Keira Knightley is a very down-to-earth actress who lives life to the fullest, yet tries to stay both modest and honest, wherever she goes and whoever she talks to. She understands the true worth of life, and gives herself an annual allowance even though she is paid millions for appearing in films such as 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.
Keira Christina Knightley, as is her full name, was born in London as the daughter of Sharman Macdonald, a former actress and playwright, and Will, who was also an actor. Keira has an older brother, Caleb. They are of Scottish, Welsh and English descent. It is said that her mother wanted to name her ‘Kiera’ after the Russian ice skater, but misspelled her name.
‘I was a bet. My mum was desperate for another child, and my dad told her that the only way they could afford to have one was if she sold a play. So Mum wrote When I Was a Girl, I Used to Scream and Shout‘, she said. ‘I started acting when I was seven, but I asked for an agent when I was three. I don’t remember it, but that’s what everybody says. I don’t think I knew what agents did, but I thought it was kind of unfair that my mom and dad had one and I didn’t.’
Keira did get an agent, but she had to wait until she was six for that. At that same age, she was diagnosed with dyslexia. Although she seemed to get over it pretty fast, she remains a slow reader.
Keira’s first roles were ones in television advertisements and small roles, like in the TV film Royal Celebration, then A Village Affair and Innocent Lies and Coming Home, as well as The Treasure Seekers and Oliver Twist in 1999. That same year, she got a role in the blockbuster Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. She appeared next to Natalie Portman, as her decoy, since the two actresses looked really similar when in full makeup. Her voice was dubbed over by Natalie, for the purposes of the plot.
Keira got into college to study art, history and literature, but soon dropped out, and decided to focus on acting. ‘I tried college for three months but I was desperately unhappy. I just wanted to perform. I was getting straight As but I had no friends and cried every day.’
In 2001, Keira got her first bigger role, playing the daughter of Robin Hood in Princess of Thieves. The role required her to undergo serious physical preparations, like training for archery, fencing and horse riding.
That year, she also shot the film The Hole, and then appeared in the Doctor Zhivago miniseries. In 2002, she appeared in the film Pure. But it wasn’t until she shot the successful Bend It Like Beckham that her name and face finally got noticed, not only by her colleagues in the industry, but also the audiences. Soon, she experienced not only critical acclaim, but also what being famous really felt like. ‘I think it broke something in me. I was told very early on that if I didn’t go out to openings and parties and events I would be left alone. I didn’t, and the still didn’t leave me alone. I knew it was part of the deal in the life I had signed up to, but the fear of it has never left me. I’m still not good at being recognized. I wear scruffy clothes and hats and keep my head down.’
As Bend It Like Beckham created more visibility for Keira, she got a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, alongside Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom. The film was released in 2003 and became a big hit. The film’s sequels followed soon. Then, Keira appeared in Richard Curtis’ Love Actually, which became a Christmas classic worldwide. The next year, she starred in King Arthur. In 2005, she became more busy, appearing in The Jacket, then Domino, and finally Pride & Prejudice, which was a dream come true for her. Her acting was so praised she even got a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, becoming the third-youngest performer ever nominated.
In 2006, Keira was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That same year, she starred in Pirates of the Caribean: Dead Man’s Chest. In 2007, she appeared in films that will prove important to her career: Silk and Atonement, for which she got nominated for another Golden Globe Award. She also starred in another sequel of the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. In 2008, Keira appeared in The Edge of Love and The Duchess, for which she got critical acclaim.
In 2009, Keira set her foot onstage, playing a role in The Misanthrope at the Comedy Theatre in London, which got her a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. ‘I think actually that’s why I enjoy theatre: it doesn’t exist. It’s not like film, which is stuck there forever. The show that you see tonight, whether it works or whether it doesn’t work, nobody will ever see that again. Tomorrow will be completely different. And I find that incredibly romantic’, she said.
In 2010, Keira starred in Last Night and Never Let Me Go, as well as in London Boulevard. In 2011, she did another play in the Comedy Theatre, this time The Children’s Hour. That same year, she shot A Dangerous Method.
In 2012, she appeared in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and began shooting Anna Karenina, working with the director Joe Wright for the third time in her career. ‘The thing about great fictional characters from literature is that they completely speak to what makes people human’, she said. ‘I think shame is a deeply difficult thing to live with, and I think she breaks her own moral code. What happens to your own perception of yourself when you break your own moral code? You always make yourself into the heroine, but equally you have self-hatred. She is the heroine and the anti-heroine. She is the perfect narcissist. She hates herself and she loves herself’’, she says about her character. The film will prove to be one of the most important films of her career, making her name known to those who’ve managed to miss it up until that point, both in UK and US, as well as worldwide.
In 2014, Keira starred in Begin Again and Laggies, as well as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Imitation Game, for which she received her second Academy Award nomination. In 2015, Keira played a role in Everest and appeared on Broadway for the first time, in the play Thérèse Raquin in Studio 54. That same year she also appeared in Collateral Beauty.
Currently, Keira is working on many more film projects to be released in the years to come. She recently starred in the follow-up film for 2017’s Red Nose Day version of Love Actually for Comic Relief.
Despite her great popularity in Britain, Keira is surprisingly down-to-earth and honest when it comes to talking to the media and her fans. She doesn’t pretend to be a Hollywood diva. ‘People send over dresses for me to wear to these functions, but I often feel like a five-year-old in my mom’s clothes. So I just wear jeans and a top every single time’, she said. ‘Last year, I went to the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars and I stood in the corner and had a lot of champagne. It’s very, very scary.’ She is so open and blunt it often makes people laugh and realize how silly and surreal the whole film industry is.
Since Keira has a quite slim figure, she’s been criticized for being anorexic, which she denies. She even had to sue a magazine for coming up with a story of a girl who was influenced by her to become anorexic. ‘People said to me – how does it feel to be anorexic? I had no idea that I was. I can safely say that I’m not. I’ve got a lot of experience with anorexia. My grandmother and great-grandmother suffered from it. In a way it’s good that it’s out there and people are talking about it. It’s quite interesting because it’s normally high-achieving women who suffer from it because, I guess, they’re control freaks.’ She says she is never on a diet and doesn’t exercise, and would never consider plastic surgery. ‘I look the way I look, I am not willing to cut my face up.’
Throughout her career, Keira has been endorsing products of luxury brands like Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle in 2007. She is a feminist and is happy to discuss the subject when asked about it. In a 2014 issue of Interview, Keira posed topless on the condition that she wouldn’t be photoshopped.
Keira has been very active when it comes to charity work. She is the spokesperson of the Amnesty International campaign for human rights and has supported Comic Relief, American Library Association, WaterAid, Women’s Aid and SMA Trust which funds medical research of spinal muscular atrophy.
‘I like being private. I haven’t asked a lot of the actresses who I really admire – how do you do it? – because I don’t want to know. Maybe I’m childish in that way. I just don’t want to know about your life’, she said.
Keira lives in London as in not planning on moving to Los Angeles, something many actors do once they begin shooting in Hollywood. ‘I love working in Britain because it is my home and it means I can be with my friends and family and work at the same time. If you are working in Britain, a lot of the time you are doing much smaller budget. I like doing a mixture of both. Early on in my career I did some enormously huge-budget films, and to be able to switch it up a bit and do small-budget ones is great as well.’
Keira first dated actor Del Synnott, whom she met on the set of Princess of Thieves. After the relationship ended, she began dating Jamie Dornan, also an actor. Both those relationships lasted for two years. In 2005, she became involved with Rupert Friend and stayed together with him till 2010.
In 2011, Keira and James Righton, a musician, announced they were together. The couple married in 2013 and in 2015, they welcomed a daughter named Edie.
When it comes to her hobbies, even though she leads quite a modest life, Keira has a soft spot for shoes. She also paints in her spare time.
Keira is said to be an atheist, and she is very aware of the fact that everything in life has to end. ‘In this business, fame lasts for a second’, she said. ‘You can be blown up and be blown down. People keep losing interest in faces because new ones come along every single second. I’m one at the moment. Tomorrow, I won’t be. That’s cool. I’m not saying that when it does end, I’ll be like: yay, it’s ending. But I’ll move on and do something else because that’s what has to be done. It’s about survival. If you’re sad about it, then you’re in the wrong job.’