There’s always risk involved when adapting a famous novel for the screen—especially when it’s been done before. But Keira Knightley insists the new version of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina brings something new to the table, mainly the actress’ own take on the role.
“I think within the pages of the book, it’s so massively open to different interpretations anyway, and partly because he does write from inside her head, but often he doesn’t. Often he writes from outside, judging her and describing her,” Knightley said in an interview with NBC New York. “And I think because of that judgment and that description, it means that there are lots of different interpretations.
“When I first read it when I was 19, I only remember her being innocent—I don’t remember judging her at all; I don’t remember seeing her as being in any way guilty. And I read it again last year before we started shooting, and when I see this at 26 because I was, I suddenly see this differently.”
Coming from a different perspective, Knightley sees Anna as “much darker. I think her moral culpability is constantly in question. I think she is held up to be condemned at certain points. I think she’s also held up to be loved and to be understood and to be sympathized with. But I think the relationship with her is quite a complex one for the reader, and I think because of that, it’s open to a lot of different interpretations. I didn’t go necessarily out of the book in trying to go how am I going to play this role. I think I tried to understand as far as I thought what her function within the book was and therefore what her function could be in this film fashion. And I thought that kind of moral ambiguity was a really interesting one to play around with.”
Another difference with this adaption is the impressive costuming. However, the elaborate dresses did add an extra challenge for Knightley. “It adds two hours to the day, so you’re shooting a 12-hour day and suddenly you do have to come in two hours before for hair, makeup, costume and it takes an hour to get out of it,” she said. “So you’re adding three hours to a 12-hour day, which is just mandatory if you’re doing period pieces or fantasy pieces.”
“So there is that added thing and you do get to the end of a job like this and go ‘I really don’t want to do a period film for a while because I’m f—king exhausted.’ But the whole process, and particularly with Jacqueline [Durran, the costume designer], [was a]process of building that character from the ground up. Every one of those costumes had an amazing amount of symbolism within it—they were all totally part of telling that story.”
Anna Karenina is in theaters now.