From Bodice to Bounty Hunter:
Column Inches #15 with Keira Knightley

by Tony Phillips

Rare is the gay man, in these weeks leading up to the rollout of Tony Scott’s latest schlock-fest Domino, who hasn’t spun on a heel toward the camera, exhaled twin plumes of smoke from flared nostrils and announced in his best Queen’s English: “I’m Domino Harvey.”

“Is that quite right?” Keira Knightley asks me in the same dulcet Oxbridge tone. I’m forced to admit that I, at least, have got my Domino down. And, horrifyingly, she’s giggling and begging me to let her have it. I oblige, and her brow remains permanently cocked in my direction for the duration of our interview.

I want to drag her — cocked eyebrow, Nefertiti pendant and all — past the first velvet rope I see. “I really don’t go out much,” she begs off, “I don’t go to the cool clubs. If I’m in New York, I have no idea whatsoever. I haven’t got a clue. There are some great restaurants. I love SoHo. I love it down there. It’s fantastic.”

Now here’s the rub — wait for it — “I’m not officially allowed to drink here,” the 20-year-old says, matter-of-fact.

“London’s great,” she continues on the subject of nightclubbing, “I can tell you about the sleaziest bars in London: really good funk soul bars that are underground, but dirty and fantastic. But actually, you know what? I’m not going to, because if I do then you’ll know where I am and you’ll totally ruin it for me.”

Blonde bangs and the super-satch palette make it easy to forget we’re not even supposed to be discussing Domino Harvey. Knightley’s in town to promote that other fall project in which she inhabits practically every frame: Focus Features’ lush adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Knightley herself says she would duck the historians who’d come in to give lectures and etiquette lessons on the Austen set to perfect Harvey’s kickboxing routine with a trainer. So she’s fine with letting a little bounty hunter chat slide.

But she’s also eager to talk about her Austen heroine, Lizzie Bennet, a character she describes as “an incredibly passionate, witty, intelligent, just-amazing being, but also somebody who’s so annoying you want to kick her up the ass and just say, ‘Oh, sort it out!’ She’s flawed.”

Knightley is not. She’s found the fading sun streaming into her Mandarin Oriental suite and she’s working it like key lighting. The flaw, perhaps, lies not on her body, but her body of work. Her character Jules, in the sleeper-hit Bend It Like Beckham was, quite famously, de-gayed. As that work of fiction went on to win a GLAAD Media Award, it may be OK.

She seems genuinely surprised to learn of that film’s excised lesbian storyline and says, almost offhandedly, “Yeah, I never read that version. You can only do the piece that’s put in front of you.”

But what about the recently-deceased Harvey, who, before she was found dead in her West Hollywood bathtub at 35, was rumored to be quite pissed at the big-screen version of her life playing it straight?

“There’s no point in going, ‘Oh, but she had a relationship with a woman,’” is how Knightley answers the Harvey charge. “If you’ve seen Domino, there’s not really much room for anything else in it. It’s a pretty full piece.”

And with any story you do, Knightley says, there’s bound to be a million things left out. “You know, my mom’s a writer and reading some of her stuff and then seeing what she has to cut is heartbreaking sometimes. There are so many fantastic scenes and so many storylines that just have to get chucked away. That’s the nature of the beast.”

So third time’s the charm? Might her burgeoning gay following actually see Knightley as a card-carrying lesbian on the big screen sometime soon?

“Yeah,” she chuckles,”iIf the script’s good, why not?” Let’s hope so, as we’ve been practicing our kickboxing, too.