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Why Keira Knightley was never the same after Pirates of the Caribbean

Keira Knightley has been acting since she was only six years old, but she didn't start getting international attention until she appeared in the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham. Shortly after, she landed her breakout role as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Pirates was a smash hit at the box office, and Knightley held her own alongside big names like Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Geoffrey Rush. The film spawned several sequels, and suddenly, after years of paying her dues and working her way up, Knightley was a household name. In the early 2000s, Knightley's face was everywhere, and overnight, she found herself in the spotlight. It was a dream come true — but fame comes with a price, and Knightley has faced her fair share of obstacles over the course of her career. 

Today, Knightley isn't the same actress she was when the first Pirates film premiered. She's moved on from the franchise, and she's starred in everything from historical dramas to indie flicks. It hasn't been an easy ride, but there's no doubt that Knightley has succeeded and often proven her critics wrong. It seems she's changed both her acting and her priorities, and today, we're going to find out why Keira Knightley has never been the same after Pirates of the Caribbean.

Keira Knightley struggled with the pressures of fame after Pirates of the Caribbean

Being famous certainly has its perks, but knowing that millions of people are watching your every move can be nerve-wracking. The constant attention after Pirates of the Caribbean left Keira Knightley exhausted and anxious. Whether positive or negative, it was overwhelming, and she found that she couldn't manage it in a healthy way. At one point, she didn't leave her house for three months. She felt like she was falling apart, and she couldn't face the public. Eventually, she realized she needed professional help, and she began working with a therapist. 

"I did have a mental breakdown at 22," she told The Hollywood Reporter, "so I did take a year off there and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of all of that stuff. I went deep into therapy." She spent a year focused on healing, and says that when she finally returned to work, she "felt really good — and suddenly didn't care [about the views of others]."

She had to deal with tabloid rumors

Like most actresses, Keira Knightley has dealt with the frustration of tabloids picking apart every aspect of her appearance. She's naturally quite thin, and rumors have swirled about her supposed eating disorder. Knightley was highly offended by these claims. Because of the physical demands of some her acting jobs, like her work in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, she was highly active and found it hard to put on weight. In addition, she knew plenty of people who'd actually struggled with eating disorders, and when the tabloids smeared her, she was upset on their behalf. 

Knightley also didn't want her female fans to think she was encouraging unhealthy habits. At one point, she sued The Daily Mail for claiming she had an eating disorder. "When all that blew up, I felt terrible," she told Elle. "It appeared that I were promoting something when I absolutely was not. I am thin because that's what I am, and I was thinner at that point because of the work I do. Nothing else."

She had to grow thick skin

Every creative person knows how difficult it can be to "put yourself out there." Actors may live their lives in the public eye, but it doesn't mean that they're always comfortable with the criticism that comes along with that. Knightley had never been to drama school or trained professionally as an actress before breaking into the industry, so in some ways, she wondered if she was falling behind her peers. She knew she could've been more polished and prepared, but when acting opportunities came her way, she chose to jump right in and learn on the job instead. As she got older, she was finally able to let the criticism fade into the background, but it wasn't always easy. 

"I've definitely done all my learning publicly. And I've had to develop a thick skin because of that," she told The Guardian. "The criticism was tough. ... It's a strange jolt in how you see yourself and how you connect to the thing that you love."

Knightley has spent a lot of time on the stage

After the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, Knightley had the chance to branch out into new mediums. She'd always been curious about giving theater a try, and naturally, she had appeared in plenty of school plays when she was younger. In 2009, she made her debut on London's West End, starring in the play The Misanthrope. She was very nervous about performing on a professional stage for the first time, but she took the leap anyway, telling the BBC, "If I don't do theater right now, I think I'm going to start being too terrified to do it. ... If my best isn't good enough, then so be it." 

Thankfully, critics were pleased with her performance, and in 2015, Knightley returned to the stage once more for her Broadway debut, playing the titular role in Thérèse Raquin. Once again, she received largely positive reviews. Although Knightley is clearly a film actress first and foremost, it seems that theater also has a special place in her heart, and she definitely had a gift for it. 

Keira Knightley has become an activist

When Keira Knightley gained a platform, she began using it for good. Like many celebrities, she wanted to use her status to speak up about injustice and encourage people to get involved in activist efforts. For example, she has worked with major organizations like Amnesty International and Oxfam, and she has traveled to countries like Ethiopia and South Sudan to raise awareness of various human rights issues. She also participated in a United Nations project to educate people on the global refugee crisis. 

Women's rights are exceptionally important to Knightley. As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, this cause is close to her heart. She's a passionate feminist, and over the years, she has dedicated her time and energy to speaking up about the issues women still face today. In 2009, she appeared in a controversial video titled Cut, which was put out by the group Women's Aid. In the video, Knightley played a domestic violence victim. Some criticized Cut for its graphic nature, but Knightley has never been afraid to make a strong statement when it comes to feminism. Even when she knows she's going to push a few buttons, she doesn't shy away from standing up for her beliefs. 

She's been seeking strong female characters

Keira Knightley has never been one to play the damsel in distress. After all, Elizabeth Swann may have been the privileged governor's daughter, but she also became a swashbuckling, sword-wielding pirate. But Knightley has made it no secret that she's often disappointed with the roles offered to women in Hollywood. She wants to play complex, strong characters, not women who are merely objectified on screen. Thankfully, she says she's starting to see a change in the roles available, but overall, she gravitates towards historical dramas because she doesn't like the way female characters are written in films set in the present day. At this point in her career, she can afford to be picky, which has led her to roles in movies like Colette, Anna Karenina, and Atonement.

"I don't really do films set in the modern day because the female characters nearly always get raped," she told Variety. "I always find something distasteful in the way women are portrayed, whereas I've always found very inspiring characters offered to me in historical pieces. There's been some improvement. ... Women's stories are suddenly viewed as important."

Knightley has been fending off stalkers since Pirates of the Caribbean

Actors are used to being followed by the paparazzi, but sometimes, they're also forced to deal with fans who don't respect their personal space or boundaries. Since becoming a massive star thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Knightley has had to take legal action against several stalkers, and as a result, she greatly values her privacy. 

In 2008, she was stalked by five individuals, and in 2010, she took a man to trial after he harassed her outside the theater in London where she was performing. In 2016, another stalker targeted her for months on end until her husband had to physically chase him away and have him arrested. Knightley had to go to court once again. 

"I am scared every time I go outside," Knightley wrote in her victim impact statement which was read in court. "If I was to see this man again I wouldn't know what to do. If I was with my child we wouldn't be able to run away easily. The thought of my daughter being at risk is my worst nightmare." In other words, Knightley has been dealing with a whole lot of dangerous people since becoming a star.

Knightley has been focused on marriage and motherhood

In 2013, Knightley tied the knot with keyboard player James Righton at a small ceremony in France. Two years later, Knightley gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Edie. Now, Knightley is pregnant again, and the couple will be welcoming their second child in a few months. 

Knightley loves her daughter, but she's also been outspoken about just how difficult motherhood can be — even for women with incredible careers and supportive partners like herself. She admits that being a mom never an easy job, and most people don't understand the challenges that women face after having kids. 

"I don't think we give women enough credit for the physical and emotional marathon they go through when becoming a mother," Knightley told Balance magazine. "The sleep deprivation, the hormonal changes, the shift in relationship with my partner, are all things that make me feel as if I'm failing on a daily basis. I have to remind myself that I haven't failed, I'm just doing what I can do, but it's not easy."

She's been trying to move past Pirates of the Caribbean

After the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, it was obvious that there would be a sequel to continue the stories of Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner, and of course, Captain Jack Sparrow. The sequel gave way to a third film, and eventually, the franchise grew beyond that. There are now five Pirates films, with the most recent, Dead Men Tell No Tales, having been released in 2017. Plus, there's still the possibility of a sixth film. But after the third installment, Knightley was ready to close that chapter of her career. Aside from a cameo in Dead Men Tell No Tales, Knightley hasn't really been involved with the franchise recently.

"It was an extraordinary experience, you know, but I was 17 when I started it and 21 when I finished. And that"s quite a large chunk of time," Knightley told Uproxx. "I've always wanted to act because I like changing. I like exploring different things. And I sort of feel like I've done the pirating thing."

She's been turning to indie films

Yes, Keira Knightley has appeared in plenty of blockbuster films, including the Pirates movies, Pride & Prejudice, and The Imitation Game. But she's also attracted to indie projects. In 2014, she starred in the romantic comedy Laggies, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival. She played 20-something Megan, who desperately needed to get her life together. More recently, in 2018, she starred in Colette, which also premiered at Sundance. The movie was about the life of the titular Colette, an eclectic French novelist. 

Knightley enjoys working on indie films, but she's been open about the fact that shying away from blockbusters could hurt her chances at landing future roles, so she has to choose carefully. "The majority of my work is still in the commercial field. It hasn't gone hugely experimental, which I would really like to do," she told The Guardian. "You're only useful in financing those films if you've got a big success behind you, and they have a certain shelf life."

She wants to give TV a try

For all of her accomplishments, Knightley has never actually appeared on a TV show. No short-term, recurring roles, no guest spots, no cameos. If she wasn't on the big screen, she was acting on stage. TV is a medium that she just never got into ... but that doesn't mean she's written it off just yet. She's actually open to the idea of finally appearing on a TV show for the first time, and says that she intends to make it happen eventually. 

She knows the experience will be very different from working in film, and it could mean making a long-term commitment to a show without knowing exactly how the script will play out, but she's ready to try something new, and casting directors have been reaching out to her with opportunities. "I've been sent a lot of pilots," Knightley told Variety. "At some point, I'm just going to have to dive in and give it a go. I'm going to go wherever the great roles are."

Will Keira Knightley make her directorial debut?

At this point in her career, it seems like Keira Knightley has nearly done it all, and if she hasn't, she's already planning on it. Besides working on a TV show, what else does she have on her to-do list? Her most ambitious goal is to eventually direct a film. The Pirates of the Caribbean star admits that she's still working up the courage to go for it. Directing would be a huge career move for her, but with so much experience under her belt, it's not a stretch to imagine Knightley getting behind the camera in the future. 

"I have thought about directing," Knightley told Variety. "Right now there's that classic female thing of being too terrified of it not being perfect. It's a terrible affliction, because really what you should just do is dive in and give it a go." But with Knightley's ambition, there's no doubt that she'll eventually find herself at the helm of her own film.