A new era for Keira: Keira Knightley on her Chanel wedding dress and Sky Sports addiction
Published 17/03/2014 | 12:41
Keira Knightley is the face that launched a thousand period dramas.
She is the pouting star of all those super-cinematic Coco Mademoiselle adverts that somehow seem out of place wedged, as they are, in the breaks between Coronation Street.
She is irritatingly beautiful, stupidly cut-glass, and she was nominated for an Oscar by the time she was 20. And, because she plays the corseted heroine so very often, I imagine that in real life she must also be a bit, well, hoity-toity.
To get to her, I must jump on the Eurostar to Paris, walk to the Place Vendôme and try to persuade the suited security men who stand guard at the Chanel Fine Jewellery boutique to open the door for me. So far, so hoity-toity.
Once inside, I must marvel, magpie-like, at the dripping diamonds, before being shown to a sumptuous gold room full of lamps shaped like Chanel No 5 bottles, where I must wait for my audience with La Knightley. The words of another journalist ring in my ears. "I interviewed her once and didn't warm to her at all."
Suddenly I am inside a cavernous showroom with commanding views of the Ritz. There, nestled inconspicuously on a corner sofa drinking a cup of tea, is a woman pretending to be Keira Knightley. She's not as glamorous as I thought she would be. I mean, she's beautiful, certainly, but in a low-key way.
She is wearing a jumper and skirt and some loafers, and she is smiling widely and… swearing! Like a trooper. The man who creates perfumes for Chanel is, she says, "f- extraordinary", while later she will tell me that her mother's assessment of Breaking Bad as hysterically funny is "the most f--up thing in the world. I mean, it's just so f- dark."
Then there's her opinion of the Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville (if you are wondering how we got on to this topic, stay with us). "He is just f- amazing! Absolutely f- amazing! His commentary…" She is momentarily lost for words, shaking her head almost in disbelief. "Well, it's just amazing. He's amazing. They've added loads of other [pundits] alongside him now, but I preferred it when it was pure Gary Neville."
Does Gary Neville know that Keira Knightley loves him? "No!" She looks embarrassed.
"Football is basically the reason I got a television. I didn't have one before, because I didn't know where I was going to be, so there was no point. And I got hounded by the TV licence people. I'm like, 'I don't have a f- TV licence because I don't have a TV! Please come in and see that I don't have one!' But now I have one because it was getting ridiculous watching football on the laptop."
She supports West Ham and has been to see them play but she prefers to watch on television so that she can hear the dulcet tones of Mr Neville. "Oh, and I love Masterchef. It makes me cry. Oh my God, it's just so f- emotional. It means so much to them. I get to the end and I weep. I just f- love it."
Keira Christina Knightley was born 28 years ago in south-west London, the daughter of Will Knightley, an actor, and Sharman Macdonald, a playwright. The young Keira asked for an agent at the age of three, though she tells me that this was mostly because "everyone in the house seemed to have one, so I thought I should too. I don't think I actually knew what an agent was."
Still, she had one by the age of six, when she started doing small television roles and commercials. Her mother and father weren't pushy parents desperate for her to become a child star - on the contrary, they saw it as a way for Keira to stay in school. "I'm dyslexic and obviously I found reading and writing really difficult," she says now. "When they found out I wanted to act they used it as a carrot to dangle in front of me. If I kept up my grades at school, I'd be allowed to go up for auditions."
After endless appearances on shows such as The Bill, she was cast in the teen thriller The Hole, before getting her big break in Bend It Like Beckham. Although she became famous playing a footballer, she is now best known for wearing crinolines and corsets, in everything from The Pirates of the Caribbean to Anna Karenina, The Duchess to Pride & Prejudice (her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet winning her an Oscar nomination in 2005). But she is trying to move away from the costume dramas.
The director Joe Wright, a dear friend with whom she has worked often, recently shot her in an advert for the domestic violence charity Women's Aid, which was so graphic it was banned from television. Knightley played a young woman repeatedly punched to the floor by her boyfriend and had to wear protective padding for filming. "I thought, 'I'm sorry, you have violence like this on television every single f- night, why are you banning this?' I mean, it's horrific, but when you think about what you see on TV, it's nothing out of the ordinary."
She loves Joe Wright. The first thing he did when they met was tell her off for pouting. "He allowed me a little bit in Atonement, because the character was kind of an ice queen, and I was allowed in Anna Karenina because she's a vain beast, but certainly not in Pride & Prejudice." He does allow her in the Coco Mademoiselle ad campaigns, in which he directs her (they have just completed their third). "Oh yeah, he definitely lets me pout a lot in those. But that's the great thing about shooting with Joe - we have shorthand. I know what he likes and vice versa."
And now there's her first blockbuster thriller, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which she calls her "popcorn movie. It was really fun. The main reason I did it was Kenneth Branagh, who was directing. I'm a huge fan of his. Much Ado About Nothing was my favourite film when I was about 10. I wore through the video and my mum had to buy me a new one. So when you get a call from someone who has been that big in your childhood, you just have to go, 'Yeah, all right.'"
Next up is Can A Song Save Your Life?, in which she stars as a singer alongside Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. She did all the vocals, "and I think they are perfectly passable for the film", she says with a laugh, but refuses to give me a burst. "No f- way!" Then there will be Laggies, in which she plays a woman suffering from a quarter-life crisis, who "randomly" befriends a 16-year-old girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) after her boyfriend proposes to her "and she has a bit of a freak-out".
Knightley seems to be embarking on the next period of her life. She tells me that her dyslexia made her "very single-minded" about what she wanted, but that "I'm feeling rather a lack of it [being single-minded] now. It's not there as much, which isn't because I think I've achieved everything I want to. It's just because life changes. I'm looking at life around me, at other s-."
Last summer she married James Righton of the indie band The Klaxons. She wore a Chanel dress (of course) that she already owned. "Karl [Lagerfeld] very kindly designed me a jacket to go with it. I'd worn the dress lots. It was my something old. And I liked not making a big deal about it. I just wanted to be in something I had had a great time in, something I would have a great time in again.
"It's now got red wine spilled down the front because the last time I wore it my friend went like this" - she juts out her elbows - "and now it's everywhere. I didn't quite realise the extent of it until I got home. It's quite impressively splattered. But, hey, a good night is a good night and when a dress has had its time, maybe it's had its time. I'm pretty sure I can get it out but, if I can't, I'm happy with the memory of a good night and the story of how the dress got destroyed."
Doesn't she want to pass it down to a daughter, if she has one? "I don't know," she says, scrunching up her nose. "I'm not sure I'm into that. Can you imagine, say, your daughter is a different shape or she doesn't like it, and all of a sudden you're giving her pressure of wearing your dress?"
She and Righton live in London but were married in France. She likes it here. "I really love Paris. It took me years to get my head around it but now I've found all these little pockets. It's also a city that I've been on my own in quite a lot, but here you can be a woman on your own, walking around, eating alone, and not feel threatened. I love that about a city. I love that here I feel incredibly private and protected. There are privacy laws. Which doesn't stop photographers always, but it does at least give you a legal right to say, 'Don't follow me.'"
She doesn't really dig the whole fame thing, which perhaps accounts for why people see her as a bit lofty and aloof.
She writes a lot, but destroys it all, "because I think once your creative thing becomes public, you want something in your private life that is entirely yours, something that is absolutely not for anything other than your own enjoyment. There is no way I would ever put it out there - my acting is out there, and I don't need anything else out there. I mean, I very much value what is private to me, yeah, definitely. I don't know if the writing is any good, and it probably isn't, but that's not really the point."
Knightley says that the reason she loves working for Chanel is because "I get to dress up as somebody different. When I'm on the red carpet, it's, 'Oooh, who am I going to be tonight?' And I like that, I think that's quite fun. A couple of times the archive stuff has been made available to me, though it doesn't always work because sometimes other people have bagsied the dress." Surely she gets precedence? She laughs. "I don't think I do over American Vogue!"
For the photographs for the new Coco Mademoiselle campaign she wore a Chanel jacket with her own dungarees.
"I love dungarees. I'm a massive fan of them. I wear the dungarees so much that I've now got three pairs, because it was getting to the point where I was like, 'You have to wash them, Keira.' And I'm really into Doc Martens at the moment. I think I've decided to become my eight-year-old self again, because when I was eight that was all that I wore - dungarees and Doc Martens."
Our time overlooking the Place Vendôme is coming to an end. Knightley holds up her Chanel clutch and smiles.
"I broke this the other day," she says. "I was having lunch with a friend and she refused to let me pay. She wouldn't let me pay for lunch, so instead she grabbed my Chanel bag off me and broke it." She lets out an infectious giggle. Broken designer handbags, wine-splattered wedding dresses, a love of football commentators? Not so hoity-toity after all, then.