My relaxing weekend became rage-filled Saturday, when I read “Keira Knightley’s performance in ‘Begin Again’ criticised by director John Carney”. I know. “Director who?” I’ll tell you, but read the article anyway. I want you to understand exactly what kind of insecure pustule we’re dealing with here.
After Once, John Carney wrote and directed Begin Again, which starred Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, and Adam Levine. Carney isn’t a recognizable name himself, but don’t worry, he’s not above drumming up attention by unprovokedly talking sh-t about a famous actress. Repeatedly.
In an interview about his new movie Sing Street, the interviewer opens with ‘isn’t it great the movie’s gotten great reviews’. Carney responds: “I’m very surprised, it’s a small personal movie with no Keira Knightleys in it”.
Yeah. That’s how it is. He turns her into a thing in his first sentence, conditioning you to think of her as an object as he so clearly does. Later, when asked what he learned on Begin Again, he says: “I learned that I’ll never make a film with supermodels again”.
Have you ever in your pop-culture-obsessed life heard Oscar-, BAFTA-, and Golden Globe- nominated Keira Knightley referred to as a supermodel? No? Doesn’t matter to Carney, who’s determined to use derisive words like ‘supermodel’ and ‘entourage’ so you’ll join him in sneering at her. He says “It’s not like I hate the Hollywood thing, but I like to work with curious, proper film actors as opposed to movie stars.”
On its own, this could be true enough. Indie film is different than a big studio franchise, and I could possibly be convinced to give this thought of John Carney’s a dubious pass, on its own. But I can’t, because you know what else he said?
“Mark Ruffalo is a fantastic actor and Adam Levine is a joy to work with and actually quite unpretentious and not a bit scared…Keira’s thing is to hide who you are and I don’t think you can be an actor and do that.”
Sorry? Adam “The Voice on NBC” Levine, who has covered every magazine on the newsstand, is the picture of authenticity, but Keira Knightley isn’t an actor because she hides who she is? Actually, that’s the exact definition of acting, you professional horror show. Not that I’m trying to compare them. Levine could be Sir Laurence Olivier or an airbrushed 3-D printed animatronic human facsimile, and it wouldn’t matter either way.
Because what Carney is trying to do, in the kind of incredibly transparent and patronising insult you haven’t seen since third-year-university when your upstairs housemate’s insufferable ‘older’ boyfriend first introduced you to the phrase “um, actually”, is put himself and Ruffalo and Levine on one side, the cool kids, and Knightley on the other.
He is begging you to think that because he “rejects” Hollywood (‘successful actress’ = Hollywood, apparently), he must be cool, so obviously you’ll want to see his movie and snicker about ‘supermodels’ because you’re also cool.
He’s especially cool for talking sh-t about someone he worked with four years ago, who has nothing to do with his current project, but whom he names six times in one interview. He’s definitely not insecure at all, and definitely isn’t projecting his insecurities about being the one who doesn’t get it onto the nearest scapegoat who will also conveniently get him column inches. I also strongly suspect that this has little to do with Knightley herself - that Carney felt pushed around by the studio or the Weinstein Company or one of his financial backers, but couldn’t tell them how pissed off he was – so he used her an easy target for his frustration.
Look, Keira Knightley will be fine. I doubt this is her first inkling that this guy is a douche and I now like her more for not screaming that fact from the rooftops years ago.
But this makes me crazy because this happens all the time. A man is threatened, generally, by others’ success or people passing him by or the spectre of the person he thinks he should be, and decides the problem is some woman’s success or power. So he starts talking about how she’s really not all that great, actually. You’ve seen it happen. You’ve been in meetings where it’s happened. Worse, because we’re all often in places where we need allies, you’ve felt pressured to agree—or at least consider—that maybe so-and-so is a crazy bitch. Maybe she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Maybe her assistant is saving her ass on a daily basis, or she did only get that deal because someone promised their boss they’d bring in diversity, and on and on and on.
It also doesn’t just denigrate the person in question, but everyone who’s ever hired or cast or liked that person before. So, everyone who’s ever hired Keira Knightley over her 21-year-career knows nothing, but John Carney alone is brave enough to tell the truth? Where’s his medal? Where are his multiple Academy Awards that he patently doesn’t care about? What a hero!
Like I said, she’ll be fine, and he’s nakedly pathetic. No problems there. But watch for this the next time it happens. Be aware of the woman who’s being made into a stepstool for someone’s ego and self-esteem just because she happens to be in the eyeline of someone so desperately fragile.