From the second Keira Knightley shrieks her way into A Dangerous Method for a Carl Jung talking cure that ultimately leads to a spanking session, I was in love with her fiery performance. The 26-year-old British actress—who segues blithely from franchise sequels to art films—plays the troubled Sabina Spielrein in the David Cronenberg–directed look at the early days of psychoanalysis.
Her take on the hysteria-laden human catalyst has divided people like Jung himself did, but I admired her guts enough to lay her on my Naugahyde couch for a searing interrogation about it last week.
“I’ve never done anything like that,” Knightley told me, “and I was amazed that David offered it to me. I thought, ‘If he’s going to offer me something like this, I’m just gonna go for it.’ I knew nothing about psychoanalysis or Freud or Jung, so I did research to find out what made her behave the way she did.”
And . . . ? “Although she’s a masochist,” complied Knightley, “she would have sadistic sides of her personality. Sadomasochism is a circle. A masochist will find a sadist, and if they can’t, they will become the sadist. It also involves playing a victim and being manipulative and forcing people into positions they’re uncomfortable with.” I know, dear, I know.
Knightley says Sabina transferred her feelings about her father onto Jung (Michael Fassbender), whom she loved and hated at the same time. And did Knightley herself love/hate getting whooped by the Shame star? “I was concerned about those scenes,” she admitted. “David Cronenberg said, ‘If you’re uncomfortable with them, we’ll just take it out.’ I didn’t want that to happen because I knew it was important for the story and not gratuitous at all. We discussed how he would shoot it and the purpose of the scenes, and it became easier for me to film them because I knew the reason they were there.”
And it probably helped that her butt never bristled, even after multiple takes. “I didn’t actually get spanked,” she revealed. “He didn’t actually touch me. He hit a box.” And, yes, the box was union.
“The character is fascinating to me,” added Knightley, “because of the amazing struggle she fought her whole life. It wasn’t like a miracle cure. This is someone constantly fighting with the side of herself that wanted to destroy everything, herself included.”
As for those who have transferred their feelings about their father onto A Dangerous Method, Knightley says: “It was always going to be a controversial film. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. You come up with a bland piece when you try to please everyone.”
Even more period self-destruction awaits in Anna Karenina, the remake she and Jude Law have wrapped for Joe Wright (who also Wrighted her in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement). “It’s a very different version,” Knightley told me. “There’s definitely a concept behind it that’s different from the others.” Perhaps a story within a story? “No, but yes, but no,” she responded, obliquely.
And what’s the story with The Children’s Hour, the stage melodrama Knightley revived in London last year? “The movie disturbed me as a young lesbian,” I smirked. “Is it really still relevant?”
“When we started rehearsing it,” Knightley replied, unfazed, “a student in America had said she’d seen a teacher kissing another [same-sex] teacher in the school. Ellen Burstyn brought the news article to rehearsal and said, ‘If anyone says the play isn’t relevant, tell them about this.’ It’s not just the homophobic aspect of it. The story is about what happens with a lie and how we’re so quick to judge people.”
Don’t be quick to judge Keira Knightley. Analysis reveals her to be perfectly fine, spank you very much.
And Now for a Gossip Cure
I also got to analyze director Stephen Daldry about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the one about the boy and the mute unraveling a mystery left by the kid’s father, who died on 9/11. “The kid’s journey is trying to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense,” Daldry told me at 21. “The kid creates his own therapy, and the mother then colludes.” Better than a talking cure, I’m sure. But how was my girl Sandra Bullock, pray tell? “She was like a proper partner in the movie and a proper leading lady,” he said, admiringly. Alas, while James Gandolfini played her proper boyfriend, the footage got ba-da-binged. As for Daldry, he’s going on to co-direct the Olympics, but he’s not going to make it about a boy looking for a father figure.
At a recent tribute to hot daddy Larry King, comic Colin Quinn mercifully seized things by the suspenders and it turned into a roast. I just ran into Quinn and told him how funny he was, and he impishly replied, “That was the longest night of my life!”
Comedy legend Neil Simon recently had a short night of entertainment. I hear Simon sat down for what he thought was an Academy screening of the animated film Alois Nebel. But Simon had written down the wrong time and soon realized he was actually at Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. He mutinied after five minutes.
Another comic near-miss: A source tells me that at Barney’s recently, Meg Ryan bumped into Nora Ephron, the woman behind three of Meg’s smashes. Or she almost did. The two were within feet of each other’s oversize sunglasses, but they simply proceeded in different ways! Weird! Unless they just didn’t recognize each others’ faces.
In other female shopping gossip, guess what Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have on when she wears a track suit, according to a close personal souse, I mean source? Underwear! All the better for some Jungian spanking scenes.