In 2008, Forbes claimed Keira Knightley to be the second highest paid actress in Hollywood, having reportedly earned $32 million in 2007, making her the only non-American on the list of highest paid actresses.
Keira Knightley was born in Teddington, London, England, the daughter of Sharman MacDonald, an award-winning playwright, and Will Knightley, a theatre and television actor. Her father is English and her Scottish mother is of half Welsh ancestry. She has an elder brother, Caleb. Knightley, born Kiera, switched her name to Keira to make it easier for international audiences to pronounce.
Keira Knightley lived in Richmond, attending Stanley Junior School, Teddington School and Esher College. She was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of six, but nevertheless was successful in school and was thus permitted to acquire a talent agent and pursue an acting career. She requested an agent as early as the age of three and got one when she turned six, from her mother as a reward for studying hard. Keira Knightley has noted that she was "single-minded about acting" during her childhood. She performed in a number of local amateur productions, including After Juliet (written by her mother) and United States (written by her then drama teacher, Ian McShane, no relation to the actor of the same name). She focused on art, history, and English literature while at Esher, but left after a year to focus on her acting and she also turned down her spot at the London Academy of Music and Drama.
After getting an agent at 6, she did work mostly on commercials and small TV roles. Her first role was "Little Girl" in Royal Celebration, a 1993 TV movie. A year later, she had a small role in the movie A Village Affair. She later starred in 1995's Innocent Lies and 1998's Coming Home. She was a princess in the 1996 movie The Treasure Seekers. Later in 1999, she appeared as Rose in Oliver Twist.
Keira Knightley appeared in several television films in the mid to late 1990s—as well as ITV1's The Bill—before being cast as Sabé, Padmé Amidala's decoy, in the 1999 science fiction blockbuster Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Sabé's dialogue was dubbed over with Natalie Portman's voice. This was to hide the fact that the handmaiden Padmé (played by Natalie Portman) was actually disclosed as the real Queen Amidala at the end of the film. Knightley was cast in the role due to her close resemblance to Portman; even the two actresses' mothers had difficulty telling their daughters apart when the girls were in full makeup. Knightley's first starring role followed in 2001, when she played the daughter of Robin Hood in the made-for-television Walt Disney Productions feature, Princess of Thieves. She trained for several weeks in archery, sword fighting, and horse riding. During this time, Keira Knightley also appeared in The Hole, a thriller that received a direct-to-video release in the United States. She appeared in a miniseries adaptation of Doctor Zhivago which first aired in 2002 to mixed reviews but high ratings. In the same year, she also was in the movie Pure, in which she portrays a pregnant teenager who is a heroin addict and had a child taken by social services.
Keira Knightley had a role in the British romantic comedy Love Actually, which opened in November 2003, which co-starred her childhood idol Emma Thompson. Her next film, King Arthur, opened in July 2004 to negative reviews, however in preparation for the role she took boxing, fighting, archery, and horseback-riding lessons for four days a week for three months. In the same month, Knightley was voted by readers of Hello! magazine as the film industry's most promising teen star. Additionally, TIME magazine noted in a 2004 feature that Keira Knightley seemed dedicated to developing herself as a serious actress rather than a film star.
Keira Knightley at a London Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest premiere in July 2006
She appeared in three films in 2005, the first of which was The Jacket, alongside Adrien Brody. She next appeared in Tony Scott's Domino, an action film based on the life of bounty hunter Domino Harvey. The film has been Knightley's greatest critical flop to date. Knightley's critics often suggested she was nothing more than a pretty face, which led the young starlet to comment to Elle magazine, "I always feel like I’m the one with everything to prove."
Pride & Prejudice rounded out 2005. Keira Knightley loved the book since she was seven, and she with her first acting paycheck she bought a dollhouse of the hero's mansion. She said of her character, "The beauty of Elizabeth is that every woman who ever reads the book seems to recognize herself, with all her faults and imperfections. If you give an actress who is even remotely good the chance to play a fantastic character like that, they are going to revel in it." Variety wrote about her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet: "Looking every bit a star, Keira Knightley, who's shown more spirit than acting smarts so far in her career, really steps up to the plate here, holding her own against the more classically trained Matthew Macfadyen, as well as vets like Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Penelope Wilton, and Judi Dench with a luminous strength that recalls a young Audrey Hepburn. More than the older Jennifer Ehle in the TV series, she catches Elizabeth's essential skittishness and youthful braggadocio, making her final conversion all the more moving." The film grossed more than $100 million worldwide, and Keira Knightley earned a Golden Globe nomination and an Oscar nomination (the Oscar ultimately went to Reese Witherspoon). The Academy Award nomination made her the third-youngest performer ever nominated. BAFTA's decision not to nominate her drew criticism from Pride & Prejudice producer Tim Bevan.
In 2006, Keira Knightley was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her biggest financial hit thus far, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, was released in July 2006.
Keira Knightley starred in three major films in 2007: Silk, an adaptation of the novel by Alessandro Baricco, Atonement, a feature film adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel of the same name (co-starring James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave, and Brenda Blethyn), and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which was released in May 2007. For her performance in Atonement, Knightley was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the Best Dramatic Actress category for the role, as well as a BAFTA Award. Critic Richard Roeper was puzzled by both Knightley's and McAvoy's Academy Award snubs, stating "I thought McAvoy and Knightley were superb."
In the late spring of 2007, Keira Knightley shot The Edge of Love with Cillian Murphy as her husband, Matthew Rhys as her childhood sweetheart Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and Sienna Miller as Thomas' wife Caitlin Macnamara. She received positive reviews for her role. The 2008 release was penned by Knightley's mother, Sharman Macdonald, and directed by John Maybury. She then filmed The Duchess, based on the best-selling biography, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, in which she played Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire; the film was released in cinemas on 5 September 2008 in the U.K.
In 2009, Keira Knightley made her West End debut in Martin Crimp's version of Molière's comedy, The Misanthrope, at the Comedy Theatre in London alongside Damian Lewis, Tara FitzGerald, and Dominic Rowan. in December 2009. Reviews for her portrayal of Jennifer in the play were generally positive. The Daily Telegraph described her performance as revealing "both power and poignancy" and The Independent called her performance "not only strikingly convincing but, at times, rather thrilling in its satiric aplomb" The Guardian, however, noted that due to the nature of the role "one could say that she is not unduly stretched" and The Daily Mail described her as "little better than adequate" and "dull" and the Daily Express stated that "Her lack of stage experience is sometimes painfully evident." Knightley has been nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award as Best Supporting Actress as Jennifer in The Misanthrope, recognising her theatre debut. Knightley also received an Evening Standard Award nomination for the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress.
In 2010, Keira Knightley appeared in the drama Last Night, in which she co-starred with Eva Mendes, Sam Worthington, and Guillaume Canet; it was directed by Massy Tadjedin. The same year, Knightley completed work on an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go with Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan. Filming took place in Norfolk and Clevedon in Somerset. Also in 2010, she starred in London Boulevard with Colin Farrell, written by William Monahan.
Keira Knightley's only film of 2011 was David Cronenberg's historical drama A Dangerous Method, co-starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Vincent Cassel. Based on writer Christopher Hampton's 2002 stage play The Talking Cure and set on the eve of World War I, the film depicts the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, played by Knightley, the troubled but beautiful young psychoanalyst who comes between them. The costume film premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival to a positive reception, while Knightley, who had almost backed out of the movie due to its explicit scenes, earned generally favorable reviews by critics, with Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com noting her "the real star of this film."
Keira Knightley is slated to appear in The Emperor's Children with Eric Bana and Richard Gere. The film, a dark comedy, will be directed by Noah Baumbach. In addition, she has reunited with director Joe Wright for the production of Anna Karenina (2012), in which she will star as the title character.