TORONTO – Let's hope Keira Knightley never changes. Having interviewed the “Pride & Prejudice” star at least five times over the past decade I can attest that she's as blunt, energetic and smart as ever. This is one actress who no doubt rolls her eyes at studio talking points. Take for instance our interview last month about her role in the beloved new Best Picture contender “The Imitation Game” where she was at the top of her, um, game.
Winner of the People's Choice Awards at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, “Game” finds Knightley playing real-life WWII code breaker Joan Clark, a woman who, along with Alan Turning and the rest of a secret group working for British Intelligence, solved the notorious Enigma code. Enigma allowed the Nazis to send secret messages to their agents and soldiers around the world and gave them a distinct advantage. Deciphering those message was a key turning point for the Allies during the war. Clark's contributions were so significant it led to her induction as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1947. The world didn't learn about her efforts, however, until almost 50 years later following the end of the Cold War.
“The Imitation Game” tells the story of how Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), Clark and her colleagues broke the code, the internal politics they fought against to do so and the ramifications of their success. This writer hadn't even suggested any details might have been changed for the big screen before Knightly made it clear the movie is not a historical document.
“This is definitely not a documentary,” Knightley says. “There are historical inaccuracies in this and actually quite a lot in Joan and how she got there.”
Knightley would certainly know, because she did her homework watching numerous documentaries to figure out how Clark would have acted amongst her colleagues. But while she realized Clark was likely demure and polite in real life, the differences between history and the film's script forced her to revisit her strategy.
Knightley notes, “As soon as I found we had used various dramatic conceits for reasons of telling the story and propelling the story forward but weren't actually true to the person, I was like, 'OK.' I had to slightly leave the research I had done aside and go with what the script was. Saying that, and I think one of the very important things about the character, and it's a line that's very on the nose, but it's very true, which is, 'I'm a woman in a man's world. I can't afford to behave like an ass.' I'm probably misquoting, but it's something like that. And I thought that was a very good key-in.”
For more of Knightley's thoughts on “The Imitation Game,” including a key dramatic scene between Clark and Turning, watch the complete interview embedded at the top of this post.
“The Imitation Game” opens in limited release on Nov. 21.