How do you follow up a starring role in one of the most successful movie franchises of all time?
If you're British actress Keira Knightley, you take the opportunity to star in the period piece "Atonement," adapted from Ian McEwan's best-selling novel and an opportunity to team up again with director and friend Joe Wright.
Knightley recalls first learning about the project from the "Pride & Prejudice" director, a film that earned her an Academy Award nomination in 2006. Knightley said, "Joe sent me the script, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed," having not read the novel on which the movie is based.
"Anything that provokes that kind of emotional reaction is worth following up ... and for the acting to be in a very 1930s style, was absolutely fascinating," the actress said.
To immerse herself in the role of Celia Tallis, a young upper-class woman whose lover is forced to leave her under abrupt and scandalous circumstances, Knightley had to master mannerisms and an accent very different than that of today's Britain.
Knightley, along with the rest of the cast, was immersed in 1930s-era British film as well as "various news footage of the time to get that accent and the idea of exactly where British culture was at that point."
"I think it's completely different now, I think the 1930s, 1940s, was the peak of that 'stiff upper lip' sort of repression really. The idea that you get on with things and you don't talk about emotions, but you soldier on no matter what. So it was very interesting as a Brit from today, looking at that culture and immersing myself in that," she said.
The cast adopted a collaborative preparation process to produce the film. Most of the actors, along with the director and production team, moved in together on-site.
Knightley explained how they "were all living in one big farmhouse, which was great, because you're all sort of living and breathing and eating this film. It was the experience I always imagined film to be ... a sense of community and creative collaboration that was incredibly exciting."
To read Peter Travers' Rolling Stone Review of "Atonement," please click here.
But Knightley says there was one lone figure who opted out of the communal living.
"Actually, James McAvoy took a house on his own, and I think it was right," she said.
She said this was a strictly professional decision: "(His character) Robbie Turner is very much the outsider of the piece, and I think he really wanted to keep that space." But McAvoy was not a total no-show. "He still came over and ate with us, and got drunk with us."
Up next for Knightley is a collaboration with her mother, the playwright and actress Sharman MacDonald.
It's "one that my mum has written called the 'Edge of Love,' about the friendship group that surrounded Dylan Thomas during the Second World War," she said.
Mixing her mother with her movie making is not a new situation for Knightley. "My mum's a writer and my dad's an actor and I was always around actors and directors."
It was this background that pushed Knightley into a career in acting from the age of three.
"I think if you see it as a young child its completely magic...I wanted to be a part of it."
Knightley said her attitude toward acting shows a certain maturity beyond many of the contemporary Hollywood sweethearts.
But this is nothing new. In fact, she says her mother always told her as a young girl that she was born 45-years-old.
"I didn't ever like being a child. I wanted to be an adult, but she said I'd meet myself at 22½ years old, and I'm 22½ now."
She warns that that might mean, "I'm regressing. I'm gonna be in diapers soon."