Keira Knightley Says Lusty ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Role Made Her Feel ‘Caged In’ and ‘Stuck’: I Wanted to ‘Break Out of That’

Keira Knightley was only 17, going on 18, when she became an international star with 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” But in a new interview with Harper’s Bazaar U.K., the Oscar nominee said playing an object of desire like Elizabeth Swann at such a young age left her feeling “stuck” and “constrained” in the industry.

“I had quite an entrance into adult life, an extreme landing because of the experience of fame at a very early age,” Knightley said. “There’s a funny place where women are meant to sit, publicly, and I never felt comfortable with that. It was a big jolt.”

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“[Elizabeth Swann] was the object of everybody’s lust,” Knightley continued. “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…I didn’t have a sense of how to articulate it. It very much felt like I was caged in a thing I didn’t understand.”

While Knightley starred in two more “Pirates of the Caribbean” films in 2006 (“Dead Man’s Chest”) and 2007 (“At World’s End”), she also tried to counteract such Hollywood tentpoles with prestige projects such as Joe Wright’s “Pride and “Prejudice” (2005) and “Atonement” (2007), the former of which earned an Oscar nomination for best actress at just 20 years old.

“I was incredibly hard on myself,” Knightley said about this period of her career. “I was never good enough. I was utterly single-minded. I was so ambitious. I was so driven. I was always trying to get better and better and improve, which is an exhausting way to live your life. Exhausting. I am in awe of my 22-year-old self, because I’d like a bit more of her back. And it’s only by not being like that any longer that I realise how extraordinary it was. But it does have a cost.”

When asked what exactly that cost is, Knightley answered: “Burnout.”

Knightley is back this month in the crime mystery “Boston Strangler,” which is streaming March 17 on Hulu. Knightley stars in the true story drama as Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter for the Record-American newspaper who becomes the first journalist to connect the Boston Strangler murders.

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