The job of an actor is to breathe life into the script, using research, the director's instructions, and gut feelings for guidance. Read what how some of the actors interpreted their roles. Do you feel that their performance reflected their intentions?
Helen McCrory, on playing Anna
Helen comes from a classical background, including work with the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She brought a wealth of academic research to the role of Anna. "I read a lot about Russian culture at the time and a lot of Tolstoy's other work and biographies of Tolstoy and his contemporaries. But once we started filming, I threw it all away. The whole point of Anna is that she is alive in the moment. Her ability to love and her ability to be alive are extraordinary. You know the minute she steps onto the train that she'll never survive. People like Anna either explode themselves or society explodes them. But she has a glorious finale.
Helen believes that more than a century after the character was created, women will still identify with Anna. "She is one of those people that society learns from. Watching what happens to Anna changes our lives as women now."
Stephen Dillane, on playing Karenin
On reading the script of Anna Karenina, Stephen had a lot of sympathy for the man who is usually portrayed as the cold-hearted villain of the piece. "Karenin is an able and principled man, but he is a man in desperate, desperate pain. He is trying to seek any way out that he can. I also think it is significant that Tolstoy wrote that Karenin was an orphan. People in distress are not often great company."
Stephen was particularly impressed by the breadth of Allan Cubitt's adaptation. "This adaptation is better than most because it covers the Levin-Kitty relationship and the Oblonsky marriage as well as the central love affair between Anna and Vronsky. Tolstoy's book is about what relationships are; it's about whether you pursue the forces of the heart or whether you stick with the relationships you've made because you said you would. Ultimately, it's about love."
Kevin McKidd, on playing Vronsky
When Kevin first read the script, he knew he could not play Vronsky as a straight romantic lead: "I am not an actor who is interested in making good clean characters who are meant to be perfect human beings. I find it embarrassing. And it's patronizing to the audience when filmmakers decide that people who are deeply in love have to be beautiful. People will just switch off because they think, 'Wait a minute. I'm just a normal person and I feel things deeply, so why do they have to be beautiful on screen before they're allowed the right to be passionate?'"
Douglas Henshall, on playing Levin
Douglas is a fan of Russian literature and was thrilled to be offered the part of Levin. "Levin is like the voice of Tolstoy. He's probably one of the first existentialists. It's only the idea of this one perfect woman -- Kitty -- that keeps him alive."
Douglas found he identified closely with his character: "I like Levin's idealism. I like idealism generally; I suffer from it myself. And I still like that idea that there is a woman out there who is perfect and that you can't see beyond." But even Douglas was mentally covering his eyes when Levin gives Kitty the diaries chronicling all his previous sexual misadventures. "This is something that Tolstoy actually did himself," says Douglas. "Levin wants there to be no secrets between him and Kitty, but it is just a terrible idea."
Mark Strong, on playing Oblonsky
Playing Oblonsky, Mark was struck by how men had it so much easier than women in Tolstoy's time: "Oblonsky is Anna's brother. Her adultery forces her under the wheels of a train, but his adultery is completely accepted by society. It's the woman who has to pay the price. I don't think Tolstoy endorses that attitude, but he certainly shows it up and Oblonsky is the embodiment of that reality. But he's not unfeeling. When he realizes how much his philandering has upset his wife, he doesn't think, "Oh, Doll's being ridiculous; she's overreacting." He's genuinely upset about her unhappiness; it's just that he didn't really think about how his philandering would affect her. There's that wonderful line, 'I love my wife, but she's my wife,' which just about sums him up."
Mark played Mr. Knightly in the BBC version of Jane Austen's Emma, an experience that left him all the more impressed by the sheer modernity of Tolstoy's ideas. "If you look at Jane Austen, it's all very period and it's about making a good marriage. But Anna Karenina is about what happens after the honeymoon, which is so much more interesting to a modern audience."
Amanda Root, on playing Dolly
When she came to the role of Dolly, Amanda was determined that Oblonsky's frequently betrayed wife should not be seen as any kind of walkover: "One thing I felt passionately about is that Dolly is not a little victim; she's courageous and brave and has to make a very hard choice, one that she doesn't take lightly, to make her marriage work."
"Life is so different for women today. Put me in Dolly's situation and I'd go mad, but at that period, the majority of women were in precisely her position-married to men who were constantly having affairs. I really admire her courage in sticking it out and working on a future. I think people underestimate how powerful that is. In marriages today, lots of people look at just what you can get out, not what you put in, but for Dolly, it's the opposite."
Paloma Baeza, on playing Kitty
"Playing a Russian princess was wonderful," says Paloma. "It's like slipping into another magical world. But Kitty is more than a one-dimensional character. She starts out as the conventional, well brought up girl-playing the piano to catch her man-but the happy ending is quite different from the one she imagines. What I really like about her is that she has the ability to put social expectations aside and go with her feelings and humanity. Before her wedding, her husband makes her read about all the other women he has ever slept with in his diaries. It's almost as if he has had an affair before they even begin their relationship. Another woman might not have gone through with the marriage in her circumstances, but Kitty is strong. She knows where she stands with her God and she knows where she stands with her man."
Essays + Interviews | Who's Who | A Tolstoy Timeline
Novel to Film | Teacher's Guide | The Forum | Links and Bibliography
Home | About The Series | The American Collection | The Archive
Schedule & Season | Feature Library | eNewsletter | Book Club
Learning Resources | Forum | Search | Shop | Feedback
Masterpiece is sponsored by: