Keira Knightley on filming an apocalyptic Christmas movie as a fresh mom: 'What the f--- was I thinking!?'
Keira Knightley's new, wild horror-comedy Silent Night takes the usual horror of the holidays (in-laws, differing political views, etc.) and roasts it over an open fire, begging the question: What happens when parents bring children into the world and have to see them out of it as well?
The real-life mother of two plays a doting mum who welcomes her extended friend circle to her rural English home to celebrate their last Christmas together, as the ongoing climate crisis has triggered an apocalyptic event that will wipe them all out — unless they take government-sanctioned suicide pills before it strikes.
"It's every parent's worse nightmare," Knightley tells EW, adding that she found the script to be "the funniest thing" after first reading it while pregnant with her second child. "When we came to do it when my kid was about 5 months old, I read it again like, 'This is not funny at all! This is the opposite of funny, what the f--- was I thinking!?' It speaks to this weird maternal psyche where you've got the fluffy love of bringing life into the world, but in doing that you're made unbelievably aware of the fragility of life and that death is absolutely side-by-side with life…. It's rarely explored on film."
Silent Night is now playing in theaters and streaming on AMC+. Read on for Knightley's full thoughts on the film, reuniting with Pirates costar Johnny Depp's daughter, Lily-Rose, on set, and whether she's been asked to do a Bend It Like Beckham sequel ahead of the movie's 20-year anniversary in 2022.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why is pairing the holidays with the threat of apocalyptic doom such a perfect match?
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: It just made me laugh! I love the idea of presenting something as a typical holiday feel-good movie and spinning it on its head to make it psychological horror. I never read anything like that before. There are certain dynamics that play out often at Christmastime in close family or friendship groups that can be really tense. I thought it was a clever way to look at the dynamic of a group that kind of shouldn't really be friends anymore, and that they sort of love each other, but kind of hate each other as well and put them in the most extreme situation possible and see how they react to that.
The seed for a horrific holiday is already planted in people's minds when thinking about dealing with in-laws or family members who don't share their views.
Yeah! For a lot of adults, Christmas comes with a particular set of traumas, and it can get quite extreme with how people behave when they're locked in together and everyone's been given a lot of alcohol and too much food. Maybe the dynamic of the room is already quite tricky, and Christmas adds an extra layer. But then, added to that, [the characters] are all going to commit suicide! It's the climate crisis that I find absolutely terrifying. You can take this thing where we've completely f---ed up and we're all going to die because we haven't managed to save the planet, how do you cope with that in those last few minutes? In that typically English way, you've got a group of English people not being able to talk about their emotions and trying to pretend it's not happening. It's every parent's worse nightmare, but there's comedic stuff in there where you're like, "No, it'll be fine. We'll go to heaven!" The ridiculousness and total humanity of it is great.
You're all lampooning the queen and speculating that she'll survive in her little bunker, others speculate that the crisis is caused by nature and climate shifts, and the adults want the children to be safe and know it isn't the parents' fault. Was it the topical message that spoke to you more, or the human soul underneath?
It was both. I thought it was cleverly done, and in that way horror-comedy can take something that's so terrifying, and because you make it funny, it becomes more palatable. It totally lampoons every adult character, and yet that makes them understandable and relatable as much as they're horrific. The idea of sitting children down and telling them, "I tried my best! Please don't blame me!" I'd never read anything like it. I was very pregnant when I read this script and I thought it was the funniest thing. I literally howled with laughter, and then when I met my second kid, I'd given birth and she was about 6 weeks old, and I was hugely hormonal and again I read it and just laughed. Then when we came to do it when my kid was about 5 months old, I read it again like, "This is not funny at all! This is the opposite of funny, what the f--- was I thinking!?" It speaks to this weird maternal psyche where you've got the fluffy love of bringing life into the world but in doing that you're made unbelievably aware of the fragility of life and that death is absolutely side-by-side with life…. It's rarely explored on film.
Director Camille Griffin's three sons are in the film, right?
Yeah! And they're hilarious. The way this story came about was because her oldest son, Roman Griffin Davis, was in Jojo Rabbit, and she was trying to explain to [her kids] about the Nazis. The twins were 10 and Roman was 11 or 12, and it was like, how do you explain this horrific thing to kids? She's trying to explain Joseph Goebbels, and realizes that he killed his children, and has to [tell them] he killed his children. They were horrified, and said to her, "Well, you wouldn't do that to us, would you?" And she was like… if the apocalypse came, we'd just take a nice pill and we wouldn't know anything about it. So, she wrote this film based on that conversation she had with her sons.
This cast is a fabulous ensemble. The dynamic is lived-in. I love that Lily-Rose Depp is your costar. The connection there is obvious — was this a reunion for both of you, or have you remained in contact over the years since filming Pirates with her dad?
I think I met her once on Pirates as a 3-year-old, and then I met her after that because we both worked for Chanel, so I met her again at a Chanel event. She's a great woman and I'm impressed by the choices that she's made as far as her work. She's making really interesting, strange films!
Did Johnny Depp visit while filming Silent Night, just because the connection of you and his daughter in the same movie is too good to pass up?
No! It was weird because we were filming this from the last week of February through lockdown, as the pandemic unfolded. We were all crammed into this house together. Obviously, nobody could come and visit the set because things were getting more dangerous. Although we'd discussed at the beginning that it was the climate crisis, Cami had written a version of the script where it was a virus. People said to her — including me — that it's not as believable with a virus! Lily-Rose, we had to get her out sooner because the borders were shutting and she needed to be in France with her mom. So, there were multiple levels that made it very, very weird.
We're now entering the Christmas season and Silent Night is a lovely segue into Love Actually. Have you finally rewatched the film?
No, I have not watched the film again. Yes, I know that I stay with my husband! I must watch the film, I know. It's just very odd watching films that you're in! It's just a bit weird!
Bend It Like Beckham also turns 20 years old next year. Have you ever been approached to do a sequel or spin-off?
No, I haven't been approached to do any of those things! To tell you the truth, I'm so unfit at the moment, the prospect of running around with a football is just awful! It's such a lovely film. I haven't seen that one since it came out either. [Laughs] What's amazing about it is that it still inspires so many girls to play football. Within that 20-year period, I've always had teenage girls coming up to me going, "I love Bend It Like Beckham! I'm a football player!" It's amazing.
You can be the coach if you aren't fit enough to be on the field!
[Laughs] I think I'd have to be! I think I can shout from the sidelines.
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