Having worked with Joe Wright over the past two decades on three films (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and, most recently, Anna Karenina), Keira Knightley felt comfortable working with the director on a commercial film for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance. The third chapter of the Oriental scent’s advertising campaign (30- and 60-second spots which debuted March 21, followed by a print advertisement shot by Mario Testino in April) offers a cinematic adventure shot in Paris.
“Since I met him, Joe has always supported me and helped me push back my limits,” Knightley says. “Neither Joe nor I could ever have imagined that this collaboration would continue for so many years. Having this creative relationship with him is an incredible chance for me.”
She goes on: “Working with someone you know and who knows you just as well changes absolutely everything. We can create a story together more quickly. On a set, Joe is very quiet and he gives me space. He gives me very simple, concise and clear directions. I have complete trust in his taste, which I can always count on. And a glance between us is all it takes to get a message across.”
The actress is no stranger to the brand, which she’s represented since 2007; the French fashion house helmed by Karl Lagerfeld created her wedding dress when she married rocker James Righton last summer and she’s worn the label’s designs on many a red carpet over the years. Wearing Chanel’s scents is also something Knightly’s familiar with—it’s even something of a family tradition.
“My grandmother wore Chanel N°5,” Knightley recalls, while she herself is partial to Coco Mademoiselle. “A friend gave it to me a couple years before I received this wonderful offer. Until then, I had never worn women’s fragrances, because I found them too sweet or floral. Suddenly, people were stopping me in the street to ask what perfume I was wearing.”
For the new commercial spots, working with talent like stage designer Aline Bonetto, who won two César awards for her work with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on Amélie and A Very Long Engagement, made for a strong, artistic setting. On the Paris set, Wright as well as Knightley’s husband chose mood music to keep the set hopping (“James was nice enough to come support us,” she says).
But even a pro like Knightley gets jitters. “I’m still just as stressed out when I start a film shoot and I’m not happy with everything that I do,” she says. “But with time and each new film, I continue to learn, unlearn and learn again. And therefore to build who I am.”
This summer, she’ll appear in Laggies by Lynn Shelton, in which she plays a 28-year-old woman who decides to leave everything behind when her boyfriend asks her to marry him. She’ll also star in Begin Again (which will close the Tribeca Film Festival) alongside Mark Ruffalo. “After Anna Karenina, I suddenly realized that for the past five years, in all of my films, I either died or was subjected to situations that were each more horrific than the last. So I wanted more positive vibrations! And nothing could correspond better than this New York fairy tale of a young woman who tries to finally have the life that she always wanted.”
For Knightley, that sounds like a fitting story. Below, the actress reveals more about her work, her life off set, and her favorite Chanel moments.
On working with director Joe Wright:
“Joe is the first filmmaker who really believed in me. The first one who told me that he liked the way I acted. And hearing those words when you’re only 19 is just priceless.”
On wanting to be an actress:
“I can’t precisely explain where this desire came from. Unless it was because I didn’t really have to decide who I wanted to be, because I could take on a different personality with each role.”
On her guilty pleasures:
“I bite my nails, so that means that I’m obsessed with them, right? I love to go out and buy nail polish in the most absurd colors and paint my nails with them. Last time, I chose yellow—which I do not recommend! I looked like I had nicotine-stained fingers. I won’t repeat the yellow experience, but you can count on me to find an even crazier shade next time!”
On her favorite restaurants:
“Le Chateaubriand [in Paris]. I highly recommend their second service, because they don’t take reservations. So you find yourself in line with people from all over the world who’ve come on a sort of pilgrimage. The dishes there are wonderful. And the restaurant isn’t intimidating at all. It feels like you’re in a small Parisian bistro. You get the impression that everyone is there out of pure love for food.”
On her bucket list:
“I dream of discovering Noma, a restaurant in Copenhagen. Friends of mine had the chance to go recently and they said it was one of the greatest culinary experiences of their lives, just incredibly decadent. I can’t wait to find out for myself!”
On her favorite Chanel moment:
“The amazing commercial that Jean-Paul Goude made with Vanessa Paradis in a birdcage [for her Coco Chanel fragrance campaign]. Also, I have a real admiration for Coco Chanel, for the woman she was—a free woman in the strongest sense of the word—and for the designer [who was] able to create clothing that everyone could wear. Coco Chanel is timeless and her creations precisely express her free spirit.”