Entertainment » Movies

Keira Knightley :: Having fun with the Apocalypse

by Fred Topel
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Wednesday Jun 20, 2012
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Keira Knightley has spent a lot of time in corsets and gowns since first attracted attention in the Victorian-era swashbuckler "Pirates of the Caribbean." That was in 2003. She followed that two years later with an Oscar nominated role in Joe Wright’s acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen’s 19th century classic "Pride and Prejudice," and a haunting turn in "Atonement," Wright’s follow-up film set in England between the two World Wars.

Happily it can be reported that Knightley has found her way to the 21st century with her latest release - "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" - though, as the title implies, at a moment when the world is about to end: an asteroid is headed to Earth and will destroy the planet in three weeks.


An unusual road movie

In the film she plays Penny, a young woman nursing a broken heart who realizes she will never see her family again. She joins up with her neighbor Dutch on a quest to help him find his long-lost high school sweetheart and locate a plane so she can visit her family. Over the course of this unusual road movie, their relationship becomes quite delightful, even if it is doomed to be short-lived.

"I’d been doing a lot of very dramatic tragic kind of things and I really fancied doing something that was positive," Knightley said. "I did sort of say to my friends, ’Now I’m doing a positive one.’ They’re like, ’What’s it about?’ I’m like, ’The end of the world.’ It’s not really very positive, is it?"

Well, Penny at least is quite upbeat about it all. "I thought she’s incredibly positive. She’s one of those people that’s totally able to go, ’This moment is fabulous.’ I love that about her. The whole film may be about something horrendous -- death, doom and destruction, but I came out of reading the script finding it incredibly uplifting and incredibly positive. It left me asking a question, ’Okay, well, what it really asks is what is important?’ And what becomes important is love and friendship and companionship and the wonderful moments in life. Not the other moments. I loved that about the whole piece and loved that about this character."


Not ’Armageddon 2’

The pairing of Knightley and Carell may seem like an unlikely romance, but it was a match made in heaven for Knightley. "Steve Carell is one of the loveliest men on earth in any profession. He’s very quiet. He’s very gentle. He’s incredibly courteous. He’s totally supportive. I can’t find enough good adjectives to describe him.

"I think he’s just a lovely, lovely man and it was a total privilege to work with him. Because his performance in ’Little Miss Sunshine’ I just loved. He’s got that ability of making you completely believe that he is that character who is on the verge of suicide. It is that dark, and yet he can always find those incredibly funny moments within that and lift it. I just think that’s an amazing thing to be able to do so it was wonderful working with him."

Usually in the summer, movies like "Armageddon" and "Independence Day" deal with the end of the world on a big scale. That’s all good fun, but "Seeking a Friend..." is for people who may be interested in the lighter side, with a little bit of depth.

"Hopefully they will have been told by then that it’s not ’Armageddon 2’ or anything like that. I think that’s what’s wonderful about it. I love a good popcorn movie, but it does get quite annoying in the summer when you’re like, ’Yeah, but I don’t JUST want a popcorn movie. I kind of want something else as well.’ So I think it’s quite nice when you have films like this one as well. ’Armageddon’ was on the TV last night and I did sit in my state of being jet-lagged and watch it."


Facing mortality

Luckily we don’t have to worry about an asteroid approaching -- even those Mayan calendar predictions are probably going to turn out to be wrong. Those aren’t the only reasons to gain some perspective on what’s important though. Anyone who may be facing mortality for any reason could take comfort in "Seeking a Friend..."

"It is about the end of the world. This is it. I think it is about death. That was very clear from reading the script. It is something that everybody can understand, and what makes it so moving is that you suddenly see the personal side of the story."

Penny goes with Dodge because it’s the only option for her. She’s missed the last flight so she’ll never make it to her family. "Certainly of course I think anybody who travels a lot can understand the idea of being trapped away from your family when something happens. It’s a terrifying situation that I found very easy to imagine."

The movie may provoke audiences to wonder how they would spend their last days. It’s certainly made reporters want to ask the stars to reflect on it, and indeed making the film prompted such discussions.

"I’d hide in a corner and cry, I think. We sort of went through all those what’s on your bucket list? Would you jump out a plane? Would you go to an orgy? Would you take lots of drugs? Honestly, if somebody said 20 days and then a meteorite is going to destroy the Earth, I think I’d be so preoccupied with whether it was going to hurt or not that I’d just be terrified. You’d hope you’d be vaporized very quickly. But you don’t know, do you?"

In one scene Penny and Dutch find an abandoned house with a fully stocked kitchen. She makes dinner that night. Knightley said she could hold her own in the kitchen in real life too.

"Yeah, I’m all right. Not brilliant. I’m all right. My mom’s a really good cook actually, but we had a really small kitchen so she could never actually teach me any of the stuff that she made. She’s now starting to. I’ve got a really good dull recipe from her which is excellent, but yes, I’m not great. I’m good at like a one pot dish because it’s the timing. I always walk away at the wrong point and then everything burns. It’s stews, curries. Those are what I’m good at."


What regrets does Knightley think people would have if the world were to suddenly end? "Not spending enough time with the people that they love. Whether they’re children or family or friends - whoever that would be. I think it would be like, ’God, I really regret not having spent as much time as possible with those people.’"

Fortunately neither Knightley nor the rest of us will have to think about that for some time. Not even the Mayans. "I just think they had a lack of imagination. They couldn’t go beyond 2012. It’s not our problem."

Normally she does a lot of research for her film roles, especially the historical ones. That wasn’t the case here, but for reasons more to do with her response to Penny. "I love research. But I didn’t research this film because I sort of thought the character is somebody who’s very much stuck in this moment in her life where she doesn’t quite know what direction she wants to go in. It just so happens that the end of the world has happened at the same time, but that doesn’t stop where she is. That’s what I loved about her and it didn’t take a lot of research to get into that frame of mind."

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens Friday.


Watch the trailer to "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World":


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