Keira Knightley has done one very memorable Christmas movie, Richard Curtis’s endlessly meme-able, beloved and star-studded 2003 rom-com ensemble Love Actually. She’s also done a memorable apocalypse comedy, Lorene Scafaria’s 2012 two-hander Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which paired the actress with Steve Carell as strangers on a road trip as an asteroid nears Earth.
Her latest film quite impressively manages to blend both of these genres. Silent Night, written and directed by Camille Griffin, imagines a typical Christmas Eve dinner party hosted by Nell (Knightley), her husband Simon (Matthew Goode) and sons in a British countryside home that’s attended by a group of their emotional baggage-carrying college friends. Only, as we’ll find out, it’s not Christmas Eve — it’s the eve of an Extinction Level Event on Earth. As a fast-moving poisonous gas is quickly wiping out humanity, the friends have gathered the night before since they’ve all agreed to take government-issued “exit pills” to avoid otherwise horrific deaths.
As dark as that sounds, Griffin (mother of Jojo Rabbit breakout Roman Griffin Davis, cast along with his real-life twin brothers as Nell and Simon’s kids) mines plenty of laughs from end times. And Knightley, the 36-year-old Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates of the Caribbean alum who recently announced she’s battling COVID-19 with her own husband and children, delivers another winning performance as a mother trying to hold it all together.
The two-time Oscar nominee (Pride & Prejudice, The Imitation Game) talked to Yahoo Entertainment about her latest apocalypse movie, laughing to keep from crying and the most memorable (if not very uncomfortable) experience she’s had with a Love Actually superfan.
Yahoo Entertainment: One of the last times we spoke was for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, your apocalypse comedy with Steve Carell. What keeps bringing you back to the apocalypse?
Keira Knightley: Well, I mean, it's pretty dramatic, isn't it? You know what else I find interesting about those two films is it's two female writer-directors. And I feel like there's something incredibly female about this way of looking at the apocalypse. Nobody can run, you have to sit in this moment and deal with it. Cause I feel like often, not always, but the male version of this would be that you'd be trying to fix it, you'd be trying to not die. And in both of these, you're going like, “This is it” [laughs].
With this one in particular, I think it's taking that kind of dark side of the maternal psyche… I was incredibly pregnant when I first read this script and I found it absolutely hilarious. There's this extraordinary thing when you're pregnant or where you first have a kid where, obviously you're bringing life into the world, but you become incredibly aware of death. And you become incredibly aware of how fragile that life is and that responsibility that you have to protect that life and how easily you could lose it. I feel like this really spoke to that… But I also loved, being a parent, that you're having your last night on Earth. Yet you still have a responsibility as a parent and you're still stuck in your family dynamic.
Right, and your twins are still arguing over who gets more Coke in their glass as the world’s about to end.
I feel like there is a reason that gallows humor is called gallows humor… You're waiting for something that you know is going to happen and you know it's inevitable, but it's also inconceivable. So you go through the moments like, “Oh, this is really sad, and this is really awful.” But then you're still there, and you're still with your mates. And so you're still having a funny time and you're still back in the kind of dynamic that you're always in. And then you suddenly remember [what’s happening]. I thought all of that felt very real and very true to any kind of very dramatic moment that I've experienced in my life. It’s like finding out that somebody died and ending up laughing, because it's so impossible to imagine that you have this weird [reaction].
In the film the world is ending because of this very fast-moving ecological disaster. There's a great line from one of the kids who scolds the adults for “not listening to Greta,” of course a reference to the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg. With everything happening right now and what seems like a lot of inaction to pending climate change catastrophe, did you look at this as a pretty obvious cautionary tale?
Oh yeah, definitely. And that's also what I liked about it. When we were talking about doing it, it was absolutely because of ecological disaster and, you know, the potential destruction of the planet and the human race not existing anymore — you know, all that stuff. I personally find it absolutely terrifying, so yeah it was a hundred percent a cautionary tale. And it was also a way of [recognizing] the kids in this film are very much of a generation of Greta Thunbergs who are activists and who are trying to fix it and who are trying to push. And, you know, it is absolutely condemning my generation and the generation above for our inaction. And it is awful. But there is that layer of the film, and purposely so.
On a lighter note, in this is also a return for you to Christmas movies. How do you look back at Love Actually 18 years later?
I think I’ve still only seen it once. You know, I think it's extraordinary. It was so interesting because when it first came out, it didn't do what everyone felt like it was going to do. It didn't actually do that well. And so the fact that over the years — and really in America, first — got this amazing following and this huge kind of life afterwards, it was really extraordinary, you know? It’s amazing, it’s a Christmas classic. And as something that didn't do as well as everybody thought it would when it first came out, I think that's a really amazing thing.
So you’re not the sentimental type who wants to revisit it over the holidays?
No, it's just that I don't watch any of my films [laughs]. I just don't like watching myself. It's a bit weird. I'm sure it's completely great and everybody loves it and that's so great. But it’s not just that one, I literally only see most of my films about once.
I’m sure you’ve seen some of the spoofs and memes, though, involving your famous cards on the doorstep scene.
You know, I did actually get stuck in traffic once [in London] and someone in the car next to me did the whole sign thing. It was quite creepy, but it was also quite [laughs]… It was a bit awkward being stuck in traffic next it. But it was also quite sweet, there was nothing [scary].
So it was that perfect combination of sweet… and creepy.
And creepy, yeah [laughs]. I mean, it would have been much better if I could have just driven straight off, but I couldn’t. We were very much stuck there for awhile.
Silent Night is now in theaters and on AMC+.