'Everybody breaks': Keira Knightley powerfully discusses how she overcame her own mental health battles

Keira Knightley is the undisputed Queen of period dramas – no one serves quite like Keira in a corset or long flowing gown. After a break from fame to raise her young daughter, Edie, the 33-year-old is back with a string of empowering roles. First came The Nutcracker, then Colette and now The Aftermath.

Tissues at the ready as The Aftermath, which is set in Hamburg after the allied victory in WW2, sees Keira and her army husband experience the mental health implications of war. The film makes for a refreshing and candid take on depression on screen. There’s a love triangle thrown into the mix for good measure with none other than Alexander Skarsgård, too.

Here, Keira talks about her own journey with mental health, how she deals with sexist questions and why she won’t go nude on screen again…

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“Of course, there are moments when I haven’t been able to cope, and I’ve been really lucky in that I can afford the help I needed… it’s nothing to be ashamed about”

I think it’s very important that particularly young people, but actually everybody, knows that everybody breaks. It is part of life and what you have to do at that point is acknowledge it and ask for help if you’re lucky enough to be able to get that help. There is no shame in admitting that you can’t cope. I hope that’s a helpful thing to say.

At a certain point, and particularly with me and my career, you want to try to be helpful and say, ‘I know this is all terribly glamorous and look at this dress,’ and all the rest of it. But, behind that, of course there is a human being and of course there are moments when I haven’t been able to cope, and I’ve been really lucky in that I can afford the help I needed when I got it. I’m really lucky that I had a family who were really really supportive. Ultimately, it’s nothing to feel ashamed about. I think that particularly with men there’s a big feeling that you shouldn’t have these emotions and that you should be able to cope, and you should be able to man up.

That is definitely part of this film – particularly in that silent generation just didn’t talk about it – and I think men do have to acknowledge their emotions and they should talk about it; it’s ok to cry because you’re a human being.

“I am still experiencing sexist questions – we are still on totally different playing fields”

You ask a woman, ‘how does she balance being a mother, how do I play this role because I’m a mother?’ I’m sure no one’s ever gone to Jason (Clarke) and gone, ‘do you play this role because you’re a father and how do you balance your work with being a father?’ It’s still not something that we ask men and yet it’s constantly asked to women. We’re on completely different playing fields still in 2019. We don’t even get paid as much as you guys for doing exactly the same job. I think we have a way to go in multiple different directions.

“I’m like a sergeant major when it comes to sex scenes”

I completely take control because generally speaking, I’m the only female in the room. I’m very clear about what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not comfortable with. I have things in my contract, I have final say over the cut and I’m very much like, ‘what exactly do you want? How is that shot working?’ I basically take control of it but I’m very lucky because I’m in a position where I can do that, and I think really what everyone’s trying to do is protect those actresses who maybe are in positions where they can’t do that. That’s where we’ve got to be protective as an industry over young up-and-coming actresses. The way I deal with those things is by being as bullish as possible, the least sexy as possible. We get through it and hey, it looks sexy on camera. It doesn’t matter right. She was going for it. Not my body, it was a body double, but a wonderful body.

“I’m at peace with my body; it did something quite amazing – it built, birthed and fed a human being”

It created an actual real-life human being so I’m like, it’s all fine. It doesn’t look like it did before and maybe it will never be on film again but I’m absolutely fine with the way it is in my private life, I’m very happy with it. It did well. It’s the only one you’ve got. It’s a very powerful tool. You shouldn’t wish it to be something else. It’s never going to be something else. It’s going to be what you’ve got but it’s going to be alright. You’ve got to look after it. Don’t hate it.

“I have had some pretty extreme hangovers”

I’m in my 30s now. I had a night good run with some pretty heavy hangovers. There is no hangover cure. You basically just have to order lots of pizza or noodles. I always like noodles on a hangover and just staying in bed, which is now impossible because I have a child and there’s no way she is going to let me. So, make the most of it now before you think about doing it. Make the most of being able to stay in bed whilst having a hangover because it will not happen if you ever have a child.

The Aftermath is in cinemas on 1st March


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