Kiera Knightley has always been an outspoken feminist and in a recent interview, she explains her decision to not perform for the male gaze when it comes to her acting work. In a conversation with director Lulu Wang and writer-producer Diane Solway on the Chanel Connects podcast, Knightley spoke about how uncomfortable she is with trying to portray the “male gaze” while shooting sex scenes, revealing that while she doesn’t have an “absolute ban” on on-screen nudity, she now does when it comes to men.
“I don’t want it to be those horrible sex scenes where you’re all greased up and everybody’s grunting,” she said. “I’m not interested in doing that.”
Knightley – a mother of two – did, however, say things would be different if she was working on a film about motherhood, but that if that was the case, she’d expect to be working on that story with women. “If I was making a story that was about that journey of motherhood and body acceptance, I feel like, I’m sorry, but that would have to be with a female filmmaker,” Knightley said. “I don’t have an absolute ban, but I kind of do with men.”
“”If it was about motherhood, literally about how extraordinary that body is, about how suddenly you’re looking at this body that you’ve got to know that is your own and is seen in this completely different way, and it’s changed in ways that are unfathomable to you before you become a mother, then, yeah, I’d totally be up for kind of exploring that with a woman who would understand that. But I feel very uncomfortable now trying to portray the male gaze,” she explained.
Knightley also candidly admitted that vanity also plays a part in her choices. “Saying that, there’s times where I go, ‘Yeah, I completely see where this sex would be really good in this film and you basically just need somebody to look hot.’ So therefore you can use somebody else, because I’m too vain and the body has had two children now and I’d just rather not stand in front of a group of men naked.”
“We all empathise with men hugely because, culturally, their experience is so explored,” she continued. We know so many aspects of even male sexuality. But we don’t feel like men can say, ‘Yes, I understand what you’re talking about because I’ve got this wealth of art and film and theatre and TV from your point of view.’”
In 2015, Knightley had a “no nudity clause” added to her film contracts after becoming a mother so she could have “total control” over which sex scenes she appears in. Last year she opened up about that decision, telling Financial Times, “I have been comfortable earlier with more nudity than I am now. I have had a kid, I am in my thirties, I am very happy with my body.”
Knightley has also previously spoken about the impossible position some women are left in where they have to pick between playing the flirt or the mother on screen. “Before motherhood, you’re sexy, but if we talk about the whole vagina-splitting thing then that’s terrifying; there’s no sex there, so what we do is go into the virgin-mother retrofit, that’s nice and safe,” she said. The problem with those two images is I think very few women actually identify with them. Women are meant to play the flirt or the mother in order to get their voice heard. I can’t. It makes me feel sick.”