Keira Knightley has a lot going on in her professional life these days. What with promoting not one but two new movies, and shooting another two simultaneously, the pretty 20-year old Brit could be forgiven for being a tad tired. Yet the young actress remains good humoured despite an exhausting work schedule, which includes having worked late on the new Pirates of the Caribbean sequel till the wee hours of the morning. “I’m just here to support this movie because I’m so proud of it”, says Knightley, referring to her intense, action-oriented Domino flick, first out of the gate.
From director Tony Scott and inspired by a real-life story, Knightley stars as Domino Harvey, who rejected her privileged Beverly Hills lifestyle as the daughter of famous actor Lawrence Harvey and a Ford agency model to become a bounty hunter in pursuit of society’s nastiest criminals. The role presents a departure for the actress, though she’s no stranger to physically demanding roles. “I don’t think the decision to do the film had to do with anybody having seen me do anything,” Knightley explains. “It was to do with the fact that True Romance is one of my favourite films ever and Tony Scott phoned up and went, ‘I think you’d be really good for this role’. I thought that’s amazing, read it and just thought, fuck, that’s cool. I think the last three films that I’ve done have been the first three that I’ve actually had a choice.”
Knightley has seen her career spiralling from virtual unknown to major star in just a few short years. The actress confesses to being “constantly surprised” as to the level of her success, and in dealing with that success, Knightley remains perennially pragmatic. “I’m just working all the time, so I don’t have to deal with it,” she says laughingly. “Of course, you never know in this profession when it’s going to be up or down, so you’ve just got to enjoy it all while it’s there and ride the wave as long as you can. That’s what I find beautiful about acting, in that you can hopefully be talented, good looking and all the rest of it, but there are many people who are talented and good looking – you’ve also got to have a bit of luck. So I’d love to say, well, I work really hard and therefore I’ve become successful but that’s bollocks: I’ve just been incredibly lucky in the work that I’ve been able to get. I can only – now that I am in a very fortunate position to be able to choose the work I do, only go with the kind of films that I’d like to see and the kind of stories that I want to live in. So that’s, that’s kind of what’s driving me at the moment.”
What drives her is the sheer diversity of her choices. Domino Harvey represents a real stretch for the actress, who was also attracted to her because she understood her. “I think that everybody can identify with her, in that there are points in absolutely everybody’s life where we’ve gone: ‘I want to be something completely different’. I mean I do it all the time, maybe that’s why I’m an actress, but I think we all do. It takes a very certain kind of a person who actually has the strength to do that, to go in a completely different direction, and that’s what fascinated me about her. What I didn’t want to create was a one-dimensional character who’s just a bad-ass who can kick down doors and all the rest of it. I thought her actions are strong – I didn’t need to play that as much, so I also wanted to get that vibe that what she is, is that she’s a really fucking lonely girl who has an incredibly vulnerable side as well. for me it’s always more interesting with characters when you really play around with, with all the different emotions that you possibly can.
In addition to the adrenalin-charged Domino, audiences will see a different side of the actress as the independently minded Elizabeth Bennet in the new screen adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. Based on Jane Austen’s classic 19th century tale of class and family, the film tells of the opinionated Elizabeth and an arrogant, aristocrat, Mr Darcy, who overcome their initial antipathy and various other social obstacles to fall in love. Again, not an obvious role for the actress, but one she clearly relished playing. “I’ve been obsessed by the book Pride and Prejudice since I was 7. I had it on book tape, used to listen to it on a loop, so, it’s my favourite book, and had been for ages. So the opportunity to play her was amazing and couldn’t really be turned down.”
From the quietly elegant world of nineteenth century social mores, Knightley then stepped back into pirate mode for not one, but two sequels to the Hollywood blockbuster. She admits that shooting both films has been an interesting experience. “It’s so very weird and just bigger and better,” insisting that she’s “not giving anything away.” Yet revisiting her Pirates character has also been fun, adds the actress. “It’s been really strange for me going back because I never wanted to have an alter ego. I think the thing I love about acting is changing as much as possible, so it was a character that I certainly didn’t want to let go but they’re a beautiful bunch of guys to work with. I’m extremely fortunate being able to watch Johnny do his thing, who is absolutely amazing, but at the same time it has been difficult trying to find that continuity because it’s the first time I’ve played a character twice with two years in between. What’s been quite nice is that we’ve said in the film, well, okay, they’ve grown up a bit so therefore we can let the characters evolve, as I now see Elizabeth Swann as being slightly different than the way I saw her when I was 17.”
Currently single, from all accounts, Knightley still enjoys the nomadic life of an actor, who rarely has time to stay in her London flat. Each time we’ve met, Knightley laughingly admits that her fridge is pretty bare. Nothing has changed, Knightley concludes, laughingly. “Well I’ve got a lot of beer in there, though I don’t know what I’ve got in there, since I’ve been over here for the last month.” The actor’s life for her!