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KEIRA Knightley's life has played out in front of the public for well over a decade. As a teenager in the limelight, she came across, perhaps unsurprisingly, as awkward.

KEIRA Knightley's life has played out in front of the public for well over a decade. As a teenager in the limelight, she came across, perhaps unsurprisingly, as awkward.

Then she was perceived as stand-offish as she dated the British actor Rupert Friend and spurned the media, perhaps unsurprisingly given that every night she would return home and find paparazzi on her doorstep.

Now, at 29, Knightley appears more comfortable, both in her performances and in herself. Her marriage to the Klaxons guitarist James Righton has seen the paparazzi drift away: domestic bliss and avoiding the party circuit just don't sell very well.

She says that marriage hasn't changed her relationship much: "Is there a difference between being boyfriend and girlfriend and marriage? No."

JEALOUSY

Pragmatic about love, she says: "The romance, companionship and great sex, these are the things that we are sold.

"The negative side is not looked at enough; love as jealousy, neurosis, as pain, it's all a massive part of what that emotion is."

This month she stars in two films, Say When and The Imitation Game. Say When sees Knightley play Megan, an aimless 28-year-old who lives in Seattle, has no career path, and feels pressure to marry her boyfriend because that's what all of her friends are doing.

She couldn't be more unlike Knightley, so the actress had to look to her own peer group for inspiration.

"I definitely based her on a couple of mates of mine who were having that kind of floating can't-decide-what-to-do. That's actually a thing right now where jobs are meant to be vocational, and it puts a hell of a lot of pressure on people.

"You don't just have to earn a living, you have to enjoy what you do. I liked that side of her."

For a long time Knightley didn't enjoy what she did very much. When I interviewed her in 2012, for Anna Karenina, she said: "You're never going to make something that everybody loves, and if you're someone like me who is always looking for an A at school, it's like the dangling carrot in front of you that you are never going to get.

"I think that I'm going to be incredibly proud of myself when I've given up trying to get the A and just enjoy it. I think the problem in acting is that even if you win an Oscar, there is always going to be someone who hates that performance and if you read that, then there goes the A."

Two years on, she seems far more at ease with herself. Playing someone who doesn't want to fit into boxes and conform is a pleasure for her.

"I don't think I ever was a teenager..." she admits. "I was always quite embarrassed by it."

Knightley has now discovered the type of jobs she likes to do - and they're not blockbusters. Rather, they are roles that allow her to get on with acting, not cutting her performances around special effects or heavily stylised set-pieces.

"It's really difficult to piece them all together and keep that level of emotion when you're doing it 15 times because the focus is going through one part of a mirror and another," she argues.

Say When is a departure for her. "It is the first romantic comedy proper.

"It's a funny genre because it's one that I haven't really connected with. I think it's because we have been in a period where there are so many perfectly polished, plastic cut-outs of people.

"When you go back to When Harry Met Sally, that era, they weren't perfect. They're more like characters that are having problems."

The Imitation Game sees her play cryptanalyst Joan Clarke, who worked at Bletchley Park as part of the team trying to crack the Enigma code.

FUN

"It's so much fun isn't it?" beams Knightley. It is. This is the family-friendly version of the story, Turing's homosexuality is not shown, and much is made of Clarke's battle with her own family over going out to work and the reasons why she may have wanted to marry Turing, even after she knew him to be gay.

"There have been quite a few liberties taken, it's a drama not a documentary. Joan Clarke died in the Nineties, and quite a bit of her story has been altered somewhat from the truth."

Say When and The Imitation Game are in cinemas now PLUS: George Byrne's view: P37


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