Anna Karenina: Interview with Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Wilson, and Emily Watson
Arriving in US theatres on November 16, 2012, “Anna Karenina” is acclaimed director Joe Wright’s new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard. The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement.” The film also stars Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson.
The parallel story of Levin’s love for Kitty is gentler and more innocent than Anna’s for Vronsky, yet it too falters under the scrutiny of society. Actor Domhnall Gleeson had auditioned for director Joe Wright, but it wasn’t until he performed the part of Levin at a table read – at which his empathetic take on the character impressed one and all – that the part suddenly became his. One facet of the material that the actor sought to convey was “the wry sense of humor shooting through it, which I appreciate; this story gets to the depths of what it means to be alive.”
As Gleeson sees it, “Levin’s idea of love is at the same time very pure and blinkered, in that he sees only this one person to love; he’s shooting for the absolute ideal, which isn’t always compatible with real life. But in the story, he is one of the only people who spends any time in the real world; he is in a very real place with love, one not based on artifice. That is mirrored in the way he chooses to live his life, which is at a distance from St. Petersburg and Moscow society – away from the theatre, literally. He makes his life in the real world out in the countryside, and is in fact very preoccupied with farming. He is outside sophisticated society.
“Even so, he’s caught between the aristocracy and the serfs; he’s trying to find a home in nature while the woman he loves is in a place which is artificial to him. But they do have a true connection, which means that Levin has to journey to try to win Kitty and bring her back to his real world. He realizes that she’s an even better woman than he thought.”
Kitty is played by up-and-coming Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, in her first English-language role. The role promised an emotional journey for Vikander to undertake, with her character beginning as an innocent and radiant ingénue before experiencing heartbreak upon Vronsky’s rejecting her and then coming to terms with life and love.
The actress’ years of real-life training as a ballet dancer proved beneficial. She notes, “Domhnall and I worked with [choreographer] Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to get into contact with the characters through movement. How Kitty walks or runs into a room at the start of the story and how she is in the last scenes, there’s a complete difference. She proves herself to be very un-judgemental, considering her status in society, and this better prepares her for what comes later.
Invited to reunite with the filmmakers and leading lady with whom he made “Pride & Prejudice,” BAFTA Award winner Matthew Macfadyen leapt at the chance to portray Oblonksy, Anna’s brother. The actor enthuses, “Oblonsky is incorrigible; he’s disarmingly direct and brings humor and warmth to the story as he tries to help the people he loves and cares about, particularly in attempting to be a matchmaker for his friend Levin.
“Oblonsky is one of those people who lights up a dinner party when they come in. He has a wandering eye. He likes the pleasures of the flesh, drinking and eating; to me, he was a very attractive character because he doesn’t suffer from terrible introspection. I don’t see him as ‘a bad man,’ and I hugely enjoyed playing this part – except for the moustache I had to grow.”
“Matthew is a hoot in this role,” enthuses Emmy Award-winning actress Kelly Macdonald, who signed on to play Dolly, wife of Oblonsky and sister-in-law to Anna. “He’s played Oblonsky in just the right way: charismatic, frustrating, lovable – and selfishly addicted to passion.”
The actress felt that she understood Dolly’s temperament, remarking that “Dolly is married to a man she adores, she’s passionate about her family, and she’s pregnant all the time. She is completely happy with her lot in life before finding out about her husband’s affair with the woman who is meant to be looking after their children.
“So it’s devastating for her when she realizes that she’s been made a fool of and her relationship with Anna, whom she admires and with whom she shares a sisterly love, helps her. She refines her focus on family. I feel that in the end Dolly resigns herself to his behavior; she loves her husband and she knows he loves her. But she is not brave enough to attempt what Anna does, which is to seek an independent life – one that no woman in that time and place could really have.”
Read more at Emmanuel Levy