Never Let Me Go - Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
KEIRA Knightley and Carey Mulligan talk about the irresistible appeal of starring in the big screen adaptation of Never Let Me Go for director Mark Romanek.
They also discuss why they relied on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel to inform their characters. They were speaking at last year’s London Film Festival.
Q. What did you love about the book? And how much pressure did you feel in bringing it to the screen intact?
Carey Mulligan: I read the book when it first came out and loved it. I always loved it first and foremost as a love story and about people wanting certain things from life they couldn’t get. Then I read the script… but Keira [Knightley] and I did Pride & Prejudice together and we’ve done a lot of adaptations of Dickens and Austin where the author’s not around to tell you off if it’s wrong. So, this was doubly intimidating because we had Kazuo Ishiguro with us and you want to be everything that he imagined when he wrote it.
And there are also people who have read the book recently and are in love with it, so there is more pressure. But from reading the script and meeting everybody who was doing it, and knowing who else was going to be in the film, I always felt that we were on the same page – that we were going to make the same film. We were all so in love with it, so we were the biggest fans of the book and still are. We found out so much more about the book and about the writing by doing it.
Q. And Keira?
Keira Knightley: I hadn’t read the book [smiles]. The first thing I knew about it was the script that came through my door and I thought it was a completely unique piece. I’d never read anything like it. I then started talking to friends and tonnes of them were saying: “This is my favourite book in the entire world!” Some of them said that it summed up our generation, which was pretty terrifying. But given how astonishing I found it, and people’s reactions to it, it was very exciting to be a part of something like that.
Q. How much did you rely on Alex Garland’s script? And how much did you keep going back to the book to find what you needed?
Keira Knightley: It’s always incredibly helpful to have such rich source material. It wasn’t told from the point of view of my character [unlike Carey Mulligan] so I think I filled in the gaps. But it was actually all there in the book’s sentences and that would sometimes just trigger something. One got the whole thought process, which actually explained a lot about the characters.
Q. And Carey?
Carey Mulligan: The script was perfect and we didn’t change a line from the first draft, really, from February last year to what we shot. So, the script was perfect and we had a great environment to work in with Mark [Romanek]. But Mark had a copy of the book with him all the time, I had a copy of the book, we all had the book with us and we always referred to that. Especially for me, the whole book is narrated by my character, so it would have been remiss of me to not return to it. Also, it’s great because we could go back to it for ideas. I mean, you could play a scene in a certain way for three takes and act badly, get bored of yourself or make the wrong decision and then find one line that can inspire you to do something different or better.
Q. Keira, you’ve played a heroine so many times in the past, so what was it like to play the closest thing the book has to a villain?
Keira Knightley: It was great. I thought that the character was fascinating. For me, it was kind of a study of jealousy. She had a great path and I thought it would be an interesting thing to try and get into her head. I didn’t like her. It’s tricky playing people that you don’t like and finding a way to empathise with them. It’s challenging and very exciting for an actor.
Q. And Carey, how challenging was this material emotionally for you?
Carey Mulligan: It’s always harder to maintain raw enthusiasm or joy than to go into a really dark place. For us, really, this was about not trying to cry all the time. I cried all the time, it’s my modus operandi, but we all wanted to hold back. We were all kind of watching each other and encouraging each other not to drop a tear. You didn’t want to portray tragedy or the circumstances we had, we just wanted to live in the world we were in and live the best lives that we could.
Q. Carey, where else did you go, other than the source material, to inform your character? I mean, the scene where you and Andrew find out there are no deferrals reminded me of someone being told they have a terminal illness…
Carey Mulligan: I didn’t really have anything other than the book. I didn’t do any research as it were [laughs]! I read the book and that was it really. With that scene, I never personally believed that Kathy believed in the deferrals. I think she went through that whole thing for Tommy. So, the scene for me isn’t like being told I’m terminally ill.
So, I never really thought about it in terms of real lives and real people donating organs, or even real people accepting terrible terminal illnesses. In our world, this is not out of the ordinary. It’s exactly what we’ve always known, so there are no revelations and it’s nothing extraordinary. Even the scene with the teenagers, when Sally Hawkins’ character first tells them, none of them burst into tears or run out of the room. It’s something they’ve been quietly assimilating their whole life, so it never felt like you could compare it to a situation with real people facing massive shocks to their system.
Q. And Keira, did you look anywhere else?
Keira Knightley: The book and the script. I thought at the end, with Ruth, she’s tired with life. I think she’s been through a lot of pain and wants it to stop. But that’s in the book, it’s in the script and I thought that made sense for her character. She then tries desperately to put things right at the end, which goes back to what [author] Kazuo Ishiguro said about the things that become very important at the end of your life. So, I guess I thought a little bit about that too, but it was all in the script.
- Read our review
- Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley interview
- Andrrew Garfield interview
- Mark Romanek and Kazuo Ishiguro interview
- Never Let Me Go Photo Gallery
- Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan open 54th London Film Festival
- Never Let Me Go Premiere Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer