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Joe Wright Says He Wanted To Work With Keira Knightley Again & "Challenge" The Conventions Of Naturalism In The Stylized 'Anna Karenina'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist September 11, 2012 at 4:35PM

Near the eleventh hour of pre-production, while director Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Hanna”) was preparing to shoot his adaptation of “Anna Karenina,” it became clear that the budget was going to be an issue -- plans to shoot on location were causing the film’s budget to double in cost. As such, Wright and his team had to quickly rethink the picture. As it turns out, they reimagined it with ideas that had been simmering in the filmmaker’s mind for quite some time.
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Anna Karenina, Knightley

Realism is clearly something that’s been on Wright’s mind of late, with Powell & Pressburger and Bertolt Brecht’s alienation effect among the influences on his approach. “Western audiences are afraid of this,” he told us of his more stylized take. “We’re in a period of new romanticism, where emotion is king. Everything has to be emotional or visceral, and people are very afraid of engaging an audience’s critical faculties. That’s somehow uncommercial. So the biggest challenge was walking the line between the critical faculties, but also engaging the emotional response from the audience -- speaking to their hearts.” He admits that his producers were concerned for a time too, until he pointed out that much of the film would be in close-up anyway -- “so it doesn’t matter where you are, whether it’s in a field or in a theater, the background will be in soft focus”

Of course, it helped that he had his two-time leading lady Keira Knightley in the film -- indeed, he’d had her in mind from the start. But (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that she was nineteen on “Pride & Prejudice,” their first collaboration), he also found himself working with a new Knightley: “She’d developed into the woman she was born to be,” Wright says. “Incredibly strong, powerful, unafraid and I wanted to bear witness to that on screen. Also her sexual awareness had developed. She was far sexier than she had been as a girl, do you know what I mean? She was this woman and i thought that was something that i hadn’t seen in her before. “

As for what's coming next, Wright says "The Little Mermaid" is still something he hopes to adapt for the screen, but don't expect it soon, as it's still deep in the discovery phase and he hasn't cracked it creatively. "Yes, that’s certainly something we’re working towards, but I’ve absolutely no idea how to do it," he laughed.

One project Wright tried to mount in 2009 was an adaptation of Alex von Tunzelmann's book "Indian Summer: The Mountbattens, Nehru and the Dying Days of the Raj," about the end of British rule in India in 1947, starring Cate Blanchett. Delayed at the time over budgetary and Indian government concerns, the director says it’s not likely coming back. “That one went by the wayside,” he said, doubtful of its return. “We found ourselves in a position with the Indian government -- they have to read every script for every film to be shot in India-- and they weren’t so keen on portrait that we were painting of of with Jawaharlal Nehru [the first independent prime minister of the country].”

Whatever Wright ends up doing next, “Anna Karenina,” like “Hanna” before it, suggests a filmmaker increasingly willing to march to the beat of his own drum (read our review here). And that’s always an exciting thing to see. “Anna Karenina” is out in the U.K. now, and will be released in the U.S. on November 16th. - Interview by Julian Carrington

This article is related to: Anna Karenina, Joe Wright, Keira Knightley, TIFF, Interviews


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