Keira Knightley is a surprisingly divisive ingenue. To many, she’s a brilliant young actress who made an impressive rise from schlocky teen horror and featured extra parts where her name wasn’t even spelled properly, to leading roles in such ambitious period pieces as Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina and The Imitation Game. To others, she’s a “supermodel” who gallivanted about Pirates of the Carribean to fame, but is not a “real” actress. It turns out, John Carney—who directed Knightley in the mediocre rom-com-musical Begin Again—is in the latter camp, and none-too-shy about it.
While promoting his latest film Sing Street, the celebrated musical maker went out of his way to talk shit on his former leading lady in an interview with The Independent. A bit of background, Carney is a musician who’d been making movies since 1996, but only broke through in 2007 with the winsome indie musical Once, which went on to win much acclaim as well as an Oscar for the song “Falling Slowly.” From there, he made a comedy called Zonad that the world largely ignored along with The Rafters, a movie I’d never heard of until this very moment. Then he made Begin Again, a sort-of American retread of Once that starred Knightley as a frustrated singer/songwriter and Mark Ruffalo as the burnt-out music producer who believes in her. It opened to little fanfare and got mixed to positive reviews, resulting in a still “Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes score of 82%. But Carney does not look back on the experience fondly, and he puts the blame firmly on Knightley.
The tirade began when Carney was asked, “How significant was it to make [Sing Street] in Ireland?” After lamenting the experience of making a “bigger movie for America” he said:
“The movie star world is not something that ever appealed to me. I like working with actors and I wanted to come back to what I knew and enjoy film-making again - not that I didn’t enjoy Begin Again but Keira has an entourage that follow her everywhere so it’s very hard to get any real work done, and so I was very ready to come back to Ireland and make films that nobody cared about who was in it or any of that crap.
I think the real problem was that Keira wasn’t a singer and wasn’t a guitar player and it’s very hard to make music seem real if it’s not with musicians. And I think the audience struggled a little bit with that in Begin Again. And as much as I tried to make it work I think that she didn’t quite come out as a guitar-playing singer-songwriter. So I really wanted to work with musicians and actors that could play their instruments properly and sing and stuff like that.”
The reporter didn’t dig into these digs against Knightley, replying only, “So you learned a lot from making that film.” To which Carney snarked, “Yeah, I did. I learned that I’ll never make a film with supermodels again.”
He went on to praise Ruffalo (“a fantastic actor”) and Adam Levine (“a joy to work with”) who appears for, maybe, ten minutes as Knightley’s unscrupulous ex. But of Knightley he said: “Keira’s thing is to hide who you are and I don’t think you can be an actor and do that. ” Carney went on:
“It’s not like I hate the Hollywood thing but I like to work with curious, proper film actors as opposed to movie stars. I don’t want to rubbish Keira, but you know it’s hard being a film actor and it requires a certain level of honesty and self-analysis that I don’t think she’s ready for yet and I certainly don’t think she was ready for on that film.”(emphasis ours because, seriously?!)
Knightley has not yet responded to Carney’s claims/insults. However, Twitter has.
John Carney has made three consecutive romantic comedy-dramas about musicians, but it's Keira Knightley who's afraid to take risks? Okay.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) May 30, 2016
John Carney literally named a hip-hop character Troublegum in 'Begin Again' but, sure, Keira Knightley was the problem.— Aly Semigran (@AlySemigran) May 31, 2016
What you need, as an actor, or any artist, is trust. From these unfortunate remarks, I doubt John Carney ever engendered that.— Massy Tadjedin (@MTadjedin) May 30, 2016
Really too bad John Carney had such a bad time with Keira Knightley but she gave a much better performance than he's giving her credit for.— Chris Bumbray (@cbumbray) May 30, 2016
Didn’t need another reason to avoid John Carney’s movies, but if he insists… https://t.co/s40BtVgLWl— Jeremy Smith (@mrbeaks) May 29, 2016
What truly bothers me about John Carney's statements is that he refers to Keira Knightley condescendingly as a supermodel.— Crystal Bell (@crystalbell) May 29, 2016
Not digging John Carney's thrashing of Keira Knightly. As director, you have a duty of care to all your actors, regardless of their status.— Philly McMahon (@McMahonPhilly) May 31, 2016
John Carney's trollish (and not a little sexist) rant about Keira Knightley makes me feel a little less bad about hating SING STREET.— Scott Mendelson (@ScottMendelson) May 29, 2016
Keira Knightley, 2 time Oscar noms, is a "supermodel" to this male director … hooookay https://t.co/xNq3JLl1Lq— DC Women Kicking Ass (@dcwomenkicknass) May 30, 2016
Twitter has overwhelmingly sided with Knightley. And notably, other directors who’ve worked with the actress have lined up to defend her, from Never Let Me Go’s Mark Romanek:
My recollection of #keiraknightley's "entourage" was that her mum visited the set one day for an hour or two.— mark romanek (@markromanek) May 30, 2016
To Seeking A Friend For The End of the World’s Lorene Scafaria:
To Laggies’s Lynn Shelton:
Of course none of us know what went down on the set of Begin Again. Still, Carney’s apparent grudge against Knightley is strange. She’s charming in a film that was treated well by critics. It’s not like Begin Again was brutally savaged, much less because of her work. And for Carney to spew all this out when the interviewer wasn’t even asking about Begin Again or digging for dirt on one of the biggest names Carney has worked with makes it all the more inexplicable. But if Carney wants to trash-talk the two-time Oscar nominee who took time out of making big-budget dramas to work with him on a mid-budget musical, I doubt he’ll have to worry about working with movie stars in the future.
Kristy Puchko can’t even sometimes.