Steve Carell, Lorene Scafaria, and Keira Knightley on set. Photo: Darren Michaels/Courtesy Focus Features
With any luck, the Mayans miscalculated and the world will not end on December 21 of this year. For one thing, Keira Knightley, who recently announced her engagement, has a wedding to get to.
ELLE.com spoke to Knightley recently at the Waldorf Astoria about her new apocalyptic rom-com, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Knightley declined comment on which designers are on the short list to design her wedding gown. So instead, we asked her about her favorite formal gown designers. “I would like to make it absolutely clear that I am not commenting on the previous wedding dress question!” she said, laughing (duly noted, Ms. Knightley). “But if you are asking me about eveningwear, I am wearing to the premiere in LA for this film a Valentino gown, which I am looking forward to. And I have a very nice Chanel gown on hold for a premiere later this year for Anna Karenina. So I’d go with those two.”
In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Knightley plays Penny, the eccentric English neighbor of insurance broker Dodge (Steve Carell). With the news that an enormous asteroid will destroy earth in three weeks, chaos ensues. Connie Britton and Patton Oswalt are among the guests at a wild party in which every social restraint has been tossed out and all hell breaks loose: children drinking, fireworks exploding, people doing drugs to Radiohead, with random hook-ups and non-stop eating (“That’s my house on a typical Saturday night!” Carell told us.).
As riots and looting escalate, Dodge escapes New York with Penny; he wants to find his long-lost love in Delaware, and Penny is in search of an airplane (all flights have been downed) to get home to her family in England. A hilariously surreal road trip through New Jersey ensues, including a homicide, an overnight jail stay, a detour to the bunker of Penny’s ex-boyfriend, and a visit to a TGI Friday’s-ish restaurant where an orgy breaks out. “I’m from Jersey, so I have a love of TGI Friday’s and chain restaurants in general,” the film’s director, Lorene Scafaria, explained of the aforementioned scene. “When you go to a Friday’s, it seems like everyone’s on ecstasy and way too happy anyway.”
Although Knightley is known primarily for her dramatic roles, Scafaria cast her as the comic relief. “Keira’s got such energy to her that’s so special and unique. You watch the Pirates movies and you sort of can’t take your eyes off her. Obviously she’s gorgeous, but there’s a light she seems to bring to everything. Especially in terms of playing opposite Steve and wanting a firecracker to light a fire under him; I thought she was the right person for this. I like that a comedic actor would play the more introverted role and that a dramatic actress could play the comic relief. I thought it would be so fun to see her loosen up and play something lighter. And she’s such an old soul and so deep.”
Knightley told ELLE.com that she’d “like to be more like Penny. I really loved her because she’s one of those people who is able to say, ‘This moment is excellent.’ That’s a trait that so few people have. I certainly don’t. We very easily go, ‘I’m so depressed right now,’ but we don’t go, ‘Fuck, I’m really happy!’ And that was such a lovely thing. I’d love to be more like that.”
What would Knightley do if the world was ending in 21 days? “Cry and be very frightened and hide in the corner, I should imagine,” she said. “You’d love to be the person at a party, having a great time, but if I heard a meteor was actually coming to earth, I think I’d be going, ‘Is that going to hurt?!’ People talk about these bucket lists of things you want to do before you die. I think what the film is about is actually more about people. I don’t think I’d get to the end of my life and regret not having jumped out of a plane, but I think I’d regret not having spent more time with the people I love. It’s friendship, love, companionship, the small moments. You’ve got this insurance broker who’s set a life that’s very rigid, and then you’ve got this person that can’t figure anything out and is all over the place and doesn’t know what she wants to be. l loved that it was about an unlikely friendship and those kinds relationships can be the best, where opposites do attract.”
Music is essential in Seeking a Friend: the only possession that Penny brings on the road trip is her collection of ’60s and ’70s vinyl records, which later become a metaphor for her relationship with Dodge (who is older than her). The score includes Beach Boys, Herb Albert, The Hollies and Leonard Cohen, who is one of Knightley’s favorite artists: “Leonard Cohen would be in my collection for end-of-the-world music,” Knightley said.
“One of the most enjoyable parts [of the film] was working on the score with my composers,” said Scafaria. “I was so surprised at how unifying the music was with blending the tone.” The first-time director is in a band called The Shortcoats with one of her composers; actor Adam Brody (who plays Knightley’s whiny boyfriend in the film) is the group’s drummer. “It’s a side project, for sure! It’s sort of rock and roll funeral music.”
Next up for Knightley is the November 9 release of Anna Karenina. “You won’t be able to imagine what [director Joe Wright] has done with it,” she said. “He’s going for a very theatrical—not a naturalistic—take on it. It’s very stylized and right out there as a kind of look. The first time we worked together, on Pride & Prejudice, there wasn’t any pressure, so anything better than shit was amazing! The second time we worked together, on Atonement, everyone was like, ‘It’s an unfilmable novel, who is James McAvoy, it’s going to be crap,’ so again, no pressure. This time, everyone’s going, ‘It’s going to be great,’ so we’re like, ‘Oh nooo!’ So if we’re going to go down in flames, let’s really go down in flames. I’m really excited about it and supportive of his choices.”
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens today.