Early in Last Night, Keira Knightley and her onscreen husband (Sam Worthington) are in a taxi on their way to a New York party, when she is applying mascara. "If we get hit," her husband warns, "you could lose an eye." At the party, Knightley notices an intimate conversation between her husband and his new coworker (Eva Mendes)—the eye-opening hit the couple will soon take. The twist in this sophisticated, darkly exquisite drama from writer/director Massy Tadjedin is that while Worthington is away on a business trip with Mendes, Knightley runs into her ex-boyfriend, an irresistibly charismatic French writer played by Guillaume Canet. The film follows each couple on parallel plots through the night as they struggle with temptation. Knightley gives a quietly devastating performance, which culminates when she leaves her former lover with the achingly delivered words: "What I wouldn't give to have tired of you."
Interview met at the Tribeca Film Center yesterday with Knightley (who is reportedly dating British rocker James Righton of Klaxons) to discuss relationships, indies vs. Pirates, and a few of her favorite things.
LORRAINE CWELICH: Do you consider this film to be a commentary about which is more destructive, physical infidelity or emotional infidelity?
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: It's definitely a discussion of that, which is one of the things I really liked. It doesn't answer the question; it allows the audience to answer the question—if that's a question that's answerable and I'm not convinced that it is. The friend [played by Griffin Dunne] who says, "Don't ever take it any further than this, because at the moment it's perfect" could be right. How wonderful to have had that moment but maybe it couldn't exist beyond that. Or maybe they're absolutely meant to be together!
CWELICH: What do you imagine you are about to say, when your husband sees your evening shoes and the film ends with you about to speak?
KNIGHTLEY: We did lots of different versions of that, literally from "I fucked somebody else" or "I nearly fucked somebody else" or "I'm leaving you" or "Let's go have lunch" or "I'm going to get in the shower" or "I love you." I don't know which take she chose. When we started the film we said, "They absolutely stay [married]; they scare themselves, they scare each other; it's much stronger afterwards." And then we're making it and were like, "No, she leaves him and goes to France with Alex." Then we said, "She leaves but doesn't end up with either of them, because she knows it was a moment and never going to work," and then we went back to, "They stay together." I think it's true to life, how many times you have changed your mind in that 36-hour period.
CWELICH: When you play a role that's so emotional, do you draw on your own life experiences?
KNIGHTLEY: I'm not a Method actress. Yet you can always draw parallels of what people tell you. Empathy is the main thing, putting yourself in somebody else's shoes and trying not to judge. A little bit of personal experience is sprinkled in there, but mostly it's imagination.
CWELICH: Some people avoid profound relationships because they don't want to get hurt; others seek them out. Do you generally delve into relationships in a passionate, deep way?
KNIGHTLEY: I'm an artistic type; I'm temperamental, so does that mean I can go quite deep? Yes, of course it does. But I've never been married, so that's a whole different level.
CWELICH: What most interested you about playing this role?
KNIGHTLEY: I thought it was incredibly truthful. In film as a medium, you're often given a baddie and a goodie and told what to think about them; it's usually a very definite point of view. I loved that it demands a dialogue with the audience. I'd also never been asked to do anything that was sort of naturalistic and modern, so I wanted to try that.
CWELICH: There was Love Actually...
KNIGHTLEY: Yes, but in a sort of romantic, idealized kind of a way. Also, the director is a very good friend of mine and someone I admire. She wrote The Jacket, which I did when I was 18, and we've been friends ever since.
CWELICH: The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie will open this month, without you in the cast. It would have been very easy to take the Hollywood blockbuster track after Pirates, but you've chosen indies.
KNIGHTLEY: I said when we were shooting the third that it was an extraordinary experience, but I started it when I was 17, and the last one came out when I was 22. It was a significant chunk of my life spent doing it, and it was amazing, and the people were amazing. I felt privileged to be a part of it, but I knew that three would be it. The thing I love about acting is getting to change and look at different people in different lives and do different projects.
CWELICH: Never Let Me Go was such an unusual—some would even say risky—film. How do you decide which roles you'll play?
KNIGHTLEY: It's literally what interests me. If I can find something interesting in it, hopefully people watching me will, as well. In Never Let Me Go, I was this strange creature who was completely destroyed and driven by jealousy. I found it dark and strange and horrific, and I didn't like her, but I was kind of interested in trying to find out how that madness happens, how you can lose control in that way. Same thing in [Last Night]—betrayal and when guilt comes into it, all of those things I'm seeking to understand. I'm doing a film next which is a dark comedy, but it's about the apocalypse, so you know you've got 20 days to live, so what do you do in those last days? One of the privileged things about what I do is that I'm allowed to go off into this existential crisis-like place and go, "What would that be like?" It's part of my job to ask, "What are the possibilities of this experience?"
CWELICH: Across the arts, what music, books, films and designers are currently interesting you?
KNIGHTLEY: Music. Metronomy, The English Riviera. I've got a complete Leonard Cohen obsession; I've been listening to Famous Blue Raincoat on an absolute loop, and Songs of Love and Hate. Completely obsessed with that. And Supertramp. And there's a New York band called Telepathy which I really, really like as well.
KNIGHTLEY: The one that has touched me the most recently would be The Passion, Jeanette Winterson. I thought that was absolutely extraordinary. Then I suddenly realized I never read any Hemingway, so I read The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea, which I thought was wonderful. I'm currently reading John Berger's essays on art, Ways of Seeing, which I was given for my birthday by a very great friend, which I really enjoyed but didn't necessarily agree with, and I always like things like that.
KNIGHTLEY: I saw again Little Miss Sunshine on the plane. I hadn't seen it since it came out, and I'd forgotten how completely brilliant it was, so I really enjoyed that. True Grit I loved. Black Swan I loved. I thought [Natalie Portman's] performance in that was wonderful. Blue Valentine I loved.
CWELICH: Favorite designers?
KNIGHTLEY: A.P.C. And today I'm wearing Carven.
CWELICH: Favorite New York hangout?
KNIGHTLEY: Any fantastic weird diner somewhere to get a milkshake!
LAST NIGHT IS OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE NOW.