Keira Knightley – 20 years ago when she was the hottest thing in Hollywood

                              September 2003  By Philip Berk

In Bend It Like Beckham, Keira Knightley was just another face.

But then in Pirates of the Caribbean she lit up the screen.

That Jerry Bruckheimer would cast her in his next blockbuster, Guinevere, comes as no surprise. 

But nothing prepares me for her amazing self confidence.

My God, she’s only twenty, and she handles herself like a seasoned pro.

So where does all that self confidence comes from? I ask her at her press conference in Los Angeles.

“To be in this business you work at it. Growing up, both my brother and I were encouraged to be independent and have our own opinions on things. And the truth is, you can’t get a job as a child actor without being mature. They don’t want immaturity on a set; so the only way you get jobs is to grow up a little faster. I mean when I was at school, I was the same as everybody else, but there is a level of professionalism you have to get to, if you want to work in this business.”

Not a bad answer for a twenty-year old. 

So how long has she been doing this?

“I’ve been working professionally since I was about seven. It’s what I wanted to do. My parents didn’t want me to act, but it was the only way they could get me to work at school. So we did a bit of a bargain, and I was allowed to act in my summer holidays,”

But weren’t her parents in the business?

“My mum’s a writer and my dad’s an actor.”

And their names?

“My mum’s called Sharman McDonald, and my dad’s called Will Knightley.”

And it was with their help she got her first role?

“Actually it was a friend of my mum who gave me my first job. And I was completely hooked, even though it was just ‘Yes mummy,’ ‘No, mummy,’ and that kind of thing. But then at twelve, I got my first proper job, and it totally and completely hooked me, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The title?

“A TV film called Coming Home with Peter O’Toole, Joanne Lumley and Emily Mortimer, and it was just the most fantastic summer ever, and I just thought, ‘Right, there’s nothing else I want to do.”

Did anyone else share that enthusiasm?

“Not really.” 

And it came very easy to her?

“Because I enjoy doing it, it does feel very natural, but there’s an aspect to it that’s always difficult; so as an actor I don’t think you should ever stop learning. And if I ever lost that, then that’s the time to stop. I do find some bits hard; for example when you’re trying to find the emotion and you haven’t experienced it firsthand, that’s a challenge”

At her press conference she’s a brunette, so I have to ask her, Is she a blonde (as she was in Beckham and Pirates) or a brunette?

“I haven’t got a clue,” she replies “I’m confused as well. I was born black haired. I went to blonde. I had blonde hair after that, I had a mousy brown, and then I bleached it blonde, and then I dyed it brown, and then it went green for a while, which was kind of interesting. Now its kind of this black color. well, no, dark brown. So i think judging from my eye brows, this is me. but who knows?

Does she prefer brunette?

“It’s for Guinevere.”

Before she met Orlando Bloom, did she have a crush on him like every other teenager?

“Actually on the day we did the kissing scene, a lot of people had brought their teenage daughters onto the set, and I thought I was going to be lynched. The evil looks I was getting were unbelievable.”

But they got along famously?

“I mean he’s lovely. Nothing to complain about.”

He complained his heart was broken when he found out she had a boyfriend. Is that true?

“I have many boyfriends, but none of name.”

Were they jealous knowing she was kissing him?

“They were fine with it. They like Orlando, so it’s okay.”

Obviously Jerry Bruckheimer is a fan.

Was it after seeing the first few takes (of Pirates) that he decided to cast her as Guinevere?

“It had more to do with Antoine Fuqua, the director. I went through the normal audition process. I met him. I really, really liked him, and I did a screen test again for it, and he went, ‘Yeah all right, come and be Guinevere.’ So I said fine.” 

Can we assume she didn’t finish high school?

“Yes I’m a drop out, and I’m very proud of it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t go back and get my A-Levels. I’m planning to do courses and everything like that, but I don’t know when.”

Any regrets?

“Not at the moment because I’ve never stopped learning. I’ve actually read more books in the past year since I left school than I did in my entire school history. I had to leave to do Dr. Zhivago, and ended up reading the book four times,”

Does she still live at home?

“Yes I do.” 

She played opposite both Orlando and Johnny Depp in Pirates. Does she find herself attracted to bad boys?

Facetiously she answers, “Geoffrey Rush (who’s also in the movie) is incredibly sexy so what woman wouldn’t want to run away with him. It’s all the adventure and swashbuckling. My character (in Pirates) has an obsession with pirates, and unfortunately her dream to run away with a pirate comes true.”

And in her personal life? 

“Do I go after bad boys?”


“I haven’t had time to find out. Give me a chance. I guess there is something very sexy about a bad boy, but I haven’t really got to know one. Ask me again in a couple of years, I’ll have a better answer.” 

What was it like working with Johnny?

“It was absolutely fantastic. I haven’t got enough words to express how I feel.  He’s just such a fantastic person, besides being one of the best actors around at the moment. Going in, I told myself this is going to be an experience where I can learn a lot. I’ll see how these titans work. But I still haven’t got a clue. They just go in there, they do it. They make it look so easy, it’s ridiculous; so from that standpoint it was an amazing experience.”

People notice an amazing resemblance to Natalie Portman. Is she aware of it?

“Natalie Portman’s a gorgeous girl, and to have a vague resemblance to her is great. I mean, if somebody said I looked like Jim Carrey maybe I would have a problem with it, but looking like Natalie Portman is fine. But the weird thing is, I actually bumped into her a couple of months ago, and we look nothing alike. We stood there looking at each other going, ‘No.’ I’m taller, and we just don’t look alike.”

So where did it come from?

“Actually when we did the Star Wars movie, she was sixteen, I was twelve, we were the same build and there was a similarity. But I have to say now we don’t resemble each other apart from having brown hair and brown eyes. But I don’t mind, It’s fine.”

Had she been on the Pirates ride at Disneyland before she played Elizabeth Swann?

”Yes, as research for the movie, I had. But later they gave me a free pass to Disneyland so I went with my entire family and we went around a couple of times. It was fantastic.” 

She’ll be playing one of the most famous women in history in Guinevere (opposite Stellan Skarsgaard and Clive Owen). How is she going to play her?

“I haven’t decided. We’re trying to make a reality of the myth, so it’s a different take on the legend. She’s going to be very high spirited, very independent, very strong.”

And able to sweep kings and knights off their feet!

Sounds like type casting!

How about Love Actually. What’s her role in that?

“I play a very, very small part, five scenes to be precise. But everybody’s got small parts. It’s a big ensemble piece. It’s completely romantic. I get fantastic clothes and hairstyles, so I loved it. I spent two weeks making it and giggled the entire two weeks.’

Did she work with Hugh Grant or any of the other famous stars?

“I did a very very small scene with Hugh. We didn’t even say anything. I kind of knew Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson before because they have worked with my mum. So there were actors on the set I knew. But I worked mainly with two actors Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in Dirty pretty Things the Ken Loach film. He’s a fantastic actor and it was great working with him.”

Finally caught her on an error — the director was Mike Leigh not Ken Loach — but an educated error!

While filming in the Caribbean, did she do much sight seeing?

“We spent two and a half months there. We shot most of the film in St. Vincent . The scenes where Johnny and I were shipwrecked were shot in a place called Petit Tabac, which is just off Union Island. So I did the whole Caribbean experience. I went island hopping, I went to Mystique. We went on a catamaran around the islands, lots of snorkeling and that was fantastic. It was a bit too much like a holiday. I almost forgot I had to work. Although the make-up artists did get a bit angry when I started to get a deep tan. I was meant to be lily-white. But if you’re in the Caribbean, you have to go for the experience.”

If she were shipwrecked on a desert island, who would she choose to be stranded with?

“Definitely Johnny Depp.”

But he’s married?

“I know and what a shame, and she’s gorgeous. She’s absolutely gorgeous; so there’s no hope, but in my dreams it’s Johnny Depp.”

Was she well known in England before she did Pirates?

“Oh, no, no, Nobody knows me at all, which is fab.” 

Not for long!


Remember the splash Keira Knightley made last year in Pirates of Caribbean

Dubbed the hottest new star in years, she had fans eager to find out who was she was dating, what she was doing, with whom.

Almost a year later she’s back in another Jerry Bruckheimer movie, King Arthur, but this time I’m afraid audiences might be disappointed.

Not that she isn’t playing one of most fascinating women in all literature, but in this revisionist version of the King Arthur legend, there’s no love triangle.

The film is dark, brooding, and brutal, and she’s gritty and grimy in the role.

Arriving for her press conference, however, she’s as irrepressible as she ever, so much so, that I have to ask her if there’s anyone she’s ever been in awe of.

How about the queen? Would she just call her mum?

“I’ve never met the Queen,” she replies. “If I meet the Queen, I’m sure I’ll call her mum, yes.”

So nobody intimidates her?

“Do you mean, have I ever been completely star struck. Well yes, George Clooney. He produced my next movie, The Jacket, and he was on the set for one day, and I managed to say hello and goodbye and that was it.”

And he let her get away?

“Yes, unfortunately. Really easily. And everybody was standing next to me digging me in the ribs going, ‘Say something.’ ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ So he’s the one that I’ve completely fallen apart over. But in awe, I don’t know.”

Has she always been like that?

“My mum says I was born at forty-five, and I’ve been working my way down ever since; so apparently I’ll meet myself at twenty-two and a half, which I look forward to.

Which is not far away; she’ll be twenty one next March?

Does she ever lose her confidence, let’s say, in front of the cameras?

“Yes, all the time. It’s just that I’m quite good at hiding it. I try not to show it too much when I am nervous, but it’s always there. I think it makes you a stronger person if you absolutely admit that fear is all right.”

A lot has happened in the year since Pirates.

She’s made two movies, and she’s bought a place of her own.

“I haven’t been there very much. At the moment I am sort of between friends and family. My own house has no furniture and a leak in the roof so most of the time I have to say I’m not there. I’m sort of away a lot, and I’m just hoping for maybe a week where I could actually buy some furniture for this flat so I could possibly move into it, but at the moment all I’ve got is a mattress.”

Where is it?

“In London.”

Was it difficult for her to leave home?

“Not really, because my parents have always allowed both my brother and me to make our own choices. So that was never an issue.”

Does she mind living the life of a gypsy?

“I like it. As soon as I don’t like it I’ll do something else, but I enjoy traveling.”

Her hair is raven black.

I once asked her if she was a natural brunette, and her answer was, “I’m confused as you are. I was born black haired. I went to blonde. I had blonde hair after that, I had a mousy brown, and then I bleached it blonde, and then I dyed it brown, and then it went green for a while, which was kind of interesting. Now it’s kind of this black color. well, no, dark brown. So I think judging from my eye brows, this is me. but who knows?”

So is this color she’s she settled on? I ask her

“I kind of like to keep changing it. At the moment I quite like it; so I’ll stay with this a couple of weeks, and then I’ll change it again.”

How come she hides those beautiful eyebrows behind bangs?

Imperiously she admits, “I’ve got spots, and the bangs hide the spots.”

What can she say about her role in The Jacket?

“I play an American alcoholic waitress, completely different from Guinevere or Elizabeth in Pirates. That’s what I always try to do, pick roles that are as different as possible. That’s what’s fun for me about acting, trying to change as much as I possibly can.”

After two blockbusters, it must be quite a change of pace.

Who helps her make those decisions, and do they have to be approved by her managers and agents?

“I realize it’s a business like any other, but you have to do things that interest you, otherwise your performance will suffer. It was really important for me to do a film like The jacket  which is so different.. I think it’s important to keep changing.”

Her role in King Arthur is her most physical yet, even more so than Bend it like Beckham.

The last time we spoke it was called Guinevere; sensibly it’s been retitled because the film has absolutely nothing to do with the famous love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.

How much training did she do, especially for her archery scenes?

“I’d done archery as a kid in summer camps, and I did a film a couple of years ago where I did quite a bit of archery.  Before the movie we did three months of training. I had my own archery coach, and yeah, I was all right. I beat the boys which is all that mattered.”

Does she believe in the notion of a knight in shining armor?

“I don’t think I’d go for that,” she replies anticipating the next question.

Isn’t she in love?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Is it difficult for her to find time for that kind of thing?

“Acting is a job, like any other, which allows you to spend time with people who love you and you love. You have to make time for friends and family. I try to keep in touch through phone calls as much as possible.”

How about romance?

“There’s always time for romance,” she jokes.

Wasn’t she attracted to her sexy costars (Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffud, Stephen Dillane, and Hugh Dancy) on the set?

“They’re all like brothers.”

Which one was the sexiest?

“I can’t possibly answer that question.”

The ring she’s wearing, is it a gift from Jamie Dornan, the Irish model she’s been romantically linked with?

Indignantly she answers, “Asprey’s in London gave it to me.”

Asprey’s is the London Tiffany’s.

Is she aware of her fame, and how is she handling it?

“To tell you the truth, because I haven’t stopped working I haven’t had time to kind of take a step back and go, “Ooh.’  But when you’re on a film set, it’s a very protected environment, and that’s the way I like it. You’re in a protective bubble, but obviously there have been differences. Getting on a bus is a bit difficult, but I’ll work through that. It is strange when people recognize you in the street. That’s always going to be a bit weird but nothing to complain about.”

How good was she in school?

“I always got good reports.”

And yet her bio says she was dyslexic!

She left school at sixteen, skipping her A-levels, has she ever thought about going back?

“I went to Ethiopia recently, and it made me realize what a privilege education is. But when I went to school, I never wanted to be there until I found something that I really wanted to study.” (obviously acting.) “And as long as I’m able to do that, I have no intention of going back. Not that I don’t think anybody has the right to stop learning at any point in their life ever.  However, at the moment my path won’t be formal education,  not to say that it never will be. There might come a point when I absolutely know what I want to study when I’ve got over this acting thing and get a proper job. But until then I am perfectly fine not being in education.”

How comes she thinks of acting as not a proper job?

“Of course it’s a proper job, but it is one that you can get by without any formal education.”

Is it true that she suffered from dyslexia as a child?

“When I was six they found out I couldn’t read at all,  so my mum came to me and said ‘All right, if you come to me with a book in your hand and a smile on your face through the summer holidays, at the end of it I’ll get you an agent,’ which is what I always wanted. So I did that, got an agent, and then she said, ‘Right, if you keep your grades up you can act.’ So I got tons of tutors. Mum and dad spent quite a lot of money  on that. My mum’s very good in English and history anyway, so she tutored me as well. We worked very hard. so that by the time I was eleven I no longer had any special needs and I had conquered it. I went to secondary schools, and it was never an issue, I carried on having tutors all the way through. I had some great teachers, and it’s never been a problem since.”

She starts a new movie next month, Pride and Prejudice based on the Jane Austen novel.

Will it be faithful to the book?

“Not particularly,” is her flippant answer.

What attracted it to her?

“It’s a tremendously exciting project. I’ve never done a Jane Austen piece before. It was an interesting time in the development of women, and an interesting time in history. The book was written in 1790 just before the French Revolution.”

She’s extremely popular in Japan. Has she ever been offered large sums of money to do commercials there?

Slightly embarrassed, she answers, “I have a hair commercial in Japan. I went over to Tokyo, and it’s fantastic.

Is she as interested as her American counterparts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Stiles) in doing a play in the West End?

“Yeah, definitely. I grew up on and around the theatre, and I would love to do theatre at some point.”

Does she watch her diet?

“I had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast this morning. Does that constitute a good diet?

How about  exercise?

“I hate the gym. I just cannot stand doing it.”

All you need, I guess, is self confidence.

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