Keira Knightley on Awards Contender 'Colette' and Life as a Working Parent

By Gant, Charles | Screen International, November 23, 2018 | Go to article overview

Keira Knightley on Awards Contender 'Colette' and Life as a Working Parent


Gant, Charles, Screen International


French writer Colette was a prototype modern celebrity who tantalised the world with her unconventional lifestyle.

‘Colette’

When United Agents’ Lindy King sent Keira Knightley the screenplay to Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer’s Colette, recalls the actress, “She said, ‘Ooh, I think you’re going to like this.’” Knightley’s long-time agent knew her client only too well. “And then I read it,” she says, “and I went, ‘Ooh, I really like this.’”

Westmoreland and Glatzer had long laboured to make their film about French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, whose four Claudine novels became literary sensations when published at the start of the 20th century under the name of ‘Willy’, the nom-de-plume of her author and publisher husband Henry Gauthier-Villars.

It was the success of the filmmaking pair’s Still Alice, and especially the best actress Oscar win for star Julianne Moore, that finally gave the long-in-development project the necessary traction. Glatzer died in March 2015 of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), leaving his creative and life partner Westmoreland to carry the flame for the project - ultimately also calling in the screenwriting services of Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida, Disobedience).

“I just loved her,” comments Knightley on her desire to portray the character on screen. “I loved her strength, her bravery and the fact that the world didn’t quite fit her so she ripped it apart and made it fit her. I found her incredibly empowering.”

The script follows Colette as a young country girl who marries a Paris sophisticate, is exploited by him even as they emerge as a prototype for the modern celebrity couple, enjoys affairs with partners of her own gender, and finally fights for authorship rights to her works. “What I loved about it is that it’s talking about gender politics, sexual politics, female empowerment and yet it’s so fun. [Her husband] Willy is a shit but you totally understand why they’re together. They’re magnetic. When they’re on their game, you think, ‘I wanna be with them.’”

The smooth development of Colette once Knightley had attached herself to the project hit a glitch in summer 2016 when, with the film edging towards production and Westmoreland already relocated from Los Angeles to London, the actress begged for a delay. Her daughter Edie, then aged one, was playing havoc with the actress’s sleep pattern, and the intense role was just too daunting.

“The thing about playing a lead, you really are there all the fucking time,” she says. “It’s a wonderful, privileged thing but it’s very tiring. And if you’re doing that with a very small child who is waking up five times a night, literally keeping the words in your head is very difficult. I just thought, ‘Realistically, I physically can’t do this right now.’”

The shoot was bumped to summer 2017, principally in Hungary, where Knightley decamped with husband (Klaxons musician James Righton), baby and nanny - with occasional support from other family members.

Colette is produced by Number 9’s Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley with Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler for Killer Films, and Gary Michael Walters and Michel Litvak for Bold Films. The film premiered at Sundance in January, where it was warmly received, especially for Knightley and co-star Dominic West’s performances, and where the film was sold to Bleecker Street for the US and Lionsgate for the UK. …

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