Keira Knightley

“When I was a kid, I didn’t imagine that I’d be in films,” says Knightley, who will be working on a new version of Pride and Prejudice. “I always dreamed of being in the theater.”

Ronald Asadorian/Splash

updated 07/06/2004 AT 5:00 PM ET

originally published 07/09/2004 AT 6:00 AM ET

Her costars have described her as the most “beautiful tomboy you will ever come across,” but Keira Knightley is all warrior woman as she takes on the feisty part of Guinevere in King Arthur. The 19-year-old buffed up for the role that puts her in Celtic blue paint and leather gear – and right in the middle of the action, just as she enjoyed being in last summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Knightley recently chatted with reporters about building up her bod, moving out on her own and playing with fire.

You’re really toned in this role. What did you do to train?
Well, right at the start when they offered me the role, they said, ‘Okay. We’re going to need you to bulk up.’ They got me a personal trainer straight away and I did mostly weightlifting and boxing for about two hours a day, four times a week. I (also) did archery, sword fighting, knife fighting and a lot of horse riding as well. It was great.

Did you shoot your own flaming arrows?
Yeah. I got a bit singed. I was much better than the boys.

Did you have to do any research for the role?
Being British, we know it so well. I think that (Guinevere is) a character that everyone knows; they all know this romantic fantasy.

But the movie’s not all romanticism.
That’s what excited me. There’s been so many movies about Camelot and that famous love triangle. We all know them, and you can see that and you’ll get a completely different Guinevere. What excited me was playing it in a completely new way.

As an action hero? How do you think women will respond?
What you’ve got is a really strong female character. Someone who stands up there with the guys and is in the middle of the battlefield. As a moviegoer, I want to see more strong women. I’ve had enough of seeing girls who aren’t proactive. Hopefully women will appreciate that.

“To take this character who’s so infamous and completely change her is one of the reasons that you do this job, to keep on changing and surprising people,” Knightley says.

Roger Wong/INFGoff
Have you made your own big independent move yet – out of your parents’ house?
I have moved out. I have bought a flat. It has a bed and wardrobe in it, but that’s it. I’m not living there yet. We are traveling a lot. I’m staying with friends and at my parents’ – I’m staying at about four places at the moment, which is quite fun.

Do you think you’ll move to L.A.?
No, not in the foreseeable future. I mean, never say never, but my home is definitely London at the moment. That’s where all my friends and family are.

How are you handling your worldwide celebrity? Do you have bodyguards now?
No. I have my brother. He’s pretty big.

Have you had any run-ins with the paparazzi?
It is very odd when men – normally between 30 and 40 in blacktop cars – are following you around. Normally, yes, all they want is a picture, and that’s great, but there’s 1 percent in your head that just goes, “What if?” What if I couldn’t do anything to defend myself? So certainly that’s scary, definitely. But you know, as far as the stories and the pictures, it doesn’t matter.

Do people recognize you everywhere you go?
Not everywhere, no. Certainly there are more people who recognize me now than before, but most of them are very sweet and just want to say, “Hey, I like the film,” which is great and that’s why you make films.

I think that a very important part of this job is to be able to sit and just watch people because that’s how you learn as a performer. It is very strange turning from the watcher into the watched, but it’s just something that will take time getting used to.

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