The music is loud, the vibe is electric and Keira Knightley is sitting on a couch in the VIP section of the Soho House club in Toronto with her boyfriend, James Righton, relaxing after the premiere of her latest film, A Dangerous Method.
An elderly female guest spots her and goes over to compliment her on her new hairdo – a fluffy bob – but is firmly steered away by a bodyguard hired to keep people at a distance.
The incident is certainly not Knightley’s fault and she probably doesn’t even know about it, but it is an indication of how her life has changed in a relatively short time. It doesn’t seem long ago that she was telling me how she went to the shops unrecognised and happily took buses around the west London neighbourhood where she lives.
What a difference seven years, three Pirates of the Caribbean films and one Oscar nomination make.
The bubbly, outgoing teenager who talked freely and openly about her life is now 26 years old and a leading film star, and although she is still a cheerful Londoner with a keen sense of humour who enjoys a joke and a good laugh, the accoutrements of stardom have instilled in her a newfound wariness and aversion to fame.
Knightley is the first to admit she has changed.
“Yes, I was different then to the way I am now, because you change with your experiences,” she says. “It would be sad if you didn’t, but my level of fame is not as big as Brad Pitt’s, thankfully.” She laughs. “At the time of the Pirates movies I had a crazy time where very simple things were very difficult. I had about 20 guys standing on my doorstep, so going to the grocery store became incredibly difficult. I just didn’t go out. When it gets to that point it’s not safe to go out and it just becomes impossible. Since then I’ve been doing different films and life in general has become much easier, so I can walk through the lobby of a hotel now.”
We are talking in a Toronto hotel the day after she had walked the red carpet with her co-stars, Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, at the premiere of A Dangerous Method, the director David Cronenberg’s story of how both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud fall under the spell of a beautiful but unbalanced Russian patient played by Knightley. Her portrayal of the real-life Sabina Spielrein, who recovered from mental illness to become a leading therapist and an intellectual colleague of Jung and Freud, has won critical praise and is already being talked about as a possible candidate for awards nominations.
Knightley is wearing a black dress by Wren with cream-and-black Chanel shoes and a Chanel necklace that she says is borrowed and has to be returned. As the celebrity face of Chanel’s perfume Coco Mademoiselle, she has the loan of the company jewellery – which is just as well, because, she says, she was left with little of her own after a break-in at her apartment two years ago. “Everything was taken and I kind of freaked out,” she says. “It was horrible so I asked everybody not to give me any jewellery to replace it because it means an awful lot.”
Since bursting onto the public consciousness as the lively and lovely Jules in Bend It Like Beckham, Knightley has proved to be a shrewd manager of her career, establishing herself as a Hollywood A-lister with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and King Arthur. She then switched from big-budget blockbusters to smaller, more intimate fare such as Pride & Prejudice, which earned her an Oscar nomination; Atonement, which brought a Golden Globe nomination; The Duchess, in which she portrayed the Duchess of Cavendish; The Edge of Love, playing Dylan Thomas’s former childhood sweetheart; and, last year, the drama Never Let Go, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.