There is nothing about Keira Knightley's performance in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" that is quiet, demure or understated. But that's by design and with very good reason. She plays Sabina Spielrein in the film, a young woman suffering terribly from hysteria, an illness that makes itself known in a manner that is as obvious as it is uncomfortable (see above). She comes into the care of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and it isn't long before their doctor/patient relationship becomes something more, and a concern to Jung's friend and colleague Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As the woman who not only comes between the two legendary doctors, but undergoes a tremendous emotional journey of self-revelation, Knightley pulls off a performance that finds nuance even in its most extreme moments. It required the actress to do some deep research and take a leap of faith in a character that is hard to embrace at first, but whose growth is a reward to watch on screen.
"My main challenge in all of it was just trying to understand exactly why she behaved in the way that she did, and what would spark it off. I spent a lot of time reading and talking to analysts about her and that kind of behavior and the idea of a masochistic personality and what that sort of entails," Knightley told us in an interview this week. "Although there are descriptions of what her hysterical fits were and what the tics were, they're very vague, so even from them you can't quite get a grasp of what it was. So it did take quite a lot of reading to figure out how to portray what was going on inside, on the outside."
"It's not like depression, it's not melancholia, it's not a kind of low energy thing, it's a very high energy thing. And it's not something that's often seen on film," Knightley explained about hysteria. "Depression on film is lovely, because you get lovely still close-ups, and [the camera] can go right in, and everyone in the audience can empathize with it. This is a very different thing, and it was something that repulsed people and should repulse people, because that's what she did and that was her intention with a lot of the things she did in life. I thought it was really important from the beginning that it had that high energy, repellent aspect to it."
And while Knightley speaks with an accent she says is "mid-Atlantic, with a Russian blush" in Joe Wright's upcoming "Anna Karenina," she and the rest of the cast -- Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson -- will be using their native English accents for the film. The director had hinted he was going to ditch attempts at a Russian accent last spring, and while purists may be fixated on that point, Knightley teased that it is just a small part of a much bigger vision that will give an "Anna Karenina" unlike anything we've seen before.
"He's got a very different concept than anything that's been done before, I'm only going to say that because I'm pretty sure they're going to start releasing things soon about the concept, so you'll get to see it," the actress said. "I'm not going to try and describe what it is, but it's a much more theatrical version of the piece than has been done before, and I was really excited by that."
But until then, if you haven't seen "A Dangerous Method," it's in theaters right now. And if it's not in your town yet, check the dates, because the movie will be aggressively expanding to more cities through the end of January.