It seems like in the last few years Keira Knigtley has been changing out one lavish epoch dress to slip into another. When we heard her latest venture, The Duchess, was a historical film we couldn’t help but question her decision to star in another story like this.
However, the 23-year-old British actress had some powerful reasons to play Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, a woman who ruled the fashion scene of 18th century London and had great political influence. Knightly presented the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she talked to us about the filming process, among other fascinating topics.
What was it about this story that made you want to do another epoch film?
Everything about this project interested me. There aren’t many interesting roles for women in movies so when one comes to your door it’s really exciting. The idea of this woman who had such an important public image, dictated the fashion of her time and was so involved in politics, but at the same time in her private life was so lonely and vulnerable, was appealing to me. The mix of all these elements was irresistible.
The hairdos and dresses your character wears are absolutely amazing…
“The wardrobe and wigs I used were designed by Marit Allen, who won an Oscar last year for her work in La Vie en Rose. She made some wire structures that looked like birdcages and placed the hair on that, so the wigs were really heavy.
Your character was the most popular woman of her time, you are also very popular. Do you see any other similarities between the two of you?
No, really doing something that was somehow autobiographical was not my idea. I think she is a fascinating character and one that is easy to sympathize with, but I don’t find any parallels between her life and mine
In the movie, your character has various children. Was it hard for you to play a mom?
The girls who played my daughters were fantastic, so it wasn’t very hard to me play that role.
What did you learn about Georgiana by playing her?
Oh, God! I don’t know exactly, but I think she was an extraordinary woman and I love the character’s weaknesses, the fact that she was far from being perfect and was full of contradictions, because that is a very human and real characteristic. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to play someone like that in a movie. It’s very common for movie characters to be very lineal, they are either good or bad, there is no middle point. So when I had the opportunity to play such a complicated woman, I didn’t doubt it for a second.
Many people find parallels between the stories of Georgiana and Lady Di. Do you think there are any parallels?
I’m afraid I was only 11 years old when Diana died and my parents were never interested in gossip. So I wasn’t very aware of what was happening with her, I don’t know her story that well. I know they were both iconic figures, but aside from that, I don’t know if they shared any other traits.
You were able to film in some of the places where Georgiana actually lived. Did that help you get into character?
It was a great help to me because being in the places where these characters actually lived and breathed was very powerful. The fact that the locations were so enormous was overwhelming. Thanks to that you can really feel why she felt so isolated and lonely. Those houses have that particularity.