Exclusive: Keira Knightley on Official Secrets, activism and #MeToo

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Chloe Gray
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Keira Knightley plays Sally Alexander in Misbehaviour

In Official Secrets, Kiera Knightley plays a whistleblower in the film about the lead up to the Iraq War. Here, she tells Stylist why standing up for what you believe in is so important to her.

Keira Knightley has been busy, and not just with her new film, Official Secrets. The actor meets Stylist at the Soho Hotel, just weeks after giving birth to her second baby. During the conversation, Knightley breaks the ice with a joke about breastfeeding, but when we turn our attention to Official Secrets it’s clear she takes her role very seriously.

The film tells the true story of Katherine Gun, a GCHQ worker, who, in a bid to stop the Iraq war, leaked an email to the press and was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. Knightley perfectly portrays Gun during the tense, hopeless months during which she waits to be charged and faces trial. 

Here’s what Knightley had to say about the film, the war, and why we should all be activists…

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This is a very different story to anything we’ve seen you in before. What drew you to it?

I was just fascinated by it. I’d never heard of Katherine Gun. And I remember a lot about the lead up to the 2003 war, but I was just kind of fascinated that I didn’t know this piece of the puzzle. And so I read it and just felt like it was kind of quite an important story to tell.

So what were you doing at the time?

In 2003 I was anti-war and I was on some of the anti-war marches, but not the biggest one because I was also filming Pirates of the Caribbean. During the biggest [march], I was actually in LA on the phone to friends of mine who were there, as I was dressed as a pirate. I’ve always been interested in the world around me. How can you not be? I think that’s all politics is, looking at the world around you.

It’s a very interesting time for this film to come out. Why is it that now was the time to tell this story?

I think all of a sudden people are more politically aware right now. I know that they’ve been trying to tell this story for a number of years and they couldn’t get financing for it or one way or another it didn’t come together. But right now there is a thirst for more of a political kind of conversation. I guess this very definitely falls into that category.

The film is about how Katherine Gun tries to stop the Iraq war, but she often talks about her mission as a failure. As someone who’s been engrossed in her story, do you see it as that?

It’s a heroic failure, but yeah, of course [it failed] because the Iraq war happened. What she was trying to do was stop a war. What she was trying to do was save lives. And she didn’t. But I think where she absolutely isn’t a failure is that very few of us stand up. We all like to talk a good talk, but very few people would put that into action. There are very few truth tellers because the consequences of that are so huge. We don’t live in a society that applauds truth tellers. And so I think she is utterly heroic in my opinion. I think what she did was extraordinary. But no, unfortunately [she failed]. I’m sure everybody wishes that you could go back and that the millions of people who died in that conflict hadn’t died, but we can’t.

Keira Knightley talks activism and #MeToo
“I feel very uncomfortable now trying to portray the male gaze,” says Keira Knightley.

You’ve been standing up and telling the truth with your work for Time’s Up and with #MeToo. Why was that important to you?

I think with Time’s Up it was just a very definite feel that something had to be done. They didn’t just want it to be a very tidy news story that then disappeared. I think everybody wanted to try and implement some actual change. So putting something very definitely into the legal field, which is what Time’s Up is, it’s a legal fund, felt very important. In the UK it’s a slightly different thing because it’s giving money to frontline women’s charities in order to help them as well. I think it was taking the horror of the realisation of the scale of sexual harassment within, not just the film industry, but every industry and actually trying to do something positive, that would actually create some positive change.

We live in a very uncertain political and social landscape, so how do you keep up that positivity? What gives you hope?

I think the fact that there are so many protests going on right now. I was late because of Extinction Rebellion and it couldn’t have been happier. I mean, I think that we should be out on the streets, and we should be able to be trying to create the world that we want to live in. With environmentalism it’s like, actually saving the world – that’s a pretty good reason to get out on the street. So I think there is a great deal of hope, particularly in the younger generation, when you look at those climate activists who are 16, 17, 18 years old. The ones who created the School Strike for Climate Change. But obviously only if everybody takes part and if we all do our best to try and get political change.

Official Secrets is in cinemas now.