Keira Christina Knightley ( born 26 March 1985) is an English actress. She began acting as a child on television and made her film debut in 1995. She had a supporting role as Sabé in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and her first significant role came in the psychological horror film The Hole (2001). She gained widespread recognition in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham and achieved international fame in 2003 after appearing as Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.
Since the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Knightley has become known for starring in period drama films such as Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Silk (2007), The Duchess (2008), A Dangerous Method (2011), and Anna Karenina (2012). She has also appeared in a variety of genres of Hollywood films, including the romantic comedy Love Actually (2003), as Guinevere in the historical action King Arthur (2004), the psychological thriller The Jacket (2005), biographical action Domino (2005), the historical drama The Edge of Love (2008), the film noir London Boulevard (2010), the dystopian science fiction Never Let Me Go (2010), the romantic drama Last Night (2010), and the dark comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012).
Knightley 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. In its 2008 list, Forbes identified Knightley as the second highest-paid actress in Hollywood, with reported earnings of US$32 million in 2007, making her the only non-American on the list of highest-paid actresses that year.
In 2014, Knightley appeared in four films, the action thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the musical comedy-drama Begin Again, the romantic comedy Laggies and for her role in the historical thriller The Imitation Game as Joan Clarke she has been nominated for a Golden Globe, a SAG, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In October 2015, Knightley will make her Broadway debut in the title role of Thérèse Raquin.
Knightley was born in Teddington, London, England, the daughter of Sharman Macdonald, an actress turned playwright, and Will Knightley, an actor. Her Scottish-born mother is of Scots and Welsh descent, and her father is of English ancestry. She was meant to be named “Kiera”, after the Russian ice skater, Kira Ivanova, but her mother misspelt the name when she went to register her. She has an older brother, Caleb.
Knightley lived in Richmond, attending Stanley Junior School, Teddington School and Esher College. She was diagnosed with hyperactivity (ADHD) and dyslexia at the age of six but, as she was successful in school, she was permitted to acquire a talent agent and pursue an acting career. She still has these two conditions. She requested an agent at the age of three. Knightley has noted that she was “single-minded about acting” during her childhood. She performed in a number of local amateur productions, which included After Juliet written by her mother, and United States written by her drama teacher, Ian McShane.[Note 1] She focused on art, history, and English literature while at Esher, but left after a year to focus on her acting.
1993–2002: Career Beginnings
After getting an agent at 6, Knightley worked mostly on commercials and small TV roles. Her first role was “Little Girl” in Royal Celebration, a 1993 TV film. A year later, she had a small role in the film A Village Affair. She later starred in 1995’s Innocent Lies and 1998’s Coming Home. She was a princess in the 1996 film The Treasure Seekers. Later in 1999, she appeared as Rose in Oliver Twist.
Knightley appeared in several television films in the mid- to late 1990s—as well as ITV1’s The Bill—before being cast as Sabé, Padmé Amidala’s decoy, in the 1999 science fiction blockbuster Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Sabé’s dialogue was dubbed over with Natalie Portman’s voice. This was to hide the fact that the handmaiden Padmé (played by Portman) was actually disclosed as the real Queen Amidala at the end of the film. Knightley was cast in the role because of her close resemblance to Portman; even the two actresses’ mothers had difficulty telling their daughters apart when the girls were in full makeup.
Knightley’s first starring role was in 2001, when she played the daughter of Robin Hood in the made-for-television Walt Disney Productions feature Princess of Thieves. She trained for several weeks in archery, fencing and horse riding. During this time, Knightley also appeared in The Hole, a thriller that received a direct-to-video release in the United States. Its director Nick Hamm described her as “a young version of Julie Christie”.
She appeared in the miniseries adaptation of Doctor Zhivago as Lara, alongside Scottish actor Hans Matheson in the title role, which first aired in 2002 to good reviews and high ratings. In the same year, she also was in the film Pure, in which she portrays a pregnant teenager who is a heroin addict and had a child taken by social services. Knightley’s breakthrough role was in the football-themed film Bend It Like Beckham, which was a success in its August 2002 UK release, grossing US$18 million, and in its March 2003 U.S. release, grossing US$32 million.
2003–07: the Pirates trilogy, Breakthrough and Acclaim
After Bend It Like Beckham’s UK release raised her profile, Knightley was cast in the big-budget action film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, along with Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it opened in July 2003 to positive reviews and high box office grosses, becoming one of the biggest hits of summer 2003 and cementing Knightley as the new “It” girl.
Knightley had a role in the British romantic comedy Love Actually, which opened in November 2003, which co-starred her childhood idol Emma Thompson. Her next film, King Arthur, opened in July 2004 to negative reviews; in preparation for the role she took boxing, fighting, archery and horseriding lessons for four days a week for three months.
In the same month, Knightley was voted by readers of Hello! magazine as the film industry’s most promising teen star. Additionally, TIME magazine noted in a 2004 feature that Knightley seemed dedicated to developing herself as a serious actress rather than a film star.
She appeared in three films in 2005, the first of which was The Jacket, alongside Adrien Brody. She next appeared in Tony Scott’s Domino, an action film based on the life of bounty hunter Domino Harvey. The film has been Knightley’s greatest critical flop to date. Knightley’s critics often suggested she was nothing more than a pretty face, which led her to comment to Elle magazine, “I always feel like I’m the one with everything to prove”.
Pride & Prejudice was released in 2005. Knightley had loved the book since she was seven, and with her first cheque for acting she bought a doll’s house of the hero’s mansion. She said of her character, “The beauty of Elizabeth is that every woman who ever reads the book seems to recognise herself, with all her faults and imperfections. If you give an actress who is even remotely good the chance to play a fantastic character like that, they are going to revel in it.” Variety wrote about her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet: “Looking every bit a star, Knightley, who’s shown more spirit than acting smarts so far in her career, really steps up to the plate here, holding her own against the more classically trained Matthew Macfadyen, as well as vets like Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Penelope Wilton and Judi Dench with a luminous strength that recalls a young Audrey Hepburn. More than the older Jennifer Ehle in the TV series, she catches Elizabeth’s essential skittishness and youthful braggadocio, making her final conversion all the more moving.” The film grossed more than US$100 million worldwide, and Knightley earned a Golden Globe nomination and an Oscar nomination (the Oscar ultimately went to Reese Witherspoon). The Academy Award nomination made her the third-youngest performer ever nominated. BAFTA’s decision not to nominate her drew criticism from Pride & Prejudice producer Tim Bevan.
In 2006, Knightley was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her biggest financial hit thus far, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, was released in July 2006.
Knightley starred in three major films in 2007: Silk, an adaptation of the novel by Alessandro Baricco, Atonement, a feature film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name (co-starring James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave and Brenda Blethyn), and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which was released in May 2007. For her performance in Atonement, Knightley was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the Best Dramatic Actress category for the role, as well as a BAFTA Award. Critic Richard Roeper was puzzled by both Knightley’s and McAvoy’s Academy Award snubs, stating “I thought McAvoy and Knightley were superb.”
2008–10: transition into independent films
In 2008, Knightley appeared alongside Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys in John Maybury’s The Edge of Love, a fictional wartime drama about Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, his wife Caitlin Macnamara, childhood friend Vera Williams, and her romance and marriage with a British soldier. Penned by Knightley’s mother, Sharman Macdonald, the playwright initially crafted the screenplay with Knightley as Macnamara in her mind. Once her daughter agreed to portray Williams, Macdonald enlarged the character, making her a singer.
Knightley, who watched Marlene Dietrich films for preparation, was expecting to mime to her prerecorded voice, but was told by Maybury to sing live in front of the crew while shooting. “I was shaking like a leaf,” Knightley later commented, “I thought my knees were going to buckle. In the first couple of songs, I sounded like a pubescent boy, it was so embarrassing.” While the actress received positive reviews for her role, the film became a moderate critical and commercial arthouse success.
She then filmed Saul Dibb’s The Duchess (2008), based on the best-selling biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, in which she played 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire opposite Ralph Fiennes. Well received by critics, Knightley garnered largely positive reviews by critics, with The Epoch Times writing “Knightley’s performance gains new depth – she not only perfectly portrays a witty and feminine Georgiana early in the film, but also a caring mother, and an abandoned woman later on.” The following year, she was nominated for a BIFA Award for Best Actress for her performance.
In December 2009, Knightley made her West End debut in Martin Crimp’s version of Molière’s comedy The Misanthrope, at the Comedy Theatre in London alongside Damian Lewis, Tara FitzGerald and Dominic Rowan. Reviews for her portrayal of Jennifer in the play were generally positive. The Daily Telegraph described her performance as revealing “both power and poignancy” and The Independent called her performance “not only strikingly convincing but, at times, rather thrilling in its satiric aplomb.” The Guardian, however, noted that due to the nature of the role “one could say that she is not unduly stretched.” In recognition of her theatre debut, Knightley was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in the play. Knightley also received an Evening Standard Award nomination for the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress.
In 2010, Knightley appeared in Massy Tadjedin’s romantic drama Last Night, in which she co-starred with Eva Mendes, Sam Worthington and Guillaume Canet. The same year, Knightley completed work on an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let Me Go with Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan. Filming took place in Norfolk and Clevedon in Somerset. Also in 2010, she starred in London Boulevard with Colin Farrell, written by William Monahan.
2011–Present: continued Success and Broadway
Knightley’s only film of 2011 was David Cronenberg’s historical drama A Dangerous Method, co-starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel. Based on writer Christopher Hampton’s 2002 stage play The Talking Cure and set on the eve of World War I, the film depicts the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein. Spielrein, the troubled but beautiful young psychoanalyst who comes between Jung and Freud, is played by Knightley. The costume film premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival to a positive reception, while Knightley earned generally favourable reviews by critics, Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com noting her “the real star of this film”.
In 2012, she appeared with Steve Carell in the dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. During the same year, she reunited with director Joe Wright for the production of Anna Karenina, in which she starred as the title character. Knightley garnered positive reviews for her performance, prompting early Oscar buzz.
In May 2012, Knightley was cast to replace Scarlett Johansson in director John Carney’s Begin Again, after Johansson withdrew due to personal reasons. The film was released in 2013.
Knightley’s first film of 2014 premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, prior to its US general-release opening on 24 October. Titled Laggies, the film also stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, and is directed by Lynn Shelton. Shortly afterward, the London, UK, premiere of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, in which Knightley plays Cathy Muller alongside Chris Pine, was held at the end of January. Also in 2014, she starred opposite Mark Ruffalo in Begin Again, and although she plays a singer-songwriter, she revealed in July that music doesn’t “sink in” for her, and she is more interested in books and drama. Knightley also referred to the end of a chapter of her career, which the Guardian described as “mired in neurotic roles”. She then appeared again with her Atonement co-star Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2014 historical drama film The Imitation Game, playing Joan Clarke opposite Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing.
Knightley is slated to appear in a film adaptation of the novel The Emperor’s Children with Rachel McAdams, Emma Thompson and Richard Gere. The dark comedy was written by Noah Baumbach and will be directed by Scott Cooper. In October 2014, it was announced that Knightley would make her Broadway debut as the title character in a new adaptation of Helen Edmunson’s Thérèse Raquin. The show’s official post-preview opening is scheduled for October 29, 2015.
Knightley has been described by press reports as “famously open with media”, although Knightley herself has stated “I don’t talk about my private life.” Knightley has appeared many times in FHMs 100 Sexiest Women in the World list. Ranked No. 79 in 2004, she climbed to No. 18 in 2005, and was named “the sexiest woman in the world” in 2006. In 2007, she was 12th, 10th in 2008, and came in 36th in 2009. The US edition ranked her No. 54 in 2004, No. 11 in 2005, and No. 5 in 2006. In May 2006, she was No. 9 on Maxim‘s 2006 Hot 100. Knightley appeared nude, along with Scarlett Johansson, on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine’s March 2006 “Hollywood” issue.
Knightley was the celebrity face for the luxury goods brand Asprey, Shiatzy Chen as well as Lux haircare products in Japanese television commercials. In April 2006, she was confirmed as the new celebrity face of Chanel’s perfume Coco Mademoiselle, though the first photo from the campaign was not released until May 2007.
In 2007, Keira Knightley had sued the Daily Mail for publishing an article about whether or not Knightley has anorexia or an eating disorder. Certain hurtful statements were written; including how Knightley’s extremely thin figure may mislead the public, and is responsible for the death of a teenage girl who died of anorexia. After denying the false accusations, Knightley won the lawsuit against the British Tabloid, and after accepting £3,000 ($6,000) in damages, the star matched the money and donated a total of £6,000 ($12,000) to Beat, a charity for those who suffer mental illness and eating disorders.
A 41-year-old man was charged with harassment in February 2010 after trying to contact the actress on several occasions outside the Comedy Theatre in London, where she appeared in the play The Misanthrope. The subsequent trial folded after the actress was unavailable to testify in court.
Knightley received media attention for her perspectives on feminism, voiced in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar UK published in the February 2014 edition. Knightley explained that female artists face greater hurdles in the film industry compared to their male counterparts, and also revealed that she was perplexed by the use of “feminist” in a derogatory sense:
I think it’s great that the discussions are finally being allowed to be had [about feminism], as opposed to anybody mentioning feminism and everybody going, ‘Oh, fucking shut up.’ Somehow, it [feminism] became a dirty word. I thought it was really weird for a long time, and I think it’s great that we’re coming out of that.
In the September 2014 issue of Interview, Knightley posed topless, on the condition that she not be photoshopped, to draw attention to how “women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame.”
Knightley was in a relationship with actor Del Synnott from 2001 to 2003. The couple met during the filming of Princess of Thieves. Knightley was also in a relationship with actor Jamie Dornan from 2003 to 2005. She dated her Pride & Prejudice co-star Rupert Friend from 2005 until December 2010. She subsequently began dating musician James Righton, of Klaxons, in late February 2011. Knightley and Righton married on 4 May 2013 in Mazan, Vaucluse, Southern France. The couple live in Islington. On 12 December 2014 Knightley confirmed through a spokesperson that she was pregnant with her first child.
In July 2006, Knightley said she has become a workaholic, suggesting that she would take a one-year break from acting to travel and focus on her personal life. Speaking to the press in July 2014, Knightley explained that she felt like she had reached the end of the first stage of her career, and the 2014 film Begin Again was like “it’s beginning again.”
Knightley is the face of an Amnesty International campaign to support human rights, marking the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2004, she travelled to Ethiopia alongside Richard Curtis, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Julian Metcalfe on behalf of the Comic Relief charity. She posed for photos for WaterAid in 2005 and also for the American Library Association’s “Read” campaign (a promotional poster of Pride & Prejudice). The dress she wore to the 2006 Academy Awards was donated to the charity Oxfam, where it raised £4,300.
In April 2009, Knightley appeared in a video to raise awareness of domestic abuse entitled Cut shot for Women’s Aid. The video created controversy, with some sources calling it too graphic, while other groups support the video for showing a realistic depiction of domestic violence.
In November 2010, Knightley became patron of the SMA Trust, a British charity that funds medical research into the disease spinal muscular atrophy.
For International Women’s Day 2014, Knightley was one of the artist signatories of Amnesty International’s letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in which the organisation campaigned for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
|1995||Innocent Lies||Young Celia|
|1999||Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace||Sabé (Decoy Queen)|
|2001||Hole, TheThe Hole||Frances “Frankie” Almond Smith||Nominated – Empire Award for Best Newcomer|
|2002||Thunderpants||Music school student||Uncredited|
|2002||Bend It Like Beckham||Juliette “Jules” Paxton||
|2002||New Year’s Eve||Leah||Short film|
|2002||Seasons Alter, TheThe Seasons Alter||Helena|
|2003||Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl||Elizabeth Swann||
|2003||Gaijin||Kate (voice only)||Short film|
|2005||Jacket, TheThe Jacket||Jackie|
|2005||Pride & Prejudice||Elizabeth Bennet||
|2006||Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest||Elizabeth Swann||
|2007||Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End||Elizabeth Swann||
|2008||Edge of Love, TheThe Edge of Love||Vera Phillips|
|2008||Duchess, TheThe Duchess||Georgiana Cavendish||
|2009||The Continuing and Lamentable Saga of the Suicide Brothers||Fairy, TheThe Fairy||Short film|
|2010||Last Night||Joanna Reed|
|2010||Never Let Me Go||Ruth C.||
|2011||Dangerous Method, AA Dangerous Method||Sabina Spielrein||
|2012||Seeking a Friend for the End of the World||Penelope Lockhart|
|2012||Anna Karenina||Anna Karenina||
|2013||Begin Again||Gretta||Nominated – Awards Circuit Community Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role|
|2014||Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit||Cathy Muller|
|2014||Imitation Game, TheThe Imitation Game||Joan Clarke||
|2015||Everest||Jan Hall||In post-production|
|2009/10||The Misanthrope||Comedy Theatre, London (West End debut)||Jennifer (Celimene)||Nominated – Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role
Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actress (The Natasha Richardson Award)
|2011||The Children’s Hour||Comedy Theatre, London||Karen Wright|
|2015||Thérèse Raquin||Roundabout Theatre Company, New York City (Broadway debut)||Thérèse Raquin|
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- “Keira Knightley’s career is ruining her love life”. PR Inside. 10 July 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
- “Workaholic Keira Knightley Needs a Sabbatical”. StarPulse. 10 July 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
- Regan, Susanna (12 July 2006). “Knightley makes plans for a gap year”. Digital Spy. Retrieved 11 July 2006.
- “Knightley Joins Human Rights Campaign”. WENN. 10 December 2008.
- Curtis, Richard (24 April 2005). “Place your cross for Africa’s Aids orphans”. The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- Biography Today, p.94
- “Oxfam gets £4,300 for Oscar dress”. BBC News. 1 May 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
- “Domestic violence – isn’t it time someone called cut?”. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
- Alfonsi, Sharyn; Shaylor, Jay; Brady, Jonann (3 April 2009). “Public Service Ads Get More Graphic”. ABC News. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- Celebrities head up the battle to fight SMA at SMA Trust website
- Our celebrity patrons at SMA Trust website
- “Knightley, Hayek call for women’s rights”. SBS. SBS. 9 March 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- “”The Children’s Hour” at Ambassador Tickets”. Ambassadortickets.com. Retrieved 10 September 2012.
- “Academy Award®, Golden Globe® and Olivier nominee Keira Knightley will make her Broadway debut in a new adaption of Thérèse Raquin by Helen Edmunson”. Roundabout Theatre Company. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
- Keira Knightley at the Internet Movie Database
- Keira Knightley at People.com
- Keira Knightley biography and credits at the British Film Institute’s Screenonline
- Works by or about Keira Knightley in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Keira Knightley collected news and commentary at The Guardian
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