LONDON – Did you know Keira Knightley fits into a 23-and-a-half-inch corset?
Justine Gale found out when she wound up on a strange path that took her from becoming an extra in Knightley's movie to her body double to her interviewer to her paparazzi decoy.
Below is her story:
Just back from a trip to Los Angeles, I responded to an e-mail seeking film extras in the Keira Knightley-helmed film "The Duchess," which hits U.S. theaters in limited release on Friday.
As a television and radio presenter, I’d interviewed a couple of movie stars before, but never experienced actually being on set in a movie.
Four weeks later, in October 2007, I was improvising on a set in Derbyshire, England, as a plainly dressed 18th-century woman enjoying an afternoon hosted by Knightley herself, in character as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who was the great-great-great-great aunt of Princess Diana.
(I ultimately also got to interview Keira herself ... read on to hear what she had to say.)
My first day was great fun. Was this really work? I suppose three hours in wardrobe, hair and makeup was a bit hard-going … and my dress was so tight I had to keep reminding myself to breathe. But it was worth it for the result.
Throwing berries across the table into one of my fellow extras’ mouths, I got a tap on my shoulder, beckoning me off the set. Was I having too much fun, I wondered?
But I wasn't in trouble ... quite the opposite. The production manager had noticed that I was a similar size to Keira … and that they needed someone to "body double" for her. They said it would involve a few scenes and also attending her dress fittings, since there were so many costumes still to be made.
Several tape measures and many photos later, it was confirmed by all involved that I would be a suitable "double" for Keira. From here on, I entered the territory of a principal actress … and got an exciting eye-opener into just what a first-class leading lady really has to handle both on screen …and off.
From sharing a tent with hundreds of extras, I now had my own trailer … complete with a bathroom, which was half the size of the huge dress I was wearing, creating all sorts of interesting challenges.
The first thing that struck me was the attention to detail. When required to play drunk, I had to study Keira’s interpretation of Georgiana’s swagger in order to produce the same movement for continuity purposes.
My skin and hands were whitened where necessary to get a perfect match … and I waved goodbye to my L.A. tan.
When pulling in my corset, all measurements were checked ... I was most thankful for that on the day a new wardrobe assistant mistakenly pulled me into a 22-and-a-half-inch waist. Ouch! I’m sure Keira felt the same … and thankfully I was "let out" an inch.
Anyway, any pain was worth it to be able to wear the unbelievably beautiful dresses, some of which were fitted on me just hours before they were worn by Keira and shot on screen. It was right out of "Cinderella" — I’d spend a couple of hours getting layered up in luxurious, exquisitely expensive material, which was then turned into gorgeous dresses, get a minute to flounce around in front of a large mirror, and then it was "pumpkin time" as the dresses had to leave me bound on a one-way ticket to Keira.
Almost one year after I played her double on-screen, FOXNews.com gave me the opportunity to interview Keira — and let her in on the fact that I was her secret double.
Below is an excerpt of our Q-and-A session:
Justine: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk to me on behalf of FOX News about your forthcoming movie. Now then, I have to tell you up front that, you might not be aware, but I was one of your body doubles in some of the scenes. ...
Keira: (surprised) Were you ...?!
Justine: I was, yes!
Keira: Wow, gosh ... how extraordinary!
Justine: And some of the dress fittings as well ...
Keira: Ah ...!
Justine: Now somebody said to me you had a bit of difficulty breathing before they drafted me in ... so I have to ask you as my first question, did I do a good job?
Keira: You did a brilliant job!
Justine: Did I? Phew!
Keira: I had quite a few different corsets, and it was really weird because they were all obviously made to measure for me, but some of them I could breathe in, and some of them I absolutely couldn't ... and it was a complete nightmare! So thank you very much for standing there and trying them all on ... that was very kind of you!
Justine: Now talking about the costumes, the movie's set in the late 1700s. I have to ask you, do you think that the dresses and the wigs represented a lack of freedom in the women's lives at that time, or are we missing out in our Lycra tops and jeans?
Keira: Oh God, no ... I don't think you'd want to be wearing corsets and huge wigs all the time. I think, you know, it was the style of the time, and yes, you can certainly say it reflects the repression that women were going through and how they were tied in and weren't allowed to express themselves and all the rest of it ... you could do that.
And they are, I mean you wore them, they are very difficult to wear; they're constricting and they do limit your movement. But I personally found it very helpful for the particular character because I think that she is somebody who is trapped by her situation and by where she is, and I think the costumes hugely reflected that.
Justine: I got stuck one day, trying to get out of a mini-bus with one of the dresses on with these massive, great big hips on them! It was quite funny at the time. You must have had some amusing incidents?
Keira: Mmm, yeah, those dresses are just completely impossible. And when we had the big wigs we couldn't fit in the back of the car, so I was sat on the ground in the car with my head kind of like that, and Haley Atwell, who plays Bess in the film, exactly the same with her head like that, because of these enormous wigs!
Justine: So, a sort of strange yoga position?
Keira: Yeah! Cars weren't designed for big wigs!
Justine: Now, Princess Diana was a direct descendent of Georgiana, your character in the film. Obviously there's been lots of talk and contrast with the movie coming out about whether their lives were similar. I was just wondering, do you feel that there were any similarities?
Keira: I really don't know ... I was 11 when Diana died and I really don't know much of the story. I'm really aware of the incredible images but not what her story is, so I don't think ... I mean I can't really comment on what I think the parallels would be because I'm not sure about them.
I think, you know as far as the filmmakers went, we were not making this to make any kind of link to Diana. I thought it was an interesting bit of trivia that she was a distant relation ... but as far as I'm concerned, I wasn't trying to comment on that relationship.
I was trying to comment on the relationship of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and I think that she was an extraordinary person. If you read the biography, and hopefully see the film, then you know, you see what an extraordinary person this was and why she certainly warrants a film, without any parallels to anybody else.
Justine: Just quickly back to the costumes again. Georgiana gets pregnant in the film. Obviously, I had to wear that "bump" that you had to wear. I've not had any children yet ... but it had a real impact on me. I'm just wondering how it made you feel?
Keira: No ... it didn't make me feel broody. I think I was just very glad that I didn't have to wear the corset that day! So ... rather relieved not to be in the corset as opposed to broody!
Becoming Keira Again
After interviewing Keira, I was asked whether I would mind being her decoy in order for her to leave the hotel unnoticed. Glad to be able to help out yet again, I accepted.
Keira's bodyguard gave me basic instructions of "shades on, keep your head down." We walked swiftly toward reception to get into the waiting car.
I had thought that using me as a decoy was really just as a precautionary measure, to make sure Keira didn’t get in any hassle. So you can imagine my surprise when as the hotel doors opened, I was blinded by paparazzi cameras and stunned by the crowd that had gathered. The car door was opened for me and I was rather glad to get into the back seat with blacked-out windows ... though there were cameras being poked through all the car windows.
We shot off with huge acceleration, successfully managing to lose a great number of paparazzi as we raced through London. I was told that there were still five or six pursuing us, so I kept the glasses on and remained face-forward. I’m not surprised Keira wanted to avoid that malarkey — exciting for me, but not something I’d want to repeat on a daily basis!
Ten minutes later, we pulled up at some traffic lights, only to have two of the guys on bikes behind jump off and start poking their cameras into the car again. So it was quickly back on with the shades and head down again. I couldn’t believe they really thought I was Keira. It was bizarre, exciting ... a tad scary … all rolled into one.
As I was helped out of the fancy car at Waterloo train station, a number of people seemed to be watching in anticipation, perhaps expecting a movie star. But when the car pulled off, leaving me with bags to carry alone, I felt the attention weaken. My time as a "Duchess" was over.