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Interview: Director Joe Wright of 'Anna Karenina'

Sex and Brecht and killing Keira ..

By James Rocchi Nov 20, 2012 12:07PM

With his distinctive list of strong films -- "Atonement," "Hanna," and more -- Joe Wright is back with the classics, adapting Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." We spoke with Wright in Toronto about his last-minute decision about the look and feel of the film, his collaborations with Keira Knightley, sex, and the challenges of making a classic new.

 

MSN Movies:  Your vision for this film, the theatricality of it, there were influences of Powell and Pressburger, and Bertolt Brecht. You came to that decision to commit to that staging very late in the process, 12 weeks before the start of shooting. Were you terrified of the prospect of explaining this to your cast and crew, or were you sure with that director's assurance that you could somehow get it to happen?

 

Joe Wright: I was fairly sure. I was very excited, and I think excitement and enthusiasm is infectious. And so I managed to get them onside. I think for the actors it was quite challenging but also great because it meant that a lot more of the film was focused on their performances. They really had to carry the truth of the drama. It wasn't going to be up to pretty shots of horses and carriages putting off outside exterior palaces or whatever.

 

BING: Powell & Pressburger l Bertold Brecht


But is it harder to make the non-Masterpiece Theater, trapped-in-amber dead and perfectly preserved version of the classic novel? Is it harder to get something new made and backed?

 

I think so, yeah. I think that's true, and I think possibly had I put this pitch to people before the film was financed then I might have had a more challenging time. But we were kind of already ... the train had left the station as it were, and we were on course.

 

Miss Knightley, you've worked with her repeatedly; she's a tremendous presence. How do you get her in touch with playing a character who's the center of an 800-page novel within a two-hour long film?

 

Well, Keira probably prepares more than anyone I know perhaps other than myself. And her version of her copy of the book is like 800 pages of book and then 1, 000 pages of post-it notes. I mean her research is mind boggling, and so I trust her intellect, really. And we talked a lot about not making Anna too saint-like, too much of a martyr, really. She is a character run on self-will and so that was the challenge for her to create a version of Anna who was morally ambivalent but at the same time not repulsive.

 

Is it hard to portray an era where, for a woman showing sexual desire was pretty much a subversive act of rebellion against the way of things?

 

I think that's true today, isn't it? I mean I think that's probably why "50 Shades of Gray" is such a massive phenomena. I think men are allowed to be dark, whereas women somehow are supposed to fit into a nice pretty box of comfort and joy. And I'm not sure I know many women like that.

 

Well, there are all those philandering husbands who have to find a woman with whom to engage. One final brief question. I was talking to Miss Knightley and she adores working with you, but you have killed her twice and only given her one happy ending. Are you going to maintain that streak? Are you going to try to shift the balance? Are you going to keep wiping her out film after film?

 

I don't know. She does death very well.


For more on "Anna Karenina," check out our video interviews with the cast: 


"Anna Karenina" is in limited release.

 

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