Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit wasn’t the first time Keira Knightley auditioned to work with actor/director Sir Kenneth Branagh, she tells Albertina Lloyd.
“I went for a role in Hamlet (Branagh directed and starred in the 1996 big screen adaptation) when I was 11 and I didn’t get it, but he was very lovely,” she says, smiling coyly.
“But this was the first time we’ve crossed paths since then.”
The knock-back didn’t stop Knightley from pursuing her acting career. She’s gone on to earn an Oscar nomination for her performance in 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, among numerous other plaudits.
Dressed for a day of interviews in a pretty floral frock, Knightley’s shivering in the harsh chill of the elegant hotel’s air conditioning.
Branagh quickly whips off his suit jacket and tucks it over her shoulders.
“The main reason I did this film was Ken Branagh,” says the actress. “I’ve been a huge fan of his since I was a kid and the opportunity to work with him, not only as an actor but a director, was something I couldn’t say no to.”
In turn, Branagh, who was oblivious to Knightley’s early audition until now, reveals he’s been closely following her work for years.
“She’s very adventurous and I love her in films like A Dangerous Method,” says the 53-year-old.
“She’s the most varied actress and I feel we have so much work to come from her yet.”
Based on the novels by Tom Clancy, the Jack Ryan reboot sees Star Trek actor Chris Pine take on the role of the CIA agent previously portrayed on screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.
His doctor wife Cathy is played by Keira Knightley while Kevin Costner plays a CIA boss.
Having Branagh as both her on-screen sparring partner and at the movie’s helm was strange, Knightley admits.
“It was hysterical. He’s playing the nastiest villain you can imagine, who does some horrific things to me. He’d be completely horrendous, screaming in my ear and all the rest of it, and then suddenly go, ‘OK ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much. That’s a cut and that was lovely’, and be this sweet man,” she says.
Branagh hadn’t always intended to take on the role of Viktor, but as he began working on the project, he found it impossible to resist.
“It was several months into the process and having spent a lot of time with Chris Pine developing the story, the script had developed to the point where the role of Viktor was richer,” he explains. “I thought would be good fun to play.”
Costner, a fellow actor-director, is an old friend, it transpires.
“It’s like coming full circle,” reveals Branagh. “When I first went to Hollywood, on tour with two Shakespeare plays, I got a call at the theatre saying a fellow called Kevin Costner would like to take me out to lunch.
“He wanted to ask me what it’s like to act and direct in a movie at the same time, because I’d just done it in Henry V, and he was about to do it in Dances With Wolves.
“We had a long boozy lunch sharing war stories. It was the beginning of a friendship that’s lasted all that time.”
Branagh’s now an old hand at directing himself, having doubled up for a number of films.
Then in 2011, he took the helm of the adaptation of Marvel comics’ Thor.
So what attracted this thespian to the world of action films?
“I always felt as though I started making action films with Henry V, which ends with the Battle of Agincourt, 10, 15 minutes of non-stop fighting,” he points out.
The break from tragic heroines has given Knightley a taste for lighter projects, it seems.
“It’s always nice to have somebody who’s intelligent, although I don’t know...” she muses. “I don’t think I’ve ever played an unbelievably stupid character, and actually that might be quite interesting.”