Anna Karenina

The third collaboration of Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley with acclaimed director Joe Wright, following the award-winn… Read More

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Adapting novels (especially epic ones) to screen is often an arduous task — the director must ensure that he/she stays true to the original material, while giving it a stamp of his/her own particular style. The cast, to some extent, must also be willing to adjust to that vision.

Oscar-nominated actor Jude Law certainly jumped head-first into the role of Karenin in Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina,” which takes the Russian novel and melds together the worlds of theater and film in a very unique way. We watch Law’s character transform from a rigid, religious man into a softer, more emotional being — of course with the help of Anna (Keira Knightley).

Moviefone caught up with Law at the Toronto Film Festival to talk about how this role is a departure from his usual characters, what the novel says about love in all its forms, and how amazing it is that it’s still relevant today.

This is quite the role to tackle — this book is a tome, and the movie’s huge.
The book is extraordinary, a masterpiece really. When I think about [Leo Tolstoy] writing this, I wonder if he knew, all these years later, how many versions would be made, and if he realized it would be inspiring such passionate translations. Adapting something is always a process by which it’s being reconfigured and filtered anyway, but I was so inspired by Joe [Wright]‘s choice to take it into this new realm, to push the language of film a little bit. He hopped back to another style of cinema that we’ve seen handled by the greats, but he’s also adding a modern voice of his own.

It was great that he didn’t want to do just another period piece; by integrating the theater aspect, he takes it in a whole other direction.
Ultimately, when you’re reinterpreting classics … say you’re redoing “Hamlet” … you eventually get to the juncture where you ask, “What’s the point? What am I bringing to this?” And I think Joe answers that, undeniably. He embraces this medium, and we, the cast, are the willing band around him. I enjoy working in the theater anyway, so to be given a very constructed universe in which to portray a character … I found it liberating, in a funny way.

So you really enjoyed the melding together of the two worlds, film and theater?
I did, but it honestly never felt like we were doing a play, but it used familiar theatrical devices.

What, to you, does this movie have to say about love and relationships?
That we’ll never quite have a handle on it. That there are multiple sides to every story. That there’s no right or wrong, or as Vronsky says, “There is no ‘why’ in love.” As Joe emphasizes, we all play a role in it, but it’s as beguiling, desirable and terrifying as it ever was.

One scene that stood out was you and Aaron [Johnson, co-star] holding hands over Anna Karenina’s bed. You love her, he loves her, yet you both put it aside. I think that says something about the nature of love.
It’s a huge scene, and I think it shows the capacity for real love might be forgiveness and understanding. What’s complex about Karenin is I don’t think he would have come to that relationship in the first place (the one between he and Anna), it having been forged under the eyes of God. His devout faith and his belief that the marriage begins, and therefore can’t necessarily end under the eyes of God … he has to understand what it is that she’s done and why. He has to try and live with that. Possibly the only journey he can make to have that happen is to forgive. That’s a huge thing to ask a man or woman, to forgive.

That’s almost like a theme nowadays, especially in Hollywood, with all the cheating scandals, break-ups and getting back together…
Yes, and another interesting aspect is how relevant the story’s issues are to today’s society. These social dynamics of scandal, gossip, judgement and ostracization – very primal responses, almost like the pack picking out the weakest and most vulnerable members and then turning on them. Joe also highlights certain things in his directorial style: the pretense, especially. On one hand, you have the people in the field who are willing to work hand-to-mouth, living a very real, very grounded life, and then there are the others who aren’t even really on the ground. [Laughs] They live in incredible indulgence and decadence, to the point where they’re portraying actors. They’re acting out their lives. In this case, the Russians are speaking French, and using French etiquette as a style of portraying their elevated status.

Same goes for politics too; it’s very much a costume ball. Your character in particular is very rigid, and he can’t really venture out of his set placement in life without ruining his pristine image.
That’s right. I think his success in the world of bureaucracy and politics is due to his lack of emotion. I think, as a man in that time, he was brought up in an environment that didn’t encourage him to be in touch with his heart or his emotions. He lives in his head, a very cerebral world. He’s dragged by Anna into a world of emotion.

He has a very heavy-duty evolution throughout the movie — it’s fascinating to watch.
It’s huge, yet subtle, for him. It’s enough to make it an exciting journey. I enjoyed the challenge of showing it, but minutely. It’s probably what happens in real life too. You don’t see people changing in an about-face, it takes time. In Karenin’s case, you see him holding on to things that he believes are true, and those are his loyalties and his responsibilities – for example, his children. That says a lot about him.

Was this role intense for you? I always picture you in sci-fi roles, so was this difficult for you in any way, to take on this sort of material?
Intense, but in all the best ways. It was territory I haven’t really played in before, and characteristics I haven’t really investigated, and these were really strong character traits. The stillness of him, the seriousness of him, the weight of his thoughts. This intellectual weight of his, as you can see in the film, is both unattractive and dull in the eyes of a young woman who still wants to experience the world. Equally, like I said, it pays off, too. He hasn’t done anything wrong, he provides all the things a woman would ask for in that society at that time. He’s dutiful and he’s sturdy, just trapped by his religious dedication.

“Anna Karenina” opens in limited release on Friday, November 16.

  • This film image released by Focus Features shows Keira Knightley, left, and director Joe Wright on the set of “Anna Karenina.” (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham)

  • This film image released by Focus Features shows Keira Knightley in a scene from “Anna Karenina.” (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham)

  • This film image released by Focus Features shows Jude Law in a scene from “Anna Karenina.” (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham)

  • This film image released by Focus Features shows Jude Law, left, and Keira Knightley in a scene from “Anna Karenina.” (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham)

  • This film image released by Focus Features shows Keira Knightley in a scene from “Anna Karenina.” (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham)

  • This film image released by Focus Features shows Aaron Taylor-Johnson, left, and Keira Knightley in a scene from “Anna Karenina.” (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham)

  • Keira Knightley

    Actress Keira Knightley attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” at Florence Gould Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

  • Keira Knightley

    Actress Keira Knightley attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” at Florence Gould Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

  • Joe Wright

    Director Joe Wright attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” at Florence Gould Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

  • Alicia Vikander, Joe Wright, Keira Knightley, Domhnall Gleeson

    From left, actress Alicia Vikander, actress Keira Knightley, director Joe Wright and actor Domhnall Gleeson attend the premiere of “Anna Karenina” at Florence Gould Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

  • Keira Knightley

    Actress Keira Knightley attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” at Florence Gould Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

  • Joe Wright; Anoushka Shankar;

    Director Joe Wright and his wife Anoushka Shankar pose on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film “Anna Karenina” during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Olivia Williams;

    Actress Olivia Williams walks the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film “Anna Karenina” during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Jude Law

    Actor Jude Law attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” during the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 7, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Jude Law

    Actor Jude Law signs autographs before the premiere of “Anna Karenina” during the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 7, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Joe Wright, Anoushka Shankar

    Director Joe Wright and wife Anoushka Shankar attend the premiere of “Anna Karenina” during the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 7, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Jude Law

    Actor Jude Law attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” during the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 7, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Keira Knightley

    Actress Keira Knightley attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” during the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 7, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Keira Knightley

    Actress Keira Knightley attends the premiere of “Anna Karenina” during the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 7, 2012 in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • Olivia Williams;

    Actress Olivia Williams walks the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film “Anna Karenina” during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson;

    Actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson walks the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film “Anna Karenina” during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Jude Law;

    Actor Jude Law stands for a photo on the red carpet at the Elgin Theatre for the film “Anna Karenina” during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

  • Tom Stoppard

    British playwright Tom Stoppard poses as he arrives for the world premiere of Anna Karenina in London, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

  • Alicia Vikander

    Cast member Swedish actress Alicia Vikander poses as she arrives for the world premiere of Anna Karenina in London, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

  • Keira Knightley, Jude Law

    Cast members British actress Keira Knightley and actor Jude Law pose as they arrive for the world premiere of Anna Karenina in London, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

  • Keira Knightley, Jude Law

    Cast members British actress Keira Knightley and actor Jude Law shares a laugh as they arrive for the world premiere of Anna Karenina in London, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

  • Keira Knightley

    Cast member British actress Keira Knightley poses as she arrives for the world premiere of Anna Karenina in London, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

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