With a face like hers, stardom was probably inevitable for Keira Knightley. At 27 and with over a decade on the A-list, she’s already had hits and misses, a handful of Oscar and Golden Globes nominations and a Chanel beauty endorsement. She is adored by many of both sexes, but has suffered a string of disappointments since 2007’s “Atonement.”
With franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean” long behind her, last weekend’s low-budget entry “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” was no comeback from “The Duchess” and “Silk.” But with Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina,” due November 9, she’s primed to return to the spotlight in the dramatic period formula that works for her. Knightley is currently shooting “Can A Song Save Your Life?”
SIGNATURE QUOTE: “And those are the words of a gentleman? From the moment I met you your arrogance and conceit and your selfish disdain for the feelings of other made me realize that you are the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.” – To Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”
THE START: South London-born Knightley, the daughter of actor Will Knightley and actress-playwright Sharman Macdonald, made a name for herself as a tomboy athlete in “Bend it Like Beckham” in 2002 and landed the role of Elizabeth Swan in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.” She would go on to star in two consecutive sequels before abandoning ship. Christmas omnibus “Love, Actually” further exposed Knightley to a worldwide audience of admirers.
BIGGEST ASSET: Self-assurance to match her high cheekbones made people take her seriously immediately and established her as Joe Wright’s go-to star for period dramas. A feisty personality and occasional edginess led Knightley to play some I’m-more-than-a-pretty-face emotional dynamos.
CAREER HIGHTLIGHTS: Her collaborations with Wright, “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” (“Anna Karenina” arrives in November) rank as her best (“Pride” earned her an Oscar nomination; Golden Globe nominations came for both), while Tony Scott’s “Domino” subverted her sweet persona and amped up her sex appeal. 2010’s “Never Let Me Go” was underappreciated and utilized Knightley’s darker side, foreshadowing her divisive performance in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”…
MISFIRES: There have been a few. Without Wright directing her, period pieces “The Duchess,” “Silk” and “The Edge of Love” proved stifling, and weak contemporary relationship dramas “Last Night” and “London Boulevard” did not take advantage of her emotive close-ups. Her performance in “A Dangerous Method” provoked debate; she deserves credit for her audacity if not for her performance. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a career low, a combination of bad directing, tonal confusion and sheer mugging.
CAREER ADVICE: Stick with Wright for the period dramas and find a way to relax into edgier characters without trying so hard.