Keira Knightley is best known for her adventurous roles in films like "," "Bend It Like Beckham," and "King Arthur." Now she tackles one of the most romantic tales of all time, Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice."
A fan of Austen's work since she was 7-years-old, Knightley was keenly aware of the pitfalls inherent in playing such a longstanding heroine as Elizabeth Bennet.
"I heard about it and I was terrified. I begged my agents not to put me up for it," she tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. "I didn't want to ruin it. I thought, 'I've never done a lead before.' I thought, 'I don't want to take this on as my lead because it's a character that's so loved.' And the book is so loved, and the miniseries, people just went crazy about. I thought, 'I don't want to put myself in that position. 'My agent just went, 'Shut up.' "
She was also not the actress for the role in director Joe Wright's mind.
"He said I was too pretty, which is quite a nice way to turn somebody down," Knightley says with a big smile.
But soon after, Wright changed his mind.
"He took one look at me and said, 'Oh, no, you're fine,' " she says. "I'm not quite sure how to take that. He came over when I was doing something called, 'The Jacket,' in Montreal, and it was very cold over there, and I think I was sitting in a bar having a beer or something, maybe not looking that great."
As Lizzie, Knightley is one of five sisters who have been raised well-aware of their mother's (two-time Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn) fixation on finding them husbands and securing set futures. Lizzie, however, strives to live her life with a broader perspective, as encouraged by her doting father (two-time Golden Globe Award winner Donald Sutherland). But then she meets Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen).
"Initially, we absolutely hate each other, or I hate him," Kneightley says. "I think he's stuck up, and he just thinks I'm slightly ridiculous and not pretty enough. Then he finds that we made a complete mistake, and hopefully they fall in love and live happily ever after."
Kneightley says MacFadyen is "irresistible."
"In today's cinema," she says, "it's fantastic, but we go for very pretty guys. And Matthew is a big bloke and really manly and just desperately romantic. He is completely irresistible."
Although dramatized for television several times (in 1938, 1952, 1967, 1980 and 1995), this Austen's classic has been a feature film only once before, in 1940, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.
Currently, Knightley is filming the second and third sequels of "Pirates of the Caribbean," in the Bahamas. But, she says, she is not giving anything away about the story.
Describing the production, she says: "It's long. It's like a really big puzzle. And you know it's going to be good at the end, but it just really takes a long time to put it all together. We started in February and I expect it won't be properly finished until next October. People are so excited about it. But I'm not giving anything away."
Some Facts About Keira Knightley
- Keira Knightley was born in Teddington, London, England, on March 26, 1985.
- Knightley was diagnosed with dyslexia as a small child.
- In 1994, Knightley's first major role came in the romantic feature "A Village Affair" (1994) as Natasha Jordan.
- Knightley appeared in the drama "Innocent Lies" (1996) and the television features "Treasure Seekers" (1996) and "Coming Home" (1998).
- She was cast alongside Natalie Portman in the 1999 George Lucas sci-fi series "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace".
- In 2002, she found her breakthrough role in writer-director Gurinder Chadha's unlikely sleeper hit "Bend It Like Beckham."
- In 2003, Knightley was snatched up by Disney for the big screen blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean."
- Later that year, she starred in "Love Actually" (2003) as a bride who realizes her groom's best man is madly in love with her.
- In 2004, Knightley played Queen Guinevere in the action movie "King Arthur."
- Knightley recently starred in Tony Scott's action thriller "Domino," as real-life bounty hunter Domino Harvey. She is currently at work filming "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" — the first of two sequels to be filmed back to back — and has reunited with the original cast and filmmakers, as well as "Pride & Prejudice" costar Tom Hollander.