The first impression one has of 19-year old British actress Keira Knightley is her ability not to take Hollywood too seriously. While being touted as the next big thing to hit these shores from the UK in a while, the beautiful co-star of Bend it like Beckham, Love Actually and last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean, prefers to adopt a realistic perspective.
“I think acting is a profession that is built up and blown down in a moment,” Knightley says, while promoting King Arthur, in which she plays a feisty version of the classic Guinevere character. “All of that is very nice, but it is a puff of smoke. I think what you can do is just play your game, try and do projects that interest you and that you hope other people will find interesting. Of course it’s very nice when people say, ‘You’re the next big thing,’ but it’s the work that speaks for itself.”
Knightley is not without a sense of humour. Asked what keeps her grounded, she responds with “I don’t think I am particularly grounded”, laughingly conceding that she is “Completely wanky.” But seriously, she says, “I think as long as you surround yourself with people who are going to tell you when you’re acting up or are going to laugh at you, then all is fine.”
Knightley rose to immediate prominence as the young soccer player trying to compete in a man’s sport, in Bend it like Beckham. Her beautiful looks and charming persona would attract attention in the ensemble romantic comedy Love Actually, but Hollywood would soon beckon with Pirates of the Caribbean, and now a unique take on Guinevere, in the big budget King Arthur. On the latter, Knightley says that in taking on such a classic character, it was important to make her uniquely interesting. “We know all the legends and how many different ways we can do this. Then I read the script and said, ‘God, that’s actually interesting,’ so I was really excited. I think to take a story that everybody thinks they know so well and is such a famous romantic fantasy, and then try to find a very gritty reality behind it, is a really interesting process.”
Her Guinevere is tougher than her predecessors, a full-on action character who kicks butt with the best of them, something the actress clearly enjoyed, but draws the line at admitting that the character is something of a role model. “She’s sort of a scary role model, isn’t she? If you want a role model, fine with ‘Pirates’ or anything like that, but please don’t look to this. Yes, certainly her strength is impressive, and as far as a moviegoer and somebody of my age, I want to see more strong women on film, which is what I’m interested in seeing. We’ve seen enough of these wimps – the girlfriend role, so I think it’s really positive to see images of women who are every bit as strong as the guys.” As for being immersed in the action of King Arthur, “When I was doing Pirates of the Caribbean, I was always watching the boys training for the fight scenes and doing them, and I always thought, ‘Aw, that looks so much fun.’ So I was desperate for a sword and in this I got swords and axes, making up for it. We trained for about three months before we started, and for me that involved a lot of weight training to try and bulk me up a bit.”
While in King Arthur, we get to see a more ‘manly’ side of the usually feminine actress, Knightley considers herself to be “like a man. I suppose I’m more of a tomboy than the girly-girl, which is why I can’t walk on these stilettos very well. I look drunk, which is fantastic,” Knightley says, laughingly.
At 19, Knightley has avoided being cast as adolescents, has been married a number of times [on screen] and is therefore untypical of other actresses her age. Knightley says that she has gone out of her way avoiding the conventional teen casting route. “I think you can only do movies that you’d like to watch and I just haven’t really seen any teen movies. I think they’re a very American thing, and maybe not within the English culture. I’m not quite sure what they are, so I’m only trying to choose things that I’d like to see myself and that really interest me. It just so happens that it’s been films like this as opposed to like that,” says Knightley, philosophically.
When not working and playing at international movie star, Knightley no longer lives at home, she says. “I have bought a flat in London. I have a bed, a wardrobe and that’s it. People keep asking me to get decorators. But I’m like, no, no, no. That’s not the point. I am going to do it myself.” The actress lives alone, a fact that doesn’t concern or frighten her. “I spend most of my time living alone because I’m on sets. For this I was in Dublin in my own flat, on my own, for 6 months, and I like it. I keep walking into it and going, ‘Yeah, it’s a nice space. I’ll go back home now.'”
Regarding her private life, Knightley remains guarded, laughing a bit too raucously when asked about the current state of her love life. “I’m not answering those questions” she exclaims with mock disgust. But in looking for the right guy, she says “just nice guys, and if they want to offer me diamonds and proposals, then I’m totally up for it,” she says, again laughingly. Asked what it was like to be surrounded by a group of leather-clad hunks in King Arthur, Knightley offers a broad smile. “Oh, it was very distracting and good, because you know, eye candy is nice.”
Knightley says she has little time off so does very little in her downtime, a period that is becoming rarer for this in-demand actress. “When I do get home I like to spend as much time with my friends and family as possible.” Her professional future is just as rosy, with a big-screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and of course two new Pirates films.
There is little doubt that Keira Knightley is someone with more than a solid future in front of her, and nobody is more surprised by her new-found stardom than the actress herself. “I’ve been amazingly lucky with the last couple of films that I’ve done, “Pirates” in particular, having been amazingly successful. But it is something that you can’t predict, so it’s been a surprise and just fantastic, as far as I’m concerned. Ever since I was tiny my interests have always been watching movies, reading about movies, and making movies and I guess that’s what I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by the process. So to get the opportunity to do that most of the time is fantastic.”