Keira Knightley: Cracking Nuts

November 21, 2018
The outspoken actress plays the Sugar Plum fairy in The Nutcracker & The Four Realms, which has not only given her an opportunity to play silly, but it also ticks the box as something that she will be able to share with her young daughter.

Did you grow up with The Nutcracker?

I did. I think I saw it about 3 times when I was a kid. First time when I was 3, I was completely terrified of the mice and hid under the seat. Second time, I didn’t really like the Sugar Plum fairy. It was all about The Mouse King and I wanted to be the mice that I’d been terrified of three years before. And my mum got me a sword and I got to play The Mouse King a lot, apparently. And then I think I saw it when I was nine and I just loved all of it.

Is there a difference between how you imagined the Sugar Plum fairy when you were little to now?

I’m an actress that likes to do a lot of research and there’s not really a lot of research that you can do about the Sugar Plum fairy. I watched a lot of YouTube clips of the ballet and thought, ‘Oh that looks nice and I can’t do any of that. So that’s not going to be very helpful.’ And then I thought, well, the most famous bit of it, and arguably the most famous musical motif in The Nutcracker is the [she hums] ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. I thought, maybe I could take that somehow and incorporate it. So, I thought, I’ll try and laugh it. So, I came up with this [does a laughing version of ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’].

And then I thought, well if that’s happening then I’ve got to bring the voice up to that. And what else do you know about the Sugar Plum fairy? She’s sugary and sweet so [changes her voice] ‘Try and do a voice that’s a bit sugary and sweet.’

I just made it up really. One of the reasons that I wanted to do this was because it was a chance to be very silly. And a lot of the work that I do is quite serious and subtle. So, this was like, ‘we’ll banish subtlety and just be really, really silly.’

Do you think that being a mum enabled you to access your silly side?

It has always been there… It’s just that I haven’t done anything like this. [Prior to playing the role in The Nutcracker & The Four Realms] I’d just done the play of Thérèse Raquin, and you cannot get more dark and psychotic and fucked up and weird than that.

Did you find any similarity between Sugar Plum and yourself?

Well, she was a woman that clearly likes to look like a cake. And I really enjoyed looking like a cake.

What was the process like of transforming into her as you’re virtually unrecognisable?

It was quite long. The dress was actually quite easy to get into even though it looks like it’s not… because there was no way that I could have fit into a toilet. So, in order so that I could go to the toilet, it had to be a quick in and out [way to put the dress on]. So that was quite good.

They put prosthetics over my eyebrows. And then painted on these purple eyebrows higher up. It changes your face a lot if you take that away. And then it was a lot of white spray paint because everything was made very white. And then a lot of pink shimmery glitter everywhere.

I hope they can see the nails because I had to live with them for four months. They were like pink, sparkly purple… There’s a lot of pink glitter. It was just a lot of glitter, everywhere, in my house.

Did you have any input into her look?

I thought it was going to be quite naturalistic [laughs]… I don’t know why. And then I went for the meeting and the hair and makeup designer, Jenny Shircore, and the costume designer, Jenny Beavan, showed me the images of her. And I was like, ‘Oh… wow.’

Their whole idea is that she’s a doll that’s come to life.

You recently spoke about the sorts of stories you would like to see out there for kids. Can you comment?

I think what we marinade our children in is very important. And there are certain messages that I’m not sure I want her to take home. Like, ‘Wait for a rich man to rescue you.’ Don’t. Rescue yourself. It is not alright that a stranger kisses you when you are asleep without your consent. They’re the two main ones. As far as Disney films go, we do have a lot of Disney films in our house. We have Moana, which is absolutely brilliant and she’s kickass and she saves the world and she’s wonderful. We have Frozen because it’s sisterhood and fucking cool. And I love all of that stuff about, ‘What do you mean you’re marrying him. You only just met him.’

And Inside Out, which oh my god, is my absolute favourite. About a girl dealing with her emotions and it’s so cerebral.

We do have a lot of those. Just not the ones where it’s the girl waiting to be rescued. Not allowed.

What do you think young girls can take out of The Nutcracker?

Clara saves the world. Go out and save the world. And she’s smart. She’s an engineer. She is not being rescued. She is rescuing absolutely everybody else in this film. Brilliant. She’s on an adventure. 100% great.

Do you think that the way female characters are portrayed now is different from when you started?

Yeah, Moana, Frozen and Inside Out, we didn’t have anything like that when I was a kid. I think that’s massive. And shows like Doc McStuffins is absolutely brilliant. I want her to see that she can be a doctor, she can be a scientist, she can be an engineer, she can go on adventures. She is not the princess in the tower waiting to be rescued. She is the person on the ground who’s doing the hard work and going out and being wicked.

What is your take on the current situation in the movie industry, with a lot of big movies and not much space for the small movies?

I think the industry is changing massively. How we consume films is changing massively. Drama is mostly going onto streaming services. I’ll probably follow drama. My thing has always been to play characters that interest me, and I predominantly like working in smaller settings. You sign up for less time (laughs)…

I love serious stuff to get my head into and learn about everything. Which doesn’t mean that every so often I don’t want to do something like this because it’s a piece of lovely magic that you get to go, ‘Waa… .Let’s all be silly and run around like cakes!’ Why not?

I suspect that I’ll probably follow wherever the drama goes.

What’s the hardest thing about acting these days?

I think the way that the industry has gone, there isn’t a center anymore. It’s not like you could move to LA and work and live in the same place. I think the hardest thing from the point of view of a mother is that we are always going to have to be moving to where the work goes. And that is wherever is offering tax credits for the film industry to work in. That becomes very difficult when your kid is at school. It means a hell of a lot more organisation about exactly when I’m going to be working. And actually, sometimes having to turn down parts because it’s shooting in a location that just isn’t viable for the family to be in. On a practical level, that’s the most difficult thing.

The Nutcracker & The Four Realms is in cinemas November 22, 2018

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