Keira Knightley Is Calling Out “Horrible” Sex Scenes

Photo: Mike Marsland/WireImage.
Keira Knightley has given us some of the last decade’s most memorable sex scenes, from Anna Karenina’s passionate fling with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to the Atonement library assignation and its first cousin, The Aftermath table hookup. She is the queen of steamy historical drama, fleshing out literary and real-life heroines of the past to give them hopes, aspirations, ambition and desires. But in a new interview, the actress says she’s pretty much done with all that  — at least, as long as those scenes continue to be directed by men. 
“It’s the male gaze. If I was making a story that was about that journey of motherhood and body acceptance, I feel like, I’m sorry, but that would have to be with a female filmmaker,” Knightley told filmmaker Lulu Wang and writer-producer Diane Solway on the Chanel Connects podcast. “I don’t have an absolute ban, but I kind of do with men.”
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Knightley said that she added a no-nudity clause to her contract after becoming a mother, partly because she no longer wanted to be gawked at by largely male crews as she filmed sex scenes designed to cater their fantasies. 
“I don’t want it to be those horrible sex scenes where you’re all greased up and everybody is grunting. I’m not interested in doing that,” she said. “I feel very uncomfortable now trying to portray the male gaze. Saying that, there’s times where I go, ‘Yeah, I completely see where this sex would be really good in this film and you basically just need somebody to look hot.’ So therefore you can use somebody else, because I’m too vain and the body has had two children now and I’d just rather not stand in front of a group of men naked.”
This latest development feels like the logical next step for a performer who has been increasingly vocal about her discomfort with the way women’s bodies are portrayed on-screen. Back in 2018, she explained her penchant for period films by pointing out that they presented her with rare opportunities to play women who weren’t being relegated to a supporting role in a man’s story, or subjected to sexual violence.  
"I don’t really do films set in the modern day because the female characters nearly always get raped," she told Variety at the time. 
But it seems like she’s now taking that thought even further, and seeking to focus her energy on stories by and for women that also challenge her own assumptions. In September, Knightley told Refinery29 that her latest film, Misbehavior, had forced her to grapple with the contradictions inherent in being a working feminist in Hollywood. Directed by Phillipa Lowthorpe, the movie recounted an actual protest staged by the burgeoning women’s liberation movement at the 1970 Miss World pageant in London. As activist Sally Alexander, Knightley played someone who takes a stand against the objectification of women — even as she acknowledged that she herself has profited from that system. 
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“Most of my money is earned doing modelling and walking the red carpet,” she said. “So, as much as you think you’re on the right side, you’re actually not. The world is a nuanced and complicated place.”
What’s more, Hollywood’s teachings are difficult to unlearn, especially for someone who got her start so young. In that same interview, Knightley recounted how her introduction to blockbuster studio movies meant having her boobs contoured and emphasised every morning as a 17-year-old starring in Pirates of the Caribbean
“They literally painted them on,” she said. “I had to go to makeup, where they’d do my face, and then I’d go to a different place where they were doing all the body paint downs. The woman who did my boobs every day was the body makeup person for all the big female movie stars in the ‘90s. At the time, I was like Oh, this is just Hollywood.”
In keeping with her resolution, Knightley’s next project is set to be very different. She’s due to start filming Silent Night, a Christmas comedy written and directed by Camille Griffin, co-starring Matthew Goode and Annabel Wallis, very soon. If you’ll recall, Knightley’s most famous into the genre was as Juliet, a woman who is relentlessly stalked by her husband’s best friend in the Richard Curtis-directed Love, Actually. Everything’s coming full circle.

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