Kiera Knightley| Women We Love

Keira Knightley Does This Thing with Her Mouth…

In her movies, she does this thing — her pout breaks into a precariously wide smile, retracts into what looks like a sob, and then somehow transforms into an adoring half laugh. It’s an endearing little quirk.

The mouth thing can mean many things to many people, but what it usually signifies is that Keira no longer despises you. She has realized that her hatred was actually love all along.

There’s little chance of that happening this morning, in a quiet cafĂ© near Keira’s London home. Still, I’m dying to see that mouth thing in person, if only as an affirmation that Keira Knightley does not hate me; that the ugliness of yesterday is behind us. Yesterday is when I, cranky that none of Keira’s assistants had conveyed to her any of the correct information about this interview, screamed into my cell phone: “We do gimmicky stories with people more famous than Keira Knightley all the time!” This jackass behavior was performed within earshot of a the fellow who was producing the photo shoot for Esquire, but who also turned out to be friends with Keira. And he told her.

So I’m really hoping for the pout-smile-sob-laugh thing. Hell, even a run-of-the-mill smile will do.

“There is this great place down the road that has the best BLTs you’ve ever tasted,” she says immediately after we say our hellos, without a hint of bitterness. “I was going to suggest we meet there, but I thought it might be a bit early in the morning for that.” It’s not the mouth thing, true, but I’ll take it, this sincere appreciation of bacon.

The oddest thing that soon becomes apparent about Keira Knightley is that she’s so unactressy, both in the “Let’s talk about my craft” style of, say, Natalie Portman and the “Oh, I was totally in Bali with these natives” Cameron Diaz vein. Keira’s just cool. 

Domino shows off Keira as we’ve never seen her: raw, dirty, bad. Other elements of the scene — Keira’s ass, for example — are less authentic.

“You just have to decide what you’re comfortable with,” she says. “I’m okay with topless, but I won’t show my bottom. I used a double. Tony brought in three girls for me to choose from. Before they came into the office, I’m like, How do I act? Do I joke around with them? I decided to be very businesslike. It was hard not to laugh, but I didn’t want to offend anyone. Anyway, they all had very nice bottoms, and I chose one. Then a few weeks ago, I hear about this girl in Vegas claiming to be Keira Knightley’s body double. It wasn’t her. She wasn’t the girl in the movie.”

Keira’s other big fall release is a faithful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which she wrapped just four days before starting Domino. “I wanted to do two things as different from each other as possible,” she says. “But it was pretty stupid to do them that close together. I found it very hard to swap over.”

It doesn’t show. Period pieces, with their long takes, stilted dialogue, and frequent use of horses, often embarrass actors used to quick cuts and modern transportation. But Keira holds her own, despite nearly turning down the role in the first place. “I was terrified,” she says. “I thought it was too big of a speaking role for me. And after the first meeting I had with [director] Joe Wright, I knew that he didn’t want me. Come to think of it, it was the same thing with the director of The Jacket. It would be nice to work with someone who turns around and goes, Yeah, we really want you, Keira.”

Like her mom, for example. Knightley’s mother, a stage actress turned playwright, has written a manuscript that Keira hopes to get made and star in. “My mom’s a bit mental — in a good way,” Keira tells me. “She’s this chilled-out hippie mother. I haven’t seen Meet the Fockers, but I have a feeling she’s like the Barbra Streisand character. My house was always the one where my brother and his mates would be drinking when they shouldn’t be. Mom and I would always talk about sex. She’d come up to my room and have me roll her cigarettes and then tell me I had to have one with her. Not the typical mother-daughter thing. But we’re extremely close.”

Mom is at Keira’s house right now. So we walk back through a neighborhood known as Little Venice, really a single picturesque canal lined by stately townhouses like the one Keira bought about a year ago. She shares it with her brother, since she’s home only about three months a year. Even now, she’s on only a brief hiatus, and in a few days she’ll return to Dominica to resume filming Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3. She admits she didn’t even want to audition for Pirates at first.

“In the script,” she says, “the pirate role is written totally straight. Just like kind of a typical hero. On the first day of rehearsal, that’s how Johnny [Depp] played it. But each day he would add something: change the voice, wear a little piece of jewelry, just make him a bit weirder. By the first day of shooting, he had created this completely other thing. He’s a genius.”

That he is. And not only that. At some point in the two upcoming films, Johnny the Genius will no doubt swoop down from the mainsail and grab Keira by her tiny waist. Her pout will break into a precariously wide smile, retract into what looks like a sob, and transform into an adoring half laugh. He’ll get the mouth thing. And I won’t.

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Esquire Oct.2005.

October 1, 2005 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links