'Anna Karenina' director Joe Wright chats about film, Keira Knightley
You don't just casually decide to adapt "Anna Karenina" for the big screen. Leo Tolstoy's iconic work isn't your run-of-the-mill entertainment.
It's an intricate study of the human heart that a poll of 125 top authors in J. Peder Zane's 2007 compilation "The Top 10: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books" deemed the best novel ever written. Talk about pressure.
Fortunately, filmmaker Joe Wright has brought classic literature to cinema before, having directed "Pride and Prejudice," and achieved critical acclaim with such high-end fare as "Atonement" and "Hanna."
His "Anna Karenina" is a highly-theatricalized endeavor, with ever-shifting sets and other visual innovations replacing naturalistic settings in telling the story of 19th-Century St. Petersburg, Russia socialite Anna's affair with a cavalry officer.
amNewYork spoke with Wright about the film, his third collaboration with star Keira Knightley. It opens Friday.
What made you take on this immense challenge? I guess I kind of got to the point where these ideas have been running around my head for awhile. I'm interested in exploring form that might somehow be more expressive of the characters' emotions and the story that I was telling. And so it was really a matter of accepting that now was the right time to make this movie.
Do you think you've found a way into "Anna Karenina" that prior movie adaptations haven't? I can't really comment on that because I haven't seen any of them. So, I don't know what they hit or missed. And I try very hard not to compare myself to other work, for fear of either becoming vain or bitter. Each is as bad as the other.
Was Keira Knightley the automatic choice for you, or did you go through a casting process? There was no longer list. I very specifically wanted to make another film with Keira and felt that this was the right film to make with her. I felt that she was at a time in her life and in her creative development where she had moved from stunning ingenue to great actress and I was very keen to be the director to bare witness to that.
What, above all, has made Tolstoy's work so timeless? Somehow, he had this insight into human nature. And I have no idea how, because it almost seems preternatural, he's almost a prophet really, in the sense that he could see things and articulate things that we feel but can't speak of. So, his characters and their interal journeys reflect our own internal journeys, our fears and hopes with incredible clarity.