Pixie-ish British actress Keira Knightley went from a relative unknown to a blockbuster leading lady after 2002's sleeper soccer flick Bend It Like Beckham caught on with an international audience. Born in Teddington, London, England, in 1985, young Knightley was enticed by the lure of cinema at an early age. Playwright mother Sharman McDonald and actor father Will Knightley were at first reluctant to let their daughter follow them into show business. Although they would accommodate her wish three years later, their strict demand that their daughter study through school holidays and only take jobs that didn't interfere with her education ensured that Keira would keep her priorities straight.
Trained in dance from an early age, Knightley made her film debut when she was 12 in Moira Armstrong's romantic drama A Village Affair. Gradually climbing the credits with subsequent roles in Innocent Lies (1995) and the made-for-TV features Treasure Seekers (1996) and Coming Home (1998), she got her first big break when cast as the decoy queen in the eagerly anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Knightley resembled the actual queen (portrayed by Natalie Portman) so much that her mother couldn't distinguish the two and some fans still insist both were portrayed by Portman.
Returning to non-decoy status for the television miniseries Oliver Twist (2000), Knightley stayed with the small screen as Robin Hood's daughter in the 2001 adventure Princess of Thieves. Although audiences would truly begin to take note of her talent in the thriller The Hole that same year, her star-making turn in the sleeper comedy drama Bend It Like Beckham endeared her to audiences everywhere and ultimately served as her breakthrough starring role. Playing the best friend to Parminder K. Nagra, Knightley proved that she could turn what might have been little more than a noteworthy supporting role into a truly spunky, scene-stealing performance.
As Lara Antipova in the 2002 miniseries Doctor Zhivago, Knightley gracefully slipped into a role that was previously made famous by Julie Christie, and the timeless romantic drama proved a hit with U.K. television viewers. With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, however, the actress was catapulted into an entirely new realm of popularity. Opposite Johnny Depp's truly eccentric portrayal of pirate Jack Sparrow, Knightley charmed as the beautiful young maiden whose blood may hold the key to life for a group of undead pirates.
While King Arthur (2004) and Domino (2005) were high-profile flops, Knightley's status as a movie-star on both sides of the pond was firmly cemented in early 2006 when she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in 2005's Pride & Prejudice. 2006 also saw the release of the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which was shot back-to-back with the franchise's third entry, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which was scheduled for release in 2007. In the meantime, Knightley forged ahead on the period drama Silk, opposite Michael Pitt. As the decade wore on, Knightly remained a fixed presence on screen, appearing in such films as The Duchess, London Boulevard, A Dangerous Method, Anna Karenina, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Knightley appeared in a pair of indie films in 2014, Laggies and Begin Again, as well as the big-budget action film Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. However, she earned the most praise that year for her supporting turn in The Imitation Game, playing a woman who helps crack German codes during WWII. She garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in that film, which also scored Best Picture and Best Actor nods.