NEWTON, N.J., Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Shortly after ending their worldwide publicity tour for "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," actress Keira Knightley and über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer headed to Ireland to start work on their second collaborative project, a fresh retelling of the King Arthur legend.
For the stunning "Bend it Like Beckham" star, filming on the Emerald Isle for a few months is a dream come true, mainly because it means she can visit relatives in Dublin and pop home to London whenever she likes. Bruckheimer, on the other hand, enjoys the beauty and convenience of filming in Ireland, something he recently discovered while filming the bio-pic, "Veronica Guerin."
"It's lovely!" exclaims Knightley, cinema's newest Guenevere. "I'm a 45-minute plane ride from home. It takes two hours to get from the center of
Dublin to my house in London. So, I'm really enjoying being here. It's an absolutely beautiful country. I have family over here anyway, so I know it pretty well."
"There are huge tax advantages here," Bruckheimer, a producer whose films have earned $12.5 billion at the box office and on video, explains in a recent phone interview with UPI. "And also, we got the use of the Irish army, plus you have the countryside, which is uninterrupted with the modern television antennas and dishes. You don't see any of that. We had 360-degree views of these gorgeous green hills. In order to do that in England, you have to go a little too far away from the city where you can house your crew, but in Ireland you're within 45 minutes of that."
Simply titled "King Arthur," the new take on the oft-told tale is something of a cross between "Braveheart" and "Gladiator," Bruckheimer reveals.
Written by "Gladiator" scribe David Franzoni, the film is not set against the pageantry of the Middle Ages like most Arthur movies are, but rather the grittier, more primitive Dark Ages. Bruckheimer warns that even though there will be some computer-generated special effects, especially during the battle scenes, the film is not completely FX-driven, nor does it focus solely on the magical side of the legend.
Asked why he decided to tackle the ancient Arthur tale, the filmmaker known for modern action blockbusters like "Top Gun" and "Armageddon" replies frankly, "It was a new approach."
"It was something I'd never seen before," he continues, explaining his film is about the Roman warrior Arturius, sent to protect England from barbarians when Britain was part of the Roman Empire. "It takes place in a much more primitive period-- 400 or 450 A.D. where most of the Arthur movies and books you've read take place in the Middle Ages, which is 1400s and 1500s. There are no knights in shining armor in this picture."
Although Bruckheimer has enlisted several Cambridge scholars to work on the film, he stops short of describing the story as a historic, rather than romantic, account of the tale.
"We have done a tremendous amount of research," he assures, "so it's a fairly close historical view of this, but, again, it's called the 'Dark Ages' for a reason. There's nothing written about it."
Bruckheimer recalls that when it came time to cast the film, he immediately thought of Knightley, the young actress he hired to play Elizabeth Swann in this summer's high-seas hit, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
"She's an amazing young actress," he remarks. "I was sent a tape of her reading for 'Pirates' from London, and I flew to New York to meet with her, and she's an extraordinary young woman. We hired her when she was 17. She was 17 through most of 'Pirates.' But she's beautiful. The fact that she
just became that character... It all stems from whether you believe they are that character or they are acting. With her, I never thought she was acting.
She became that girl... She was so wonderful and then we read her for 'King Arthur' with Clive Owen, who is also starring in it, and they looked fabulous together and there was real chemistry."
Knightley, an actress who has weak spots for vintage Valentino clothing and anything written by Oscar Wilde, says she relishes the chance to put a very different spin on a beloved character.
"She's absolutely incredible," Knightley tells UPI. "Guenevere, in classic King Arthur tales, is always just the wife. Okay, she gets into a bit of nookie with Lancelot and has an affair, but she is very much a damsel with beautiful clothes and beautiful hair and everything perfect. This Guenevere is more real, I hope. Don't get me wrong, she has the beautiful clothes and at some point beautiful hair, but she's going to get seriously down and dirty and bloodied up and very much get her hands dirty, so she's going to be completely different from any other Guenevere."
The privilege of playing the coveted role did not come without a price, however. Knightley says she underwent months of training to prepare for the role of Arthur's feisty queen.
"I didn't do anything to prepare for 'Pirates' at all because originally, in the first scripts I got, Elizabeth Swann was very much the classic damsel in distress, and it was only as we went along that we decided she should have been an action hero, so I never did any training," she admits. "Guenevere is
slightly different because she is going to be a fighter. She's going to be a warrior. So, I've been training for the last three months -- sword-fighting and knife-fighting and archery and horse-riding and boxing."
Recalling how disappointed she was when she didn't get to fight with a sword on "Pirates," Knightley concedes that Bruckheimer has "made up for it" with this second film.
"He's giving me lots of things to fight with in this, so it's fine," she says.
Of course, there are other perks to taking the role, as well, she adds, namely the chance to reunite with Bruckheimer and work with "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua.
"It was really amazing the first time. So, I really wanted to do something else with Jerry," she says. "And working with Antoine Fuqua! I'd seen 'Training Day,' and I was really excited by the prospect of this guy who did this very modern, edgy piece doing a historical epic, and I met Antoine and
just thought he was completely amazing, and so it's panned out well."
So, when Knightley is not making movies or promoting movies, is she shut up in her room poring over the thousands of different versions of the Arthurian legend? Not likely, the actress laughs.
"I think that being English you just know King Arthur," she reasons. "It's our legend, so I know them back to front and inside out, but this is a very different take on the King Arthur myth. It's going to be completely different from anything anyone has seen before."
Co-starring Clive Owen in the title role, Stephen Dillane as Merlin and Ioan Gruffud as Lancelot, "King Arthur" is in production in Ireland now and slated for release at the end of 2004.