Keira Knightley Discusses Sex Scenes and Hysterical Fits for her Role in ‘A Dangerous Method’

There are no pirates or Jane Austen romances to be found in A Dangerous Method (2011), a film about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the fathers of psychoanalysis. Jung has a romantic relationship with his patient Sabina Spielrein played by Keira Knightley, who is brought to the mental institution where Jung works.

When asked by Yahoo! if she had ever considered studying psychology, she said, “No … there are a lot of parallels in acting. You are trying to understand the world from a different point of view without judging it. Looking at it from a psychological point of view is something you do naturally as an actor anyway.”

When Knightley’s character is admitted to a mental institution she experiences hysteria and fits: “That’s the tricky thing, when you are reading a script that says, ‘has a hysterical fit, ravished by tics’. And you go, ‘OK, what does that mean? And what do you mean a tic?’ So really, a lot of the reading was based on trying to get descriptions of tics and trying to understand what that was.”  Knightley sat in her bathroom and worked on crafting her hysteria before showing it off to the director: “I wanted it to be shocking, because what was going on internally (for Sabina) was shocking. I just thought, I wanted to reflect that externally as much as possible, so I literally sat in my bathroom pulling faces at myself until I came up with this jaw thing. And I thought, ‘Well that looks vaguely demonic,’ and then I got on Skype with David (Cronenberg) and I had about two or three ideas and he went, ‘That one.’”

What attracted her to the role? Knightley responded by saying, “As far as a role, every actor wants a role like this. It sounds perverse to say it’s fun, but it’s so interesting. Trying to understand that, to get into that point of view. Particularly if it’s a filmmaker like David Cronenberg. I would have had serious reservations playing an hysteric with a director whose work I didn’t admire as much has him.”

Director Cronenberg has been known for his explicit filmmaking. At first Knightley wanted to turn down the role because of the sex scenes, but explains how she came to accepting them:

“They are always difficult and they are always exposed. This one was, sort of, something quite different…There were these two scenes, and I didn’t know that I could do those two scenes. In the age of Internet and all the rest of it, I didn’t know that that is what I want particularly to be out there.”

“I phoned him up initially to turn it down because I thought they were incredibly important for the piece. So it wasn’t a question of trying to negotiate them out of the film because I thought they were very necessary for the film. But I just thought, ‘I don’t think I can do that.’”

“So, I phoned up David and said, ‘I love you, I love your work, but I really don’t think that I want to do this.’ And he said, ‘Well it would be a tragedy if you turned the role down because of that, so if necessary we can take them out.’ And I said, ‘No, because I understand why they are there’. He said, ‘Well look, I don’t want it to be sexy, and I don’t want it to be voyeuristic. I want it to be clinical.’”

“We talked for quite a long time about exactly what it was and trying to understand it psychologically. Once we discussed, I said ‘Alright, fine, as long as it is not sexy.’ That brutal horrible aspect is kept, and it isn’t a sexy spanking scene.”

Like some other noted actors, Knightley apparently does not look back on her previous performances: “I don’t watch any of them. I haven’t seen ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ in nine years. It’s all a learning curve. There are going to be good performances and there are going to be bad performances. There are going to be experiences where you click with people and experiences where you don’t. There are performances that I know just from having been there where I haven’t done well, just because I couldn’t, for one reason or another. And then there are performances that I know on the day, actually that was pretty good.”

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