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The Jacket - I knew she was an interesting, pretty girl, but that was it as far as I was concerned

Feature by: Jack Foley

THE Jacket arguably provides British actress, Keira Knightley, with her best role to date.

The star of films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Love Actually was in danger of becoming typecast as the romantic leading lady, more prone to wearing corsets than getting down and dirty.

Indeed, such was her image that director, John Maybury, was reluctant to cast her in The Jacket - only being convinced by Knightley herself, following a fortunate case of food poisoning!

Knightley first read the script for The Jacket while on location in Dublin for King Arthur, and recalls finding it 'exciting and imaginative' and a role that she knew she had to play immediately.

"The other eight scripts on my pile were variations of the same pretty, uptight British girl, but Jackie was this damaged character who meets a guy going through trauma," she explains.

"It's very rare that a film will show people who are in the process of self-destructing."

When Jackie is first introduced to audiences, she looks like a victim in waiting.

Stuck in a small town, drinking too much, she decides to pick up Adrien Brody's time-travelling Gulf War veteran, John Starks, with little regard for her own safety.

Without properly knowing him, she invites him to her house and then has a bath while he roams the house.

Yet the bond that subsequently develops between the two characters provides Starks with the opportunity of escaping his own personal nightmare, as well as an unlikely form of romance.

It is a performance that marks something of a coming-of-age for Knightley, who adopts an American accent and an altogether more grungy look.

Yet Maybury took some convincing that she was right for the role.

"I didn't want Keira Knightley for the role," he observes candidly.

"I'd met 15 to 20 young American actresses, and there were at least two or threee that I thought would be terrific as Jackie, so very reluctantly I met with her.

"I knew she was an interesting, pretty girl, but that was it as far as I was concerned."

Knightley seized her opportunity, though, travelling from Dublin to London on a rare day off to meet Maybury, despite also suffering from a debilitating case of food poisoning.

"I spent most of my energy trying not to projectile vomit on these people I desperately wanted to work with," she recalls.

"And then John told me that he did not think I was right for the role, and said he didn't want me.

"At that moment, I had nothing to lose. I declared that if I didn't get the part of Jackie, I could be stuck in corsets for the next 20 years, and asked him to let me read.

"He agreed and promised if he was convinced, then he would hire me. We shook on it. I read the part and he gave me some notes, then gave me his mobile phone number and offered me the job!"

Adds Maybury: "The fact that she had food poisoning at the audition actually served to make her act and look even more like Jackie.

"Then, when she read, she was excellent and I realised that she was a very intelligent girl and a very good actor. She comes across almost like a young Jane Fonda."

Having secured the part, Knightley then set about transforming herself with relish, continually using Maybury's vision for Jackie as pointers for pitching it perfectly.

As such, her character reflects influences such as Edie Sedgwick, a fixture of Andy Warhol's Factory and star of his film, Ciao Manhattan, who eventually self-destructed through alcohol and drugs, as well as aspects of Courtney Love (vocally) and Marlene Dietrich (for her languidity).

He also forced her to spend time alone when not working on the set to reinforce Jackie's sense of isolation.

But she comically concludes that this may have backfired slightly: "We decided that Jackie would listen to a lot of loud music, alone at home, and since I was living in the apartment above John, he got to hear a lot of Jeff Buckley, White Stripes, Nirvana and The Strokes."

Recalls Maybury, jovially: "It was like living underneath a noisy teenager, as Keira also liked to dance around her apartment."

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