From 187 Bazaar’s Women of the Year
Keira Knightley: ‘Female leadership is always important’
After making a compelling Broadway debut, while bringing up her baby daughter, the actress has had a year full of drama
Although a Labour supporter, she welcomes the fact that we have a female prime minister
KEIRAK NIGHTLEY AND I…
…are sitting in a café talking about our Uber ratings. When you order an Uber cab, the driver gives you a score out of five stars at the end of a journey. The lower the rating, the less likely you are to get picked up. ‘How do you find out your rating?’ Knightley asks, midway through a croissant and a cup of English Breakfast tea. You can follow a link on the app, I say. She visibly shudders. ‘I don’t want it,’ she says, shaking her head. ‘I don’t want to know.’ I tell her that the last time I checked, mine was lower than I thought in spite of the fact that I’m always scrupulously polite. I think, I say, it’s because… ‘You don’t chat?’ Exactly. ‘No, I don’t talk,’ agrees Knightley. ‘So I must have a shit Uber rating.’ She pauses. ‘I think I’m OK with that.’
You can understand why. Keira Knightley is 31. For half of her life, she has been in the public eye. She had an agent at the age of six and won her breakout leading role in Bend It Like Beckham at 16. Since then, she has become one of the most famous women on the planet.
Her film career has been varied and stellar, running the gamut of genres. She has starred in period drama (Pride & Prejudice), action (Domino), independent films (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World ), rom-coms (Love Actually), big-budget blockbusters (Pirates of the Caribbean) and high-brow literary adaptations (Atonement). She is about to appear alongside Will Smith and Helen Mirren in Collateral Beauty, the story of an advertising executive whose colleagues devise a plan to help him through the aftermath of a personal tragedy.
On stage, too, Knightley is an arresting presence. When she appeared in The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman in the West End five years ago, critics hailed her performance as ‘excellent’ and ‘deeply affecting’. And earlier this year she was on the Broadway stage playing the title role in Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola’s tale of murder and adultery, delivering a performance that was hailed as ‘compelling and articulate’.
In person, she is engaging, smart and funny company. She turns up to our interview on time, without fanfare, wearing a denim jumpsuit and a leather jacket, and is immediately warm and friendly. No publicist sits in, which is almost unheard of for a star of Knightley’s calibre. She is extremely nice, swears more than you might think and – yes – she is unfathomably, effortlessly beautiful.
So it’s strange that, over the years, Knightley has attracted a disproportionate amount of vitriol. She has been accused of everything from pouting inappropriately on-screen to being too thin. She successfully sued the Daily Mail over allegations she had an eating disorder in 2007 – and, for the record, she doesn’t look remotely anorexic.
The last time I interviewed her, six years ago, Knightley told me strangers used to fling insults at her and seemed inexplicably angry to find her in normal settings, like a pub or the supermarket. Over time, she’s had to develop a protective layer against other people’s opinions – and that includes being fine with not knowing what Uber drivers might think of her. ‘Yesterday I had two really lovely people come up to me in the street and just say how much they like my work, which almost never happens,’ Knightley says. The angry ones ‘are very odd… It feels like you’re not meant to be walking down the street doing your shopping. Or they just hate your work, in which case they say, “I hate your work.” Or they hate your face, in which case they say, “I hate your face.” But [it’s] more like a kind of jokey, “Oh God, I’ve always hated you!” Or, “I’ve always found your face so annoying!” I’ve had that quite a few times. Like, “Oh, sorry! Sorry about that.” Yeah. So there’s still a couple of those. But not as much as it was.’
A lot has happened to Knightley in the years since we last met. She married her long-term partner, the Klaxons keyboardist James Righton, in the South of France in 2013, and they now have a 19-monthold daughter, Edie. Becoming a mother has made Knightley feel ‘properly grown-up… for me that was my moment of going, “Whoa, I’ve got to keep something alive and I can barely do that for myself and how the hell am I going to do that for you?”’
She seems centred and happy, despite the sleep deprivation. Righton is ‘incredibly supportive’; the kind of man who goes on holiday and strikes up conversations with waiters, ‘and then you’ll get some amazing recommendation for somewhere that is not touristy and off the beaten track… He’s good at doing that. And that’s a great skill.’
He sounds nice, I say. ‘He’s so nice,’ she says, smiling. ‘God, the next thing is we’re going to be divorcing and it all will have gone wrong because now I’ve put it down in print.’
All prices from a selection, except where stated. Keira Knightley wears embroidered tulle dress, Chanel