Keira Knightley on Therese Raquin: “I don’t know how to do it and there are so many problems with putting it on. But I was sort of up for the challenge”
Whenever a movie star prepares to make his or her Broadway debut, there is a certain anticipation from New York critics and crowds to see if said star can handle the stage. Keira Knightley, who is preparing for opening night of the Roundabout Theater Company’s production of Thérèse Raquin on October 29. Based on the 1867 novel by Émile Zola about an unhappily married woman, Thérèse Raquin is the type of period piece that Knightley has done several times in film. In an interview with the New York Times, Knightley spoke at length about taking on the challenge of the play and how she will handle the pressure and challenges.
Knightley — who is mostly known for appearing in period pieces — reveals that she is drawn to a certain type of female conflict in her roles, pointing out, “I get very interested with people who are caged in some way, and I think it’s quite true that very often people who try to break out of their perceived cage do get punished for it, whatever that cage is.”
However, even though Knightley is drawn to these women, she actually turned down starring in Thérèse Raquin twice before and said it was because she said it was something “I don’t know how to do.” In fact, she was bothered that she was associated with such an unstable character. She recalls wondering, “Why do people keep seeing me as this vaguely psychotic repressed strange woman?”
However, Knightley found it impossible to ignore once she was offered the role a third time, this time in an adaptation by Helen Edmundson. She explains, “When it came back to me the third time I thought, ‘Well this is weird.’ And I am still frightened of it, and I don’t know how to do it and there are so many problems with putting it on. But I was sort of up for the challenge,” partly because recently she had been receiving “a hell of lot of scripts with characters that were the supportive girlfriend/wife,” which she found boring and unappealing because “I’m the supportive wife at home. I just didn’t particularly fancy playing that.“
Now that’s she finally taken the role, Knightley is prepared for any potential backlash from critics and audiences. She says, “I’m not saying bad reviews or things like that don’t hurt, because of course they do, and they’re designed to and they should hurt. But also I can’t take them too seriously. You’re basically saying you don’t like it when I pretend to be someone else? O.K., cool.” In fact, she’s used to people criticizing her for doing period pieces, which she has an explanation for. “I do a lot of period pieces because that’s my taste, because I want to work in Europe, because that’s my home and generally speaking that’s what’s made in England. I love history, you know, but actually because they’ve been the most interesting characters for me that I’ve been offered.”
On top of that, Knightley says she hasn’t found modern characters as interesting as historical ones. She points out, “Now that could just be me: I think that there’s plenty of actresses that play very interesting roles in modern day pieces. But that hasn’t been what’s come my way.”
When it comes to acting in theater, Knightley says one of the things she loves most about it is how it isn’t permanent and is ever-changing. She describes it as, “I think actually that’s why I enjoy theater: It doesn’t exist. It’s not like film, which is stuck there forever. The show that you see tonight, whether it works or whether it doesn’t work, nobody will ever see that again. Tomorrow will be completely different. And I find that incredibly romantic.”