Keira Christina Knightley Righton (born March 26, 1985) is an English actress. She began acting as a child on television and made her film debut in 1995. Knightley had a supporting role as Sabé in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and her first significant role came in The Hole. She gained widespread recognition in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham. Knightley has earned nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. Two years later she was nominated again for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, as well as the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Wright's Atonement.
Keira Knightley achieved international fame as a result of her appearances in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, where she portrayed Elizabeth Swann. Knightley also lent her voice in narrating the Pirates of the Caribbean video game.
Born Keira Christina Knightley in Teddington, Middlesex, in England on March 26, 1985, Knightley came from an entertainment family. Her father, Will Knightley, was a television and stage actor; her mother Sharman MacDonald was an actress, playwright, and novelist. Plagued by dyslexia as a child, Knightley worked hard to achieve good grades so that she could convince her parents to allow her to pursue acting, which was her main goal from a very early age - enough that she asked for an agent at the age of three.
By the age of seven, she had made her television debut with a bit part in Royal Celebration (1993), and over the next few years appeared in several noteworthy English television movies, including the noteworthy Coming Home (1998), an adaptation of Rosamunde Pilcher's novel about two English families caught up in World War II, starring Peter O'Toole and Joanna Lumley. In 1998, her resemblance to actress Natalie Portman earned her the role of Sabe, the handmaiden double to Queen Amidala, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In an amusing bit of ballyhoo, director George Lucas did not reveal that Knightley was doubling for Portman in certain scenes until after the film was released. Additionally, the two actresses looked so much alike when in the Japanese-inspired makeup, that their own mothers could not tell them apart.
Knightley returned to more English television productions until 2001, when she earned a substantial role in the UK theatrical feature, The Hole (2001), a psychological thriller co-starring American actress Thora Birch. The film, which had a direct-to-video release in the States, featured a brief topless scene from the 15-year-old Knightley. That same year, she also made her debut as a lead actress in the Walt Disney TV movie Princess of Thieves, playing the teenage daughter of Robin Hood. During this time, Knightley was also studying in school, and while finishing her exams in 2001, filmed Bend It Like Beckham, a charming comedy-romance about an Indian girl (Parminder Nagra) whose love for soccer clashes with her family's traditional beliefs. Knightley played Nagra's friend, who struggles with her own family issues, including her mother (Juliet Stevenson) wanting her to act more feminine. The two girls' issues struck a chord with world audiences and critics took notice of Knightley's ability to play drama and comedy, as well as act believably physical in the sporting scenes. Knightley, however, continued to pursue her college studies and take the occasional role in UK features like Pure (2002), about drug addicts in a star-crossed romance.
Knightley's collegiate life came to an end soon afterwards when a conversation with television producer Andy Harries convinced her to take up acting full time. Her first job out of the box offered a distinct challenge: a television adaptation of Doctor Zhivago (2002), for which she would play Lara, a role made iconic by Julie Christie in the 1965 film version. She followed this with a small and somewhat underwhelming role in the portmanteau feature, Love, Actually (2003), in which she played a young bride-to-be whose best man has fallen for her. Packed with star power including Laura Linney, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, and Alan Rickman, the film did well in the United States and furthered Knightley's ascending star.
Pirates of the Caribbean
It was her next bit project that cemented her celebrity status. Keira Knightley was selected by director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer to portray Elizabeth Swann opposite Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa in the 2003 worldwide blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Demonstrating equal amounts of beauty and backbone as an aristocratic young woman swept into a fantastical adventure, Knightley again portrayed Elizabeth in two back-to-back sequels, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.
The Curse of the Black Pearl
- "When I first read the script, I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, this is going to be easy! I'll sit in the back of carriages, I'll wear pretty dresses, I'll pout a bit; it will be fun.' I never imagined the amount of stunt work I'd do, and for someone as lazy as I am, it was rather challenging."
- ―Keira Knightley
But contrary to her patrician and fairly sheltered upbringing, Elizabeth Swann is no shrinking violet. As Keira Knightley stated, "Elizabeth is a 21st century girl stuck in an 18th century world. She is amazing. Elizabeth has a modern outlook. She is strong and very independent, and when she's faced with some terrifying obstacles and daunting choices, she kicks ass!" Both producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski took great care in selecting just the right actress for the role of Elizabeth Swann. They considered every imaginable female lead, from famous faces to complete unknowns. But after meeting Knightley, they saw in her that certain something, an indescribable quality that radiated from the 17-year-old, reminiscent of motion picture stars from Hollywood's heyday.
"As a London girl, it was kind of nice for my first Hollywood experience to be the full Jerry Bruckheimer Hollywood experience," gushes Knightley. "It was incredible. I really enjoyed it." Bruckheimer mentioned that Keira liked to joke that Pirates was "a movie about Elizabeth and her boys," which he admitted to an extent, she was right. Elizabeth had a connection to each of the main male characters.
When Keira Knightley first glanced at the script, she had no idea what physical feats would be demanded of her. Originally believing it to be a role where she'd sit in the back of carriages, Knightley never imagined the amount of stunt work she would do. Despite that, Keira was disappointed, however, that she never got to undergo sword training like her fencing co-stars; she fought with "candlesticks, poles, even with a bedpan...but no sword." Knightley managed to coax promises from Bruckheimer and Verbinski that if they all do another film together, they would give her a sword. While filming a scene from The Curse of the Black Pearl where Elizabeth had to "walk the plank", Keira Knightley stood on a plank for two days, later admitting to be "absolutely petrified" by the experience. At the end when the time came for her to jump off the plank, Gore Verbinski offered to use her stunt double (Sonja Jo McDancer), Keira insisted on doing it herself saying, "I've been standing up here for two days, do you really think that I'm not going to jump of this thing?" Despite her initial fear, Knightley came up smiling, unscathed by the experience.
Initially viewed as a risky venture - as it was based on a Disney ride, and the first movie about pirates in decades - The Curse of the Black Pearl turned out to be one of the biggest blockbusters in years. And while Johnny Depp's turn as the addled Captain Jack Sparrow attracted the lion's share of the critical response, audiences and filmmakers alike did not fail to notice Knightley's ability to play determined, romantic, coltish and delicate in the middle of a special effects orgy.
Keira Knightley, like much of the rest of the world, had been happily surprised by the massive success of the first film. "We were doing a movie based on a Disney theme-park ride in a genre that hadn't been successful in something like 50 years," she recalls. "But we had Gore Verbinski, whose vision is quite extraordinary, and Johnny Depp, whose portrayal of Jack Sparrow kind of brought the film into a whole new phenomenal world."
Dead Man's Chest and At World's End
In 2005, because of the unexpected success of The Curse of the Black Pearl, production began on two back-to-back sequels: Dead Man's Chest and At World's End. The two films would reunite Knightley with, not only the original Pirates cast, but with Pride & Prejudice co-star Tom Hollander, who would play Lord Cutler Beckett. David Schofield, the noted British character actor cast as Mercer, Beckett's merciless enforcer, was delighted at the prospect of working with Keira Knightley. The last time he had seen her in person was when she was three years old, and Schofield was performing on stage at the Chichester (England) Festival with her father, actor Will Knightley.
Sequences shot in Dominica and the Exumas also gave Keira Knightley ample opportunity to flex her action muscles, and the fearless performer was up for anything stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge wanted to throw at her. "On the first movie, I was begging for a swordfight, but I never got one. This time, I've got two big ones, and two swords as well, so I was very happy."
"Keira became a woman through the course of making these three films," notes producer Jerry Bruckheimer, "and Elizabeth is a character who has an enormous arc. She starts out as a kind of spoiled rich governor's daughter and, through the course of the story, becomes a woman who bucks convention and becomes as fierce and competitive a fighter as Will and Captain Jack."
"There's a certain amount of guilt that Elizabeth feels about having delivered Jack to the Kraken at the end of 'Dead Man's Chest,'" says Keira Knightley of her increasingly strong-minded and determined character, "but I think that was something that had to be done at the time. But then she finds out that, actually, what they really need to do is save him. Elizabeth is certainly more than the girl who stands in the corner by this point in the story. It's been great to play a girl who's strong and interesting, and isn't afraid of a fight."
Dead Man's Chest, which scored even higher numbers at the box office, though critics gave the film a solid drubbing for its convoluted plot. At World's End was originally the proposed end of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, though most in the industry felt that such a money-making engine could not be shut down so easily. With the stories of both Elizabeth and Will Turner resolved in At World's End, the series continued forward with the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, which neither Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom reprising their roles.
Though the Pirates trilogy made her a global superstar at the age of 17, Keira Knightley had stated that they didn't suit her. Months before the fourth Pirates film started production, Keira Knightley revealed she would not reprise her role. She was quoted in saying, "I said when I finished the trilogy that that was going to be it - I had a wonderful time on it and I met some extraordinary people but you know, I think, for me three is enough, definitely."
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Keira Knightley did not express any interest in returning to the Pirates franchise. However, rumors began to spread about her appearance in a post-credits scene for the fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales. Although her appearance in the film did turn out to be true, she appeared as a cameo towards the end of the film where Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) reunited, along with the post-credits scene. Fans also demanded for Elizabeth Swann to appear in the film after test screening with the audience. "The audience demanded it," says producer Jerry Bruckheimer. It's not movie hype. After showing early versions of the completed Dead Men Tell No Tales to test audiences, the lights would go up and the people would ask, "Where's Elizabeth Swann?" The filmmakers quickly got the message that they needed to add Knightley to the tale which focuses on Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and newcomer Brenton Thwaites' Henry Turner. "People wanted to see the whole band back together," says Espen Sandberg, who directed Dead Men Tell No Tales with Joachim Rønning. Knightley agreed to some pivotal scenes and the crew flew to England for a day of shooting around her schedule. "It just feels right now," says Rønning. "It was a new resolution seeing Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann together again."
Immediately after wrapping Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Keira Knightley was signed up for another epic Jerry Bruckheimer Films production King Arthur (2004), for which she played Guinevere as a sword-swinging Celtic warrior. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film also starred Clive Owen as Arthur. Despite Knightley's buzz, the film did not fare well at the box office; Knightley was both amused and horrified to discover that her image in the promotional art had been enhanced considerable in the bust.
Her next two features in America were not hits either; The Jacket (2004) was a muddled science fiction thriller with Adrien Brody that showed her knack with an American accent, and Domino (2005), based loosely on the life of Domino Harvey, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey and a professional bounty hunter, was a typically overblown mess from Tony Scott that found Knightley looking extremely uncomfortable while wielding high-powered weaponry. A proposed adaptation of Deborah Moggach's novel Tulip Fever was shut down due to the closure of British tax loopholes for filmmakers, so she returned to more genteel settings with Pride and Prejudice (2005), a spot-on adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. Her turn as the free-thinking Elizabeth Bennett, who seeks to determine her own life path, earned her a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination.
During this incredibly busy period - which also found Knightley serving as the face of numerous companies, including Ausprey jewelers and Chanel perfume - she found her life under scrutiny by the world press, which determined that her slender frame was the result of anorexia. Knightley took umbrage at the accusation, though also noting that her own grandmother had suffered from it. Her romantic life also made the world papers; among her gentlemen friends during this period were Irish fashion model Jamie Dornan and actor Rupert Friend, whom she met on the set of Pride and Prejudice.
Despite her popularity in Hollywood, Knightley retained a home in London and made no bones about her interest in remaining a U.K. citizen and resident, while continuing to do business Stateside. Her next few projects remained outside the studio system, allowing Knightley to further broaden her résumé. She starred in the adaptation of Alessandro Baricco's period novel, Silk (2007), playing the loving and doting wife of a silkworm merchant (Michael Pitt), who falls in love with a concubine (Sei Ashina) while on business in Japan. Following Silk, Knightley portrayed the sister of a fledgling writer whose life is irrevocably changed when her lover is accused of a crime he did not commit in Atonement (2007). The visually spectacular romantic-drama became one of the more highly acclaimed films of the year, garnering dozens of nominations, including several for Knightley's performance.
The following year, Knightley headlined as The Duchess (2008) opposite Ralph Fiennes in a sumptuously filmed biopic that, while met with mixed reviews on the whole, earned Knightley high marks for her performance as the iconic 18th Century English aristocrat. On stage, she was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for her supporting role in the Comedy Theatre of London's mounting of Molière's comedy of manners, The Misanthrope during its 2009-2010 season. Knightly next co-starred with Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield in director Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go (2010), a dystopian, futuristic drama about three boarding school youths who find a measure of peace during their brief lives, even in the face of a dismal fate that awaits them. She followed with an intense performance as a patient who comes between the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), and his young protégée, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), in director David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (2011).
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Elizabeth Swann
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - Elizabeth Swann
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - Elizabeth Swann
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - Elizabeth Swann
- Pirates of the Caribbean (video game) - Narrator