Actor Keira Knightley attends a press conference to promote the movie “Colette” during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Monday, September 10, 2018. Keira Knightley’s penchant for strong female characters is what led her to portray a gender-bending iconoclast in “Colette.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill Keira Knightley on powerful roles: ‘My work has always been political’ by Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press Posted Sep 27, 2018 8:25 am PDT Last Updated Sep 27, 2018 at 9:20 am PDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email TORONTO – Keira Knightley’s penchant for strong female characters is what led her to portray a gender-bending iconoclast in “Colette.”And it’s also what makes her acting career about more than just entertainment, she said in a recent interview discussing her latest 19th century period drama.“My work has always been political by that choice,” Knightley said of predominantly avoiding the girlfriend parts, although she admits “there have been a couple.”“We need to be seen as complex, strange, wonderful individuals that we are.”Here, the British actress tackles the real-life trials of bisexual French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a maverick who defies societal constraints and sparks a cultural sensation in Paris when she pens a series of semi-autobiographical novels about a country girl named Claudine.Her work is done under the name of her older, successful Parisian husband Willy, played by Dominic West, who spins her tales of youthful sexuality into a wildly successful brand.Colette’s gradual awakening to her own subjugation comes as she takes increasing ownership over the way she dresses and the romances she pursues, and eventually, the books and stories that Willy profits from.Knightley notes the revolutionary themes come amidst a dramatic shift in the way Hollywood and society now regard women’s voices and their stories.Despite the fact similar battles continue to be waged more than 100 years after Colette’s own fight, Knightley said it’s hard not to be inspired by the story.“I really did feel like I stood tall when I played her and I want people to feel like that when they see her — I think she’s a hero, she’s one of our heroes and we don’t know who our heroes are. We know the male heroes,” she said when the film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.“It’s important that we as women know our history and know the mothers who have come before and stood up and done some really interesting (things).”She also takes pride in the film for presenting an alternate view of masculinity, by way of Colette’s love affair with Mathilde de Morny, the Marquise de Belbeuf, who dressed as a man.“I think we’ve all been harmed by these gender roles that we’ve been given — there’s a toxic masculinity, there’s an epidemic of male suicide. This conversation, we haven’t got it right,” said an increasingly animated Knightley, peppering her rapid-fire delivery with expletives.“Boys are still told not to cry… Girls are still told that they shouldn’t do this or that, that they shouldn’t experience sex in the way that they want to. We haven’t got it right, yet. But that’s why we need to keep talking about it.”Director Wash Westmoreland said he’s been trying to make “Colette” for 17 years and found the delays frustrating at times. But seeing it hit theatres amidst the current conversation around women’s rights and gender identity is satisfying.“Stories change minds and I think that’s what the right wing is terrified of,” said Westmoreland. “These sort of set the scene so a new generation growing up can think, ‘Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with gay people.’”There’s power, too, in casting actors like Jake Graf, a transgender man who plays a cisgender character that flirts with Colette, and Rebecca Root, a transgender woman who plays a critic who reviews Willy’s book.“These are the kind of breakthroughs that are happening in small ways because if you don’t know (they are there), that’s part of the breakthrough,” Westmoreland said of casting trans people, as well as Asian and black actors in what is traditionally a very white genre.Knightley said she has started pushing for greater diversity in the past year or two on the sets she joins, but notes it’s difficult to impact such things as an actor — and she has no desire to produce.Still, Knightley said she’s trying to get an inclusion rider included in a contract she’s working on now, and expects there will be “pushback.”“It’s basically just trying to say, ‘OK, prove how many people you’re seeing for all these different things,’” she said.“As far as the Time’s Up groups that everybody’s talking about, inclusion riders, there’s pushback so (the questions are): In what form can it exist and how can we try and get it in there? But a lot of people are trying.”“Colette” opens in Toronto on Friday and across the country Oct. 12.