Director John Carney Criticizes Keira Knightley’s Acting in ‘Begin Again’

John Carney Keira Knightley
Rex Shutterstock

Often, when a film wraps and directors are asked about working with big actors, it’s all praise. It’s a different story, however, with “Begin Again” director John Carney and Keira Knightley.

Carney, promoting his latest movie “Sing Street,” spoke about working with Knightley in 2013 drama “Begin Again,” saying he wouldn’t like to work with the actress again.

“I’ll never make a film with supermodels again,” he told the Independent in an interview published this weekend.


Sing Street

‘Sing Street’ Director Reveals Music Drama’s Link to ‘There’s Something About Mary’

Knightley has indeed appeared in ad campaigns for big brands like Chanel, as well as on covers of major fashion magazines. She did, though, make a name for herself in acting first, with 1995’s “A Village Affair” marking her first film role.

Knightley played a songwriter dumped by her musician boyfriend, played by Adam Levine, in “Begin Again.” She then embarks on a new path in making music with Mark Ruffalo’s character. Carney had much more favorable memories of working with Levine and Ruffalo than with Knightley.

“Mark Ruffalo is a fantastic actor and Adam Levine is a joy to work with and actually quite unpretentious and not a bit scared of exposing himself on camera and exploring who he is as an individual,” he said. “I think that that’s what you need as an actor; you need to not be afraid to find out who you really are when the camera’s rolling. Keira’s thing is to hide who you are and I don’t think you can be an actor and do that.”

Carney also claimed that Knightley’s “entourage” made it difficult to “get any real work done,” and stated a difference between working with “proper film actors” and “movie stars.”

“It’s not like I hate the Hollywood thing, but I like to work with curious, proper film actors as opposed to movie stars,” he added. “I don’t want to rubbish Keira, but you know it’s hard being a film actor and it requires a certain level of honesty and self-analysis that I don’t think she’s ready for yet and I certainly don’t think she was ready for on that film.”

Knightley does have several big acting accomplishments to her name, including multiple Oscar, BAFTA and SAG nominations. Director David Cronenberg praised her performance in his 2011 film “A Dangerous Mind,” telling Film Comment that she was one of the best actresses he’s ever worked with. “She was fantastic,” he said. “We were all just awestruck.”

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  1. lorigupta says:

    The Cronenberg film was called “A Dangerous Method”.

  2. Maureen Deloy says:

    Ditto with Audrey (June 1, 2016). I can’t imagine Begin Again with another actor, KK nailed it. This is a wash, John Carney did apologize and I think we have all had these moments where our most dysfunctional thoughts slip out.

  3. Audrey says:

    Begin Again is one of my favorite movies. Once and Sing Street were both amazing. It’s totally unprofessional of him. He says he doesn’t want talk rubbish and yet he did. KK was amazing. Could watch the movie over and over. She is raw and real. He’s the one whose acting like a prima-donna. Movie was a big hit so time to just celebrate, shut up and say cut 🎬

  4. Not very bright says:

    Knightly’s performance in Begin Again was not the problem with that film. The problems began with the script, which the director wrote, and he’s not even being honest. He wanted a pop star for the role, he didn’t even want an actress. So he has some nerve to complain about her acting now.

    Knightly is not only an accomplished film actress, she’s also done theater in London and on Broadway. She has more than proved her acting talent and he’s the one who lacks credibility as a director. He should be thanking her for getting his film funded instead of making these bizarre complaints.

    I guess he’s too dumb to realize rude comments like this don’t inspire other actresses and actors to work with you.

  5. Pretty clear what's going on here... says:

    It’s rather baffling and sad that a grown man would make such comments toward a former colleague, regarding another project, three years after the fact. John Carney’s interview with the Independent brings into question his professionalism and competence as a filmmaker, and his humility and grace as an individual. One suspects it may be Carney who has a problem with “honesty and self-analysis.”

    Actors may want to think twice before entrusting their time and efforts to this particular director.

  6. iamtrue2bill says:

    Who knows what went on during shooting of “Begin Again?” I found the film disappointing. I didn’t think the writing was up to par. It didn’t feel fresh, it felt tired and worn. The film as a whole was rather mundane…not bad, really, just not that good.
    I don’t have much sympathy for the director. This article sounds like he’s making excuses.

  7. Sandra says:

    How incredibly rude and unprofessional. I would think a man in his position would not gossip like a high school girl about the very high profile actors he has worked with. Keira Knightley is hardly a hollywood model. Whatever his experience with her, he comes across as quite childish, and possibly if he can’t, as a director, have a positive professional experience with an actor as experienced and accomplished as she is, he is not doing his job well. I don’t remember that movie having earth shattering success despite his glorification of himself and all the male actors in the cast. Maybe he’s just another person who need someone to blame for their own failure, and that is exactly how it sounds in print. I am appalled by his lack of self control.

  8. Aaron1968 says:

    So, a guy who has no impressive resume whatsoever — OTHER THAN the film he made with Knightley — trashes Knightley.

    Well, guess what? You may not work with Keira again. And I won’t bother with any of your pictures again. See how that works?

    • Sandra says:

      I agree. I imagine this little display has motivated some great actors to make a mental note of not working with him. Any director who would speak with this kind of disrespect and disregard for the people who created a piece of work with him seems like a loose cannon to me.

      • Aaron1968 says:

        Especially considering that Keira doesn’t have anything close to this sort of reputation. It’s not like she’s trashed sets or gone off on crew or whatever. I’ve never heard anything negative about it, and I follow her a good deal. (I might be a fan :) )

  9. Richie Morris says:

    Just a correction…
    David Cronenberg’s film being referenced in the article is A Dangerous Method, not A Dangerous Mind.
    Thank You and Good Day

    Also, Keira Knightley’s performance in Begin Again was very transparent and tender.

  10. Suz says:

    He lost me at saying Adam Levine is unpretentious.

  11. stevenkovacs says:

    Just seems pointless to mention this publicly long after the film’s release. However, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I’m sure he’s aware of potential ‘blowback’.

  12. Dan says:

    Oo, such a gentleman?!

  13. Mike says:

    Mr. Carney should not forget, that the only actor in “Begin again” that got any award nominations was Keira Knightley…Mark Ruffalo or Adam Levine were not nominated for anything! (Check it yourself on IMDB etc…) Keira might be difficult to work with, yes, but she brings all the attention and the acting awards, so the director should be grateful. “Begin again” made over 60 mill. dollars worldwide. Without Knightley that movie wouldn’t have been made in the first place. Unknown Irish directors don’t get a chance like that very often.

  14. Doug McDade says:

    When I watch the clip of Keira Knightly’s performance in The Imitation Game which was featured in the 87th Annual Academy Awards I find it in complete contradiction to John Carney’s quote in this interview: “Keira’s thing is to hide who you are and I don’t think you can be an actor and do that.” Her stillness allows me to be drawn to her eyes which reveal so much of her inner life and vulnerability. She completely exposes herself and hides nothing.

  15. Mark says:

    Just checked out the guys “filmography,” some how I think Knightley will survive not working with him again.

  16. Anon says:

    I loeeve Keira Knightley. I’ve never thought she was that good of an actress. But neither is Mark Ruffalo to be honest. As wonderful as a guy as he seems! But the point I’m trying to get to is… Why would this director hire her if that’s what he thought of her acting?!?! I mean, he had to have seen some of her movies as she’s been in a bunch of big ones… The only person who seems unprofessional here is the director. He sound like a total jerk. And, having seen his movies, he’s really not that great of a director to be frank. I’m not saying he’s bad. But there are directors whose work is distinct and memorable. Like Baz Luhrmann/Kathryn Bigelow. He’s just like any generic, run of the mill-filmmaker. One who wants his actors to take risks without taking any creative risks himself. #TBT

  17. BillUSA says:

    Perhaps Knightley feels similarly about the Director.

  18. Kat0711 says:

    …so she wouldn’t sleep with him?

  19. Rose says:

    Refreshingly honest.

  20. RobotxRobot says:

    I have enjoyed some of Keira’s performances. I think she is a b- sort of actress. She has a lot to do to escape her tendency to be the same character in every movie. I think she hasn’t peaked yet. I did not like her performance in Pride and Prejudice because I felt she came off too juvenile. She lacked a certain gravitas. I enjoyed Begin Again. I thought she was charming enough. It was not a stellar performance but fine and enjoyable. I question his comments because of his use of “supermodel.” She began in film and as someone else mentioned – Levine is a “rockstar.” His language and lack of tact unravel his opinions and him as someone with particular bias and perhaps is speculatively at issue with women.

    • Sandra says:

      I felt the issue with women too. There is something bitter and competitive about a man who feels he needs to applaud each man individually and then reduce an oscar award winning actress in his film as a trite model. Very tactless and revealing of a deeper issue with him. I certainly would think twice about working with him after this if I were an actress. He has no real resume to speak of anyway.

  21. Ken says:

    Ms. Knightley is a lovely, photogenic woman; she is both fine actress and movie star. She has starred and co-starred in several fine movies over the last few years. Carney, on the other hand, is a dull, small-time indie director…and ONCE was a crashing bore. He needs to learn a little class.

  22. J says:

    Misogynist! She did a remarkable job with a poorly written two dimensional character. She managed to be utterly charming despite Carney’s whiny and preachy interpretation of a “true artist”. Cheers Kiera. Loved you in Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Love Actually, Bend it like Beckham, A Dangerous Method, The Imitation Game… ! Can’t wait to see how good you will be when you actually mature.

    • BillUSA says:

      As much as I disagree with Carney, he’s hardly a misogynist for putting his opinion out there. I wonder what you would have labeled him had he the same opinion about a male actor…

    • John W says:

      So anyone who ever criticizes a woman for a lack of professionalism is a misogynist? Simple minded thinking there.

      • Sandra says:

        I’m sorry but I agree with her. You do not call an oscar winning actress a ‘model’. It’s revealing. I’m sure as a man you don’t notice, but she’s referring to the language he used, and the specificity of pointing out how the men were all much better than her… I’m sure if you experienced what this commentor is talking about you would recognize it too. This wasn’t just a professional opinion, he used very questionable language and intent in this interview. He clearly has a problem with her, not just her acting.

      • Suz says:

        He was demonstrating a lack of professionalism with his words, which are being refuted by others who have worked with her.

        I don’t know enough of him to know his view on women but the fact that he refers to her as a model when she was an actress at first, and praises a “rock star” like Adam Levine, who does not have as good a reputation as she does is interesting. He’s certainly not a “proper actor.” I’d argue he’s questionable as a musician.

        Levine didn’t even have to dig that deep for his character. If you typecast one actor and another is cast against type, don’t be surprised if the former “exposes” himself and the latter inhabits a character.

  23. L says:

    mmmm….I wonder if the fact that you are willing to criticize your co-worker to the media makes it difficult for an actress to be willing to go “exploring” with you. How safe did you make her feel as a director? What kind of an environment did you create? Did you foster a boys club with the men that perhaps made her feel alienated, which, would certainly make it hard to feel free to explore….particular when she is so well-known and open to extreme exposure all that time. I find this frustrating because too many directors do not attempt to make actors feel that they have a safe environment in which to explore…let’s hear about the director’s process and how you work, then I will be more open to what you have to say about your actors.

    • Sandra says:

      BIngo. If this is how he speaks of her now, three years later still so bitter about God knows what and so lacking in integrity as to talk with such disrespect about an actor he had that relationship with, I can only imagine how joyless and demeaning it was for her to work with him. Also, he should attempt to write and direct better if he’d like to see a better performance. He’s not particularly good at what he does.

  24. Thomas Dillon says:

    A bad workman blames his tools.

  25. Stel Kouk says:

    Even if all this is true, maybe he should be more thankful that a “supermodel” helped him get his indie film made and distributed. What he expected when he cast her? If you don’t want to work with a movie star, then do not get a movie star. Now it seems he is desperate to promote his new film and generate buzz with his criticism.

  26. “Director David Cronenberg praised her performance in his 2011 film A Dangerous Mind”

    The film is a A Dangerous Method…

  27. The Wonderer says:

    Regardless of whether any of this is true and anyone’s opinion of her as actress – although as the article points out she obviously has carved out a respected nomination-laden career for herself as an actress who is in demand by major filmmakers – the fact that he expressed this in public is classless and reveals way more about his own professionalism than hers.

    Note to Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson and the other actresses doing ads: steer clear of this guy.

  28. LOL says:

    Will somebody please get this article to British film critic Mark Kermode, who has pledged his adoration to Ikea Knightley in blood, arguing that she is amongst the very finest acting talents the UK has ever produced.

    Hello to Jason Isaacs, too.

    • Tamsyn Roberts says:

      exactly what I was thinking! From someone like Mark to have gone from thinking her acting was so wooden he likened her to furniture,to now rating her as a fine actor, shows he is honestly reacting to performance. Mark loved Sing Street, so not sure how he’ll feel about this. It’s clear there is a level of gender bias here too- no one is exactly ugly in this film. He’s using the word supermodel as an insult that she’d image concious- when Adam Levine as a ‘rockstar’ is absolutely more so.

      ps. whassup!

  29. Bill B. says:

    He’s entitled to his opinion and maybe she is difficult or whatever, but it seems really unkind and unnecessary to go public with his thoughts. And he is wrong. I think by this point in time, she has proven herself to be a very good actress adept at both drama and comedy. I didn’t see Begin Again, but most recently, I found her to be a delight in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and quite effective and appealing in The Imitation Game.

  30. mastik8 says:

    Maybe she only likes sleeping with talented men.

  31. godtisx says:

    Think I understand what he is saying. I like Keira, but a few of my friends don’t actually like her as an actress. They think she is recycled expression, not “real” like he says. But she is a very young woman, so I would have liked it better if he had offered this as advice for her instead of stated it publicly? Star doesn’t mean anything, the visibility isn’t a classroom.

    • Sandra says:

      She’s in her thirties!

      • godtisx says:

        Then perhaps it speaks of maturity level. It may be a devil may care youthful attitude toward work? I mean but, we all have things we could shape up in our professional or personal lives. So maybe, this is her spot. Maybe..

  32. meiray says:

    Sounds like he needs to get over himself more than she does.

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