateur productions, among them pieces written by her mother and McShane. She had her first talent agent at the age of six and appeared in a number of made-for-TV movies in the mid to late 90’s. Then, George Lucus cast her in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as Pademe Amidala’s decoy due to her striking resemblance to Natalie Portman (when in full make up, even their mothers could not tell the different between them). With a blockbuster on her resume, even though she is barely in it, she next starred as Robin Hood’s daughter in Disney’s Princess of Thieves, only to follow it up with the almost anti-Disney thriller The Hole. She also appeared in a few TV miniseries – Coming Home (with Peter O’Toole), Oliver Twist and the TV adaptation of Doctor Zhivago. While Doctor Zhivago was critically mixed, the ratings where high elevating her status as an actress and star. But her big breakthrough role came in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, a soccer centered film in which she co-stars as a top youth player who befriends the protagonist and opens her eyes to a whole new world. The film did well in the UK but more importantly was exported and did decent numbers in US theaters. With a couple hits in her pocket, Knightley was just one film away from stardom.

International Stardom:

The success of Doctor Zhivago and Bend It Like Beckham made a name for Knightley as the UK’s next “it girl”. And the timing could not be better as casting was underway for Disney’s new flagship franchise – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Having worked with Disney before and her recent rise in the UK gave her a foothold and she won the role as Elizabeth Swann. The film was a massive hit internationally, both among critics and at the box office and catapulted Knightley into worldwide fame. Suddenly she was on magazines and had the media all over her. Capitalizing on her fame and success she next made (the equivalent to a British blockbuster) Love Actually, written and directed by Richard Curtis. Though, she had one of the smaller major roles (if you can call it that) in the film. She also took a role in Jerry Bruckheimer’s (who also produced Pirates of the Caribbean) new blockbuster for Disney, King Arthur (the film is not great, but underrated and has a wonderful cast; the director’s cut is much better than the theatrical). While the film did ok at the box office and not too well critically, Knightley was able to beef up her horse-riding and sword fighting skills (a stunt woman working with Knightley commented that if she did not make it in acting, she certainly had a career in stunt work, as she was the best among all the actors on the Pirates films at sword fighting and stunt work). While she had attained fame and Hollywood recognition, critics denounced her as nothing more than a pretty face, a remark that was not helped by her next two films – The Jacket, a poorly received psychological thriller, and Domino, a biopic about a female bounty hunter (considered her biggest flop) – both of which were neither critical nor box office successes.

Serious Actress:

With 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, Knightley proved herself and (for the moment at least) silenced her critics, as she was astonishing as Elizabeth Bennet in Joe Wright’s film landing her an Academy Award nomination. She carried herself well, portraying the character as intelligent and strong, yet vulnerable (it is probably her best film and performance to date). She took the next two years to film the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, both of which were huge international successes. Knightley has since left blockbuster films behind, not appearing in the upcoming fourth film On Stranger Tides, in favor of better female roles and more serious work. In 2007, she reunited with Joe Wright to star in Atonement (winner of 2008’s BAFTA for Best Film), which garnered her a BAFTA nomination, many thinking she also deserved an Academy Award nod for the performance. Following Atonement, she starred in a number of small period pieces – the poorly received Silk, The Edge of Love (written by her mother) and The Duchess, a Victorian era biopic about the Duchess of Devonshire which was a modest hit for Paramount Vantage. Knightley decided to take a break from film acting, be it a short one as she has a whole slew of films upcoming, to try her hand on stage in London opposite Damian Lewis (obligatory you should watch Band of Brothers plug). Critics predicted failure for her as Jennifer (Celimene) in Moliere’s The Misanthrope, a supporting role, but she was quite good accumulating praise as well as a Laurence Olivier Award nomination, once again defying her detractors.

Upcoming Projects:

Along with this month’s Never Let Me Go, Knightley has two other films that could potentially make it into theaters this year, but certainly next – Last Night and London Boulevard. Last Night, directed by Massy Tadjedin, is about marriage, love and temptation as both spouses are tested, apart for a night – the husband by an attractive co-worker and the wife by an old flame. The film co-stars Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet. London Boulevard is the directorial debut for acclaimed Oscar-winning writer William Monahan. It is about a criminal who falls in love with a reclusive young movie star, finding himself in a duel with a vicious gangster. It co-stars Colin Farrell. Also upcoming (2011 and beyond), Knightley has a role opposite Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, a film about Sabina Spielrein, a psychoanalyst who works with Sigmund Freud and predominately Carl Jung. In 2012, she has two films scheduled. First, Seeking a Friend at the End of the World about a man who takes a road trip to find his high school sweetheart as a asteroid approaches Earth. It stars Steve Carell; Knightley plays a neighbor that accompanies him, putting a wrench in his plans. Second, she stars in Joe Wright's adaptation of Anne Karenina. Other projects in development include The Emperor’s Children which she co-stars with Eric BanaMichelle Williams and Richard Gere. It is directed by Noah Baumbach’s and is a comedy about three upper-crust ivy-league educated people who are expected to do great things who are about to turn thirty and are still struggling to live up to the expectations that envelop them. It is set in NYC in the three months surrounding September 11, 2001. Finally, she is slated to be in Tender Is the Night, a film about a husband and wife who lead a glamorous life on the French Riviera hiding the darkness that shrouds their relationship. The film has no director attached, but is to co-star Matt Damon. Suffice to say, she has a lot of really interesting stuff on the way, working with great directors.

Keira Knightley Selected Career Highlights:

1.)          Bend It Like Beckham (2002) – supporting [DVD]
2.)          PotC: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – lead [Blu-ray/DVD]*
3.)          Love Actually (2003) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD]
4.)          King Arthur (2004) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD]
5.)          Pride & Prejudice (2005) – lead [Blu-ray/DVD]*
6.)          PotC: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – lead [Blu-ray/DVD]*
7.)          PotC: At World’s End (2007) – lead [Blu-ray/DVD]
8.)          Atonement (2008) – lead [Blu-ray/DVD]*
9.)          The Duchess (2009) – lead [Blu-ray/DVD]
10.)   Never Let Me Go (2010) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD]*

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