Keira Knightley fascinated by complexities of 'Anna Karenina'

Without question, acclaimed actress Keira Knightley has been flexing her creative muscles this year, having starred over the summer in the brilliant, offbeat dramedy "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" -- and in time for holiday and awards season, she's back with the title role in a new adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy classic romance drama "Anna Karenina."

Of course, the concept of mixing things up isn't exactly new to Knightley. After her breakthrough role in the rip-roaring "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" in 2003, she's done everything from romantic comedy with films like "Love, Actually" to sci-fi with the vastly under-appreciated mind-bender "The Jacket."

Still and all, Knightley is often associated with period dramas, thanks to her creative association with director Joe Wright on "Pride and Prejudice" (which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination) and the Best Picture Oscar nominee "Atonement." And while Knightley said she loves working on period films, she's always on the lookout for something new.

"If I keep doing the same thing, I get bored, so my tastes tend to go to something wildly quite opposite," Knightley told me in a recent interview. "Generally speaking, my heart is in the darker drama. That's what I really love watching and that's the sort of material that makes me incredibly excited. But once I've done that for a while, I end up yearning for something much lighter and modern. For me, the most exciting thing about my job is getting the opportunity to change and do different things."

Now playing in select theaters and opening nationwide Wednesday, "Anna Karenina" tells the tragic story of an aristocrat (Knightley) who daringly plunges herself into an affair with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in late 19th century Russia. Despite the willingness of her powerful statesman husband, Imperial Minister Karenin (Jude Law), to forgive her, Anna can't shake her love for Vronsky -- even if it means separation from her young son and exclusion from society.

With "Anna Karenina," Knightley finds herself immersed in a period drama once again, but delivered with a different spin, creatively. Wright presents the film within the framework of stage play to tell the story from a whole new perspective.

"When Joe told me about the take he had on the story, I thought it was extraordinary," Knightley said. "I didn't necessarily know if it was going to work at the time, but it was definitely worth a try. I loved the fact that he was not wanting to make a traditional version of the story, and wanted instead to do something a bit more stylized."

As an actor who loves performing in front of a live audience as much as a camera, being a part of a film and essentially part of a theatrical production, in one fell swoop, presented Knightley with the best of both worlds.

"I loved the fact that Joe was taking the story into this sort of fantasy, surreal world, where you are using the space of the theater," Knightley gushed. "It's such of a magical space, where people go in and are going to know that they're going to use their imagination, where in a way with cinema, you don't. Very often in films, the whole world is presented to the audience -- so combining that magical space of the theater and putting into the world of a film was a really interesting thing."

With about 25 film and television productions of "Anna Karenina" produced in the last century in the U.S. and the U.K., Knightley said she was quite well aware that she had her work cut out for her in bringing the iconic character to life. And while she admitted that diving into the role was intimidating at first, it wasn't as nerve-wracking as taking on the spirited lead in the adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel "Pride & Prejudice."

"In a strange way, Anna wasn't as terrifying as playing Elizabeth Bennet -- not because of the people who have played her before, but because the character is somebody people love and they see themselves as her," Knightley explained. "Anna is not that. Anna is a very curious creature that has fascinated people, but she's not somebody people want to be or fall in love with. So in that way, it was less daunting."

Knightley said her first exposure to "Anna Karenina" was with Tolstoy's novel -- and her perception of it has definitely changed over the years.

"When I first read the book at 19, I definitely saw Anna as innocent and a victim, and everybody else as being hideous. I saw her as almost being saint-like," Knightley, 27, recalled. "Then, when I re-read the book again before we made the film I suddenly went, 'Whoa. She is not what I remember her being. She is much darker.' So that's what we based this version on -- that perception of her being somebody who isn't necessarily the heroine, but is also the anti-heroine."

Knightley said what helps the guide that perception is Wright's inclusion of the parallel storyline of the romance of Kitty (Alicia Vickander) and Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) in the film. For those

Without question, acclaimed actress Keira Knightley has been flexing her creative muscles this year, having starred over the summer in the brilliant, offbeat dramedy "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" -- and in time for holiday and awards season, she's back with the title role in a new adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy classic romance drama "Anna Karenina."

Of course, the concept of mixing things up isn't exactly new to Knightley. After her breakthrough role in the rip-roaring "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" in 2003, she's done everything from romantic comedy with films like "Love, Actually" to sci-fi with the vastly under-appreciated mind-bender "The Jacket."

Still and all, Knightley is often associated with period dramas, thanks to her creative association with director Joe Wright on "Pride and Prejudice" (which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination) and the Best Picture Oscar nominee "Atonement." And while Knightley said she loves working on period films, she's always on the lookout for something new.

"If I keep doing the same thing, I get bored, so my tastes tend to go to something wildly quite opposite," Knightley told me in a recent interview. "Generally speaking, my heart is in the darker drama. That's what I really love watching and that's the sort of material that makes me incredibly excited. But once I've done that for a while, I end up yearning for something much lighter and modern. For me, the most exciting thing about my job is getting the opportunity to change and do different things."

Now playing in select theaters and opening nationwide Wednesday, "Anna Karenina" tells the tragic story of an aristocrat (Knightley) who daringly plunges herself into an affair with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in late 19th century Russia. Despite the willingness of her powerful statesman husband, Imperial Minister Karenin (Jude Law), to forgive her, Anna can't shake her love for Vronsky -- even if it means separation from her young son and exclusion from society.

With "Anna Karenina," Knightley finds herself immersed in a period drama once again, but delivered with a different spin, creatively. Wright presents the film within the framework of stage play to tell the story from a whole new perspective.

"When Joe told me about the take he had on the story, I thought it was extraordinary," Knightley said. "I didn't necessarily know if it was going to work at the time, but it was definitely worth a try. I loved the fact that he was not wanting to make a traditional version of the story, and wanted instead to do something a bit more stylized."

As an actor who loves performing in front of a live audience as much as a camera, being a part of a film and essentially part of a theatrical production, in one fell swoop, presented Knightley with the best of both worlds.

"I loved the fact that Joe was taking the story into this sort of fantasy, surreal world, where you are using the space of the theater," Knightley gushed. "It's such of a magical space, where people go in and are going to know that they're going to use their imagination, where in a way with cinema, you don't. Very often in films, the whole world is presented to the audience -- so combining that magical space of the theater and putting into the world of a film was a really interesting thing."

With about 25 film and television productions of "Anna Karenina" produced in the last century in the U.S. and the U.K., Knightley said she was quite well aware that she had her work cut out for her in bringing the iconic character to life. And while she admitted that diving into the role was intimidating at first, it wasn't as nerve-wracking as taking on the spirited lead in the adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel "Pride & Prejudice."

"In a strange way, Anna wasn't as terrifying as playing Elizabeth Bennet -- not because of the people who have played her before, but because the character is somebody people love and they see themselves as her," Knightley explained. "Anna is not that. Anna is a very curious creature that has fascinated people, but she's not somebody people want to be or fall in love with. So in that way, it was less daunting."

Knightley said her first exposure to "Anna Karenina" was with Tolstoy's novel -- and her perception of it has definitely changed over the years.

"When I first read the book at 19, I definitely saw Anna as innocent and a victim, and everybody else as being hideous. I saw her as almost being saint-like," Knightley, 27, recalled. "Then, when I re-read the book again before we made the film I suddenly went, 'Whoa. She is not what I remember her being. She is much darker.' So that's what we based this version on -- that perception of her being somebody who isn't necessarily the heroine, but is also the anti-heroine."

Knightley said what helps the guide that perception is Wright's inclusion of the parallel storyline of the romance of Kitty (Alicia Vickander) and Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) in the film. For those

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