In retrospect, it seems silly that anyone doubted the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie would launch a roaringly successful franchise. Much less its female lead, Keira Knightley.
But hindsight is 20/20. Upon closer scrutiny, the Brit had good reason to worry about its success. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl actually had as many red flags as it did sails on ships.
So what specifically concerned Knightley — and how did she get involved with the eventual blockbuster in the first place?
Keira Knightley Goes From Green to Making Green
Knightley’s career as a film actor took off to kind of a slow start. After a few bit parts in commercials and TV shows during her childhood, she made her big-screen debut in 1995 with a supporting role in the thriller Innocent Lies, loosely based on an Agatha Christie novel.
After that, Knightley turned her focus back to TV roles, including a 1999 version of Oliver Twist. But when a new phase in the Star Wars franchise came around, she landed a bit part in Episode I — The Phantom Menace.
Three years later, Knightley’s life completely changed when she broke through as a film actor. Her performance as a tomboy in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckman sealed her status as a sought-after onscreen mega-talent.
The following year marked the release of Black Pearl (and Love Actually, in which she also starred — and recently reunited with the cast).
In the ensuing years, Knightley racked up one major movie after the next.
A brief summary of those films includes Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina, The Imitation Game, — and, of course, most of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Next up is Boston Strangler, a crime drama currently in post-production and in which Knightley stars as the reporter who broke the story on the murderer.
The Pirates Ship Sets Sail
It sounds like Keira Knightley felt like she was walking the plank after signing on for Black Pearl. For one thing, the movie — while a Disney property — was based on an amusement park ride.
Various screenwriters and music industry execs actually started considering a film adaptation of the ride way back in the early 1990s, and when a script finally materialized in 2001, it underwent at least one rewrite.
Uncertainty also circled over who would play the role of Jack Sparrow. The makers of the movie considered Matthew McConaughey, Christopher Walken, and Cary Elwes for the role that Johnny Depp ultimately seized.
Richard Curtis, who wrote and directed Love Actually, recently recalled Knightley’s skepticism of Black Pearl to Entertainment Weekly.
“I remember sitting down with Keira while we were shooting and saying, ‘What are you doing next?'” Curtis said. “And she said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to work. It’s a pirate film and they always fail.'”
Because the movie changed style and tone so many times, Disney actually considered releasing it straight to video instead of putting it in the theaters. But the gamble to do the latter eventually paid off, as Black Pearl turned out to be the fourth-most financially successful flick of 2003.
One can only imagine how deep a sigh of relief Keira Knightley exhaled after the first Pirates movie became a massive hit. Along with its four sequels, the franchise collected $4.5 billion worldwide, making Pirates the 15th most financially successful franchise of all time.
Keira Knightley’s Love Life
Part of Knightley’s success is due to her excellent at nailing the role of the gorgeous female lead. But she recently made headlines after publicly announcing she’s had enough with on-screen nude scenes. She’s vowed not to do them anymore — pretty much.
“I don’t have an absolute ban, but I kind of do with men,” she said.
As for her personal life, she married British musician James Righton in 2013. They have two daughters, born in 2015 and 2019.
But before Righton came into her life, she dated actors including Rupert Friend, Del Synnott, and Jamie Dornan, according to The Guardian.