Knightley was just 18 years old when the first Pirates of the Caribbean film was released. Prior to playing Elizabeth, Knightley largely appeared in TV episodes and made-for-TV movies, including a memorable part in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham. Pirates of the Caribbean provided her with a great opportunity as a breakout star, allowing her to take on a prominent part in a blockbuster picture that would become a series.
Given how important Pirates of the Caribbean was to her career, it’s intriguing to witness Knightley’s hesitant initial reaction. Knightley had every reason to be concerned about what Elizabeth would do to her career in one of her most important parts to date. Her next film part was in Love Actually, when she played a love interest stuck between two men, similar to Elizabeth’s relationship with Will Turner and Jack Sparrow. But not as sexualized as in Pirates of the Caribbean, Knightley’s concerns about typecasting were legitimate.
Fortunately, Knightley was able to “break out of” the lust-inducing, sought-after young woman in her following performances. She is currently a two-time Academy Award nominee for her performances in Pride & Prejudice and The Imitation Game. Though she returned to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for the next two films, her repertoire has expanded significantly since then.
Keira Knightley explains the drawbacks of her role in Pirates of the Caribbean. Knightley made her film debut as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003. While being presented as a somewhat secluded character, Elizabeth went on to play a more active part in the saga, eventually becoming Pirate King.
In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Knightley stated that the part was a double-edged sword. Notwithstanding the career benefits of starring in Pirates of the Caribbean, the actor expressed anxiety that she would be typecast as “the object of everybody’s lust” in films following her appearance as Elizabeth. See here for Knightley’s entire explanation:
I had quite an entrance into adult life, an extreme landing because of the experience of fame at a very early age. There’s a funny place where women are meant to sit, publicly, and I never felt comfortable with that. It was a big jolt. I was being judged on what I was projecting. [Elizabeth] was the object of everybody’s lust. Not that she doesn’t have a lot of fight in her. But it was interesting coming from being really tomboyish to getting projected as quite the opposite. I felt very constrained. I felt very stuck. So the roles afterwards were about trying to break out of that.