“I’ve never done anything like this,” admits Knightley who is best known for her costume dramas and period films such as “Pride & Prejudice,” and “Atonement,” as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
“My character has pretty much died in everything I’ve done for the last five years,” she jokes. “I decided I’d like to do something where I didn’t have to go through heavy emotional turmoil and die, if at all possible. There’s a touch of emotional turmoil in this, but in the end I found it to be incredibly hopeful. It’s rare to find pieces of work that are so full of hope.”
The latest film from writer-director John Carney (ONCE), BEGIN AGAIN tells the story of two lost souls who meet and make beautiful music together. Gretta (Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own.
Disgraced record-label exec, Dan Mulligan (played by Mark Ruffalo) is facing a failing marriage, a career he can’t keep up with, and a daughter he can’t connect to. But at his most desperate moment, he hears a powerful song by Gretta, an unknown musician on the brink of giving up her musical dreams after unexpected heartbreak and frustration. An unlikely pair who are brought together by equal parts inspiration and desperation, the film follows them as their musical partnership develops into a deep friendship, and their lives take unexpected turns.
Bound together by their mutual determination to bring Gretta’s music to life by recording her songs outdoors – with the sounds and rhythms of New York City as a sonic backdrop – they ultimately find themselves enmeshed in one another’s emotional lives, unsure of how the boundaries between friend, partner, and potential lover are supposed to be drawn. “It’s an odd-couple type of relationship,” observes Knightley. “These aren’t necessarily two people who would find each other, but this happens at a very strange moment in their lives, and they end up being exactly what the other needs.”
“Well I know that I’m not horrendous, and I really enjoy doing it in the shower but there is singing and there’s SINGING, I suddenly found myself in the studio and thought I have no “f—ing” idea how to do this. Fortunately, my character doesn’t actually like singing in front of people. She likes writing and performing on her own, so that was quite useful,” Knightley said in an interview with Glamour magazine.
“A lot of the music wasn’t finished until I got to New York. I had been working with a vocal coach to find a sound that would work for the character, but two or three of Gretta’s songs were just handed to me on the day we recorded them, so there was been a bit of flying by the seat of our pants and hoping for the best. There’s an old stage saying: ‘It’ll be all right on the night.’ So far, it all seems to have gone all right.”
Her modest impressions of her own talent were also playfully contradicted by her costar: “Keira is fantastic,” says Ruffalo. “She’s fun and game for anything and a talented singer.”
Keira brought an extra dimension to the script,” says Carney. “We suddenly had an English-American relationship which added a dimension of charm, and allowed us to have a very different tone from a cast of all Americans or all New Yorkers. In a way it reminded me of old films like CHARADE, where those two cultures meeting is part of the story’s appeal. I think as a filmmaker I need to play to the strengths of the actors, so Mark and Keira really shaped the film. As a director, I use the skills the people have, rather than what I wrote. Not to take advantage of that is a crime.”
Also discovering her musical talent is Hailee Steinfeld, who earned an Oscar nomination for her scene-stealing role in the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT opposite Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Wisely deciding to only pursue roles that will offer her a challenge and not interfere with her everyday teenage life, Steinfeld was excited to be part of BEGIN AGAIN.
“There was never a minute when I felt bored. It’s not easy to find a group of people like that,” she says. “John really helped me out – when you see your director speak so highly of what you are doing, it’s really great.”
Steinfeld also picked up some guitar to play the part of Violet, who moves from being a sullen teenager to mending bridges with her father thanks to the kinship she forges with Gretta. “Music is important in this film,” says Steinfeld. “And music is a very big thing in my life. It really came in handy with the work that I did in the film. The vibe was just so great.”
“Begin Again” opens on July 9, 2014 in theaters nationwide and is distributed locally by SOLAR PICTURES.