Keira Knightley lightens up in "Begin Again"

Keira Knightley is an actress of aristocratic on-screen bearing . . . not that she always plays the well-bred ladies of classic literature, as we're about to see now from Mark Phillips:

Keira Knightley has come to think there's been a problem with her movies lately, as with "Anna Karenina" two years ago: grimness.

"I was actually told," Knightley said, "that in the last five years I've made 10 films and I died in seven of them! So I sort of thought at the end of 'Anna Karenina' that I should maybe do something that had at least a little hope in it," she said.

No period costumes or swash-buckling swords this time for Knightley. This time, she's a young songstress, fresh off a break-up, discovered by Mark Ruffalo's washed-up record producer, who sees her potential (with a little instrumental help).

Will they make beautiful music together? Will the audience care? The summer rom-com season is upon us.

It's something new for Knightley, who's done many things in the movies, but never had to sing for a living. That is her voice singing in "Begin Again," but she had to fake playing a guitar.

"I learned how to play the right chords at about the right time," she told Phillips. "I couldn't sing and play the chords at the right time. But at least it looked like I could actually play the songs, [which is] the thing about acting! Yeah, that's it in a nutshell!" she laughed.

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Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in a scene from "Begin Again."
Andrew Schwartz/Weinstein Company
But this is about another change of pace for Knightley as well. She's trying to bring a bit of brightness to a career that's gotten a bit dark lately.

For an actress who really made her name in action roles -- as a teen-age soccer player in the little cult classic, "Bend It Like Beckham," and who consolidated her star status romping through the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series -- she's spent a lot of time lately trussed up in period costume, in movies like 2005's "Pride & Prejudice," The Duchess" (2008), and "Anna Karenina."

Phillips asked, "Was there a period from 'Anna Karenina,' The Duchess' and 'Atonement' and all of these heavy duty dramas -- no one will accuse them of being rom-coms, that's for sure -- where you just thought you were getting too deeply typecast . . . put on a period costume and tighten up and die?"

"Never," she replied. "I've never really been worried about that. 'Tighten up and die'?" she laughed. "That's amazing! Yes, I was really worried about that one!"

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Keira Knightley with correspondent Mark Phillips.
CBS News
Knightley hasn't really had a lot to worry about lately. Her fame has long ago reached the stage where a stroll through the streets of London inevitably draws a crowd.

"This is great. Just in case we didn't have enough attention," Knightley said. "This is completely incognito."

It's hard to pick up a magazine that doesn't have her picture on the cover. And when she's not selling movies, she seems to be selling something else (i.e., Chanel), and in more than one language.

According to the people who keep score, she's the highest-earning and most bankable actress around right now, yet with a kind of girl-next-door image -- if next door is somewhere in one of the better neighborhoods of London.

There even a story around that she lives not on her millions, but on a mere £50,000 (about $80,000) a year. It's a good story that would be even better if it were true.

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