As director Gore Verbinski lines up a shot which will form part of the dramatic opening of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End the eagerly awaited third film in the hugely popular series, Keira Knightley takes a brief moment to prepare for the physical challenge ahead.
She will be running, at full pelt, through the alleyways and across bridges in the seedy red lantern district of old Singapore which, for filmmaking purposes, has been painstakingly recreated on a massive Universal Studios sound stage in Hollywood.
“It’s part of the opening sequence of the third film,” explains Keira. ”And without giving too much away, Will Turner and Elizabeth are being chased by a whole gang of not very nice people. Great fun!”
She beams a mega watt smile and is clearly enjoying the challenge and being reunited with Verbinski, Orlando Bloom – who plays her lover, Will Turner – and indeed Johnny Depp, who returns as the lovable pirate Captain Jack Sparrow.
“And on Pirates three we have some new faces as well,” explains Keira. “Including Chow Yun-Fat who is an Asian pirate and he’s absolutely wonderful. And we all adore him.”
Earlier in the day, she had been working on a complex sword fighting sequence in preparation for a scene later in the week. “Yes, I do a lot more sword fighting these days and we have to work on them to get them perfect. So today, when I’m not required for a scene, I’ll be working with the swords.”
The fantastic set is a great help for all the actors, she says, before praising the design team and the hard working crew who built it. “To be able to have such a brilliant backdrop to work with is such a help. They have done a marvelous job and they’ve worked so hard on it.”
Knightley filmed Pirates 2 back to back with much of Pirates 3 and admits that it has been a long, long haul. “It felt like the last two years had never happened and we’ve been working on Pirates the entire time,” she notes. Not that she’s complaining. “We have got these fantastic sets, it’s pretty much exactly the same crew with a couple of additions, the same cast, same director, same writers, same producers obviously, so it really is like we never finished doing the first one and we have just continued.”
The first film, released in 2003, was a critical and box office triumph which starred Johnny Depp as the colourful pirate who rescues the beautiful governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann – played by Keira – from the villainous Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his cohorts. Add a dash of romance, provided by Orlando Bloom as Elizabeth’s love, Will Turner, and the result was a funny, superbly paced action thriller which entertained young and old alike.
Today, in an interview during a break on set at the Universal Studios in Hollywood, Keira is in Pirates 3 mode. Tomorrow, or the next day, it’s back to Pirates 2. Doesn’t it get confusing?
“Hugely, yes,” she laughs. “It is a bit weird at the moment coming to the end of the number three chunk to suddenly try and get your head back in to number two. So in a funny kind of way it seems like one big long film as opposed to two separate films, which I suppose is a good thing, but it is a little strange.”
Keira is sworn to secrecy to keep a good deal of the story under wraps but she’s convinced that Pirates 3 is looking in fantastic shape. “The look of it is really cool and it seems to have evolved in a kind of natural way for it,” she says.
At just 22 years old, Knightley has established herself as one of the leading actresses working in Hollywood. She was born and raised on the outskirts of London, the daughter of actor Will Knightley and playwright Sharman Macdonald.
After roles on British television, Knightley won international acclaim for her role in Bend It Like Beckham. She also starred in Richard Curtis’s romantic comedy, Love Actually, played Guinevere in King Arthur and starred opposite Adrien Brody in The Jacket. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Pride and Prejudice, played a bounty hunter in Domino and recently filmed Atonement in the UK.
Q: How is working on Pirates 2 and 3 compared to the first film?
A: It has been really weird actually because I can’t even remember where we started. I guess we started in February and it felt like the last two years had never happened and we have been working on Pirates of the Caribbean the entire time. (laughs) But it has been great. It’s a long haul, as I said. I have never done anything as long which makes it different, but the guys are great and it is pretty much all the same people and it’s nice, it’s good fun.
Q: Have you kind of picked up where you left off from the first one?
A: Yes, pretty much. We have got theses fantastic sets, it’s pretty much exactly the same crew with a couple of additions, the same cast, same director, same writers, same producers obviously, so it really is like we never finished doing the first one and we have just continued.
Q: What are you allowed to tell us a about what happens in Pirates three?
A It’s great. It’s just more really, maybe a little bit darker and we have some really fantastic fight scenes.
Q: Have you done much training for the role?
A: We are doing a big fight scene in the (studio) at the moment which is one of the reasons why I am not working because it takes so bloody long (laughs) But yeah we have done a lot of that and it was good, I did a couple of weeks training at the beginning of filming but the stunt guys are great and again they were the same guys as on the first one so I had worked with them before. And I think we all picked it up pretty quick so it was just really good.
Q: Did you insist on the fight scenes being put in the script?
A: I wouldn’t say insist, no, I don’t think you can insist on anything, but I did ask, yeah. I mean on the first one they kept asking what I wanted for my character and I kept on saying ‘I want a sword.’ and I never got one so in this one they gave me two, so I am very lucky (laughs).
Q: What sort of costumes do you wear in this one? Are you back in the corsets?
A: Well we are doing Pirates 3 at the moment so I am in a kind of oriental type vibe thing with shorts - it’s the first time I have got legs out and it’s terrifying (laughs). Actually I am really glad, it’s so hot in there it is unbelievable, and everybody else has got their proper pirate stuff on and I am a little less dressed than everyone else and I am very glad, so that’s good. The rest of the time I’ve got kind of the Pirate look instead of the corset.
Q: And do you prefer that rather than being strapped in?
A: I quite like corsets actually; it kind of gives you a character. You feel so ladylike but I kind of feel a little bit more like me now because I am in sort of boy’s attire. I am giving far too much away (laughs). Both are good.
Q: You are shooting Pirates 2 and 3 at the same time. Isn’t that confusing?
A: Hugely, yes.
Q: Can you tell us just a little bit about that?
A: Well before the hiatus we were really only doing number two. In fact I didn’t do anything for three so that was great. We are now doing three at the moment and for the next couple of days and then we’re swapping back to two. So it does get a bit confusing and trying to talk about it here and trying to separate both of them is even more confusing. But we have been doing it in chunks, it’s not like we have been doing one day on two, one day on three. Like the last three weeks we have been on number three and then the next month as soon as we get to the Bahamas we will be on number two and then we will go back to number three. So it hasn’t been too bad. But it is a bit weird at the moment coming to the end of the number three chunk to suddenly try and get your head back in to number two. So in a funny kind of way it seems like one big long film as opposed to two separate films, which I suppose is a good thing, but it is a little strange.
Q: Do you enjoy the time you film in the Caribbean or do you prefer being here in LA?
A: I prefer being here in LA. We go to some very beautiful places and we go to some not so beautiful places, I think you do end up getting island fever and especially if you are going to touristy islands. They are great for a couple of weeks and you go ‘oh look there’s the beach, this is lovely.’ And then you go ‘OK, what else? I’ve done the beach, I’ve done the sea, I have read all my books, I can’t do anything else!’ So it gets a bit difficult but in saying that it is beautiful and there are definitely much worse places. But I’m enjoying being in LA - I am a city girl so I like cities.
Q: Does your mum come out here with you?
A: She is out here with me at the moment because I am doing so much press. I don’t have a weekend off for the next six weeks.
Q: Does she manage your career?
A: No she has never done that since I started actually. She’s a writer, so she writes. She really is only there to hand me a cup of coffee occasionally. And be a Mum (laughs) and tell me off!
Q: A lot has happened in your career since the first Pirates film.
A: Yeah, I’ve got a bigger trailer! (laughs). That says a lot doesn’t it.
Q: But does it feel like things have changed?
A: We made it in 2003 and yes stuff has changed. I mean I have been working non-stop for one thing, so that’s changed. But to tell you the truth the banter on set is exactly the same, so that hasn’t changed. You are working with the same people and it doesn’t matter if you have done a lot of films in between or not, they are going to treat you the same as they did. And know, that’s cool, that’s the way it should be. So the work hasn’t changed but the trailer has (laughs).
Q: Do you have a personal assistant these days?
A: I do, he is over there.
Q: You said in the past you didn’t want to get one because you are old enough to handle life yourself.
A: No I said I didn’t want to get one because I wasn’t old enough to handle my life and I wanted to learn how to. The answer to that is that I only have him when I am working. I don’t have him when I am not working, but it gets to the point if you are working back to back and you don’t have any days off. I have bought a flat, I have done stuff, I have got movies coming out at the moment, I can’t be on the phone all the time trying to co-ordinate everything and be doing my job in there. So I have got somebody who can co-ordinate stuff and so I don’t have to think about that he can just say ‘right go in this direction…’
Q: But how do you keep in touch with real life if you are making movies all the time?
A: This is my real life. I don’t know what’s going on in your real life, I am sorry, but yes, I know what’s going on in mine
Q: Real life, meaning like what’s happening in politics, in the world.
A: Yes, some of it. I read newspapers if that’s what you mean, I don’t watch television, but yes, I think so. I have been waiting around in my trailer for hours so I have got to do something.
Q: What else did you do when you had time off in The Bahamas?
A: I read a good biography on Lucrezia Borgia, I read a good book Hitler’s Bunker. I read a lot of scripts.
Q: How do you choose a film?
A: I don’t know, it’s just whatever catches my fancy. If it is a film I think I would want to see and then that’s kind of a good way to judge it. And if you meet the director and you like them then that’s even a better way to judge it. But it just depends. I don’t pick it by genre, if I read a good comedy and I go ‘oh yeah, I’d really like to be a part of that..’ but equally it could be a drama. I don’t really have a plan; it’s just what jumps out at me.
Q: Is there a sense that because the first Pirates was such a big hit that you have to match it or better it this time?
A: For me personally, no. I mean I think there is a certain amount of pressure because it was so loved and you kind of want to make it as good as you possibly can. But I think that is really the same with any film. What’s nice is the level of excitement around Pirates is huge and normally there isn’t that bigger level of excitement around anything you do until it comes out. But it’s quite nice to be in something where people go ‘so come on, what’s going to happen? Tell us what’s going to happen?’
Q: What’s it like acting alongside Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom?
A: It’s amazing, I mean, they are very beautiful. (laughs) Yes it is very easy on the eye. And they are really great as well, they are lovely and watching Johnny work, you know it’s masterful really, it’s taking an acting master class, so that’s always enjoyable. And Orlando I have known for a very long time. We used to go up to things in London together so it’s really nice you know to spend time with him as well. He’s my mate, which is nice.