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Toronto 2011: Keira Knightley says 'Method' role wigs her out too

September 12, 2011 |  5:00 am

KnightleyFrom the moment Keira Knightley appears on screen--or, rather writes, shrieks and flies into Russian-accented hysterics while being carried by guards into Carl Jung's research facility--she establishes herself as one of the polarizing figures of the fall film season.

Knightley's role in David Cronenberg's history-of-psychoanalysis picture "A Dangerous Method" of Sabina Spielrein--a repressed and intelligent  Russian emigre who was first a patient, then a student and lover, of Carl Jung in Zurich--has already split viewers right down the middle. To some, her decision to play Spielrein with the maximum of physical and vocal expressiveness is bold and award-worthy; to others, it's hyberbolic and unnecessary.

What both her admirers and detractors may be surprised to learn, though, is that  Knightley feels a little strange about her performance too. "I was sitting and watching the movie in Venice and went 'Oh...," she said, using a four-letter word and letting her voice fall off in faintly alarmed surprise. "It's all very extreme. I thought 'Oh God, did I need to do that?' But then I realized it's supposed to be extreme," she told 24 Frames as she sipped a glass of water in a downtown Toronto hotel room.
Indeed, many of the theatrics of the role, she said, were by design. "I wanted something very shocking," said Knightley, who read numerous diaries and journals to prepare to play the role of the young patient, who through psychoanalysis begins peeling back the layers of her repressed sexuality. "I read that Sabina Spielrein was ravaged by tics, and I wanted to show that as vividly as I could."

She said she spent "days--well, OK, several hours" practicing various gestures and expressions in the bathroom mirror before trying them on set.

(Croneneberg's Thanksgiving release also looks at how Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) hash out their intellectual differences at the birth of the psychoanalysis movement in the early part of the 20th century.

Knightley added that, as hard as it might be to imagine, she actually dialed back some of her acting. "Yes, it's pretty bloody extreme, but when you read about Sabina Spielrein's hysterics, you realize that there's far less in the movie than what actually took place."

Still, she said she understood why some were reacting harshly to her performance. "This was a decision I made knowing full well it was something some people would love and some people would hate," she said. "There's something in me that likes that. I do choose things that polarize people," and then added ruefully, "Maybe I need some psychoanalysis."


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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender in "A Dangerous Method." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics