NEW YORK — Given her preferences, British actress Keira Knightley says she's most comfortable performing in heavy dramatic roles, generally those that require corsets, ornate gowns and other period accoutrements.
In films ranging from “Pride & Prejudice” (for which she won an Oscar nomination) to the swashbuckling “Pirates of the Caribbean” to the extravagance of “The Duchess” to the just completed “Anna Karenina,” Knightley, daughter of an actor father and playwright mother, has shown a great facility for historical decorum and regal bearing.
So her role as the free-spirited waif Penny in the apocalyptic love story “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” comes as a welcome departure for this classically beautiful actress. Playing Penny, the slightly daffy optimist who forms an unlikely bond with dull insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) as a giant, doom-dealing asteroid bears down on Earth, Knightley said she really appreciated her character's bohemian sense of fashion, which generally consisted of a ragamuffin sweater, shapeless housedress and low-top sneakers.
“I love that about Penny,” Knightley said during press interviews hosted by Focus Features at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. “You do ‘Anna Karenina' and it's a good two-and-a-half hours getting ready every single morning. You do this, and you come in half an hour early, they cover your zits, and that's it really. It's great.”
Change of pace
Knightley said she was also intrigued by playing a character so far removed from her previous roles.
“I've been doing a lot of very dramatic, tragic kinds of things, and I really fancied doing something that was positive,” she said. “I did say to a friend, ‘I'm doing a positive part,' and they asked what it was about. And I said, ‘the end of the world.'
“But I thought that (Penny) was very positive. She's just one of those people who is able to go, ‘This moment is fabulous.' I love that about her. The film is about something horrendous, about death, doom and destruction. But the fact is, I came out of reading the script and found it incredibly uplifting and incredibly positive. What it really says is, what becomes important? And what becomes important is love and friendship and companionship and the wonderful moments in life.”
So, how much like Penny is Keira Knightley?
“I'm not as positive as she is, but I'd love to be,” the actress said. “It really is the thing I loved about the character. You know, (writer-director Lorene Scafaria) has that in herself, this ability to go, ‘This moment is fantastic,' and actually say it. We'll be in a room drinking a milkshake or something, and she'll go, ‘You know, I'm really happy right now.' It's a quality I don't have. You know, you notice when you're sad, but I don't think you always notice when you're happy. And I love that about Lorene, and I love that about Penny as well.”