Knightley is sure she wants to be an actress from early on. At age 3, she demands her own agent from her parents because they both have one. (Her father Will is a stage actor, and her mother Sharman MacDonald is a playwright.) They persuade her to wait a few years and she signs with an agent at age 6. "That was the kind of precocious little brat I was," she later tells PEOPLE.
After Knightley's parents allow her to act full-time, she lands a small role in George Lucas' blockbuster Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Knightley plays a handmaiden that disguises herself as Queen Amidala, who is portrayed by Natalie Portman.
The summer before her final year of high school, Knightley takes a brief hiatus to film Bend It Like Beckham, a boisterous cross-cultural comedy about an Anglo-Indian teenage girl who idolizes soccer star David Beckham. Knightley plays the main character's soccer-playing, tomboy, best friend. "Everything's changed for me since Beckham," Knightley says to PEOPLE. "It's been rather mad, but lovely."
Knightley earns her sea legs in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which takes in more than $650 million at the box office. After months of wearing a corset, "I wanted to burn it," Knightley tells Vogue. Of costar Johnny Depp, she says to PEOPLE: "Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely. He's very cool. He's a gorgeous guy. Eye candy." As for Orlando Bloom? "I can report that he's a very good kisser," she adds.
Knightley meets Irish model Jamie Dornan at a photo shoot in Manhattan, and the two start dating. The actress declines to comment on her relationship with Dornan but tells PEOPLE, "I think it's important to make time for the people in your life who you love and who love you back."
Knightley stars in PBS' Doctor Zhivago, which requires a nude scene. "Nudity frightens me, but I will do it if I think it's necessary – or when it makes me giggle," she tells In Style. The same month, her third studio film Love Actually premieres.
In King Arthur, Knightley plays Guinevere as a tough warrior in blue war paint. She undergoes three months of working out to build muscle and learns archery, horseback riding and sword fighting. "The Celts would've been fighting naked and painted blue, but there was no way I was going to do that," Knightley tells PEOPLE. "You don't want to see boobs bumping up and down on a battlefield. It would be distracting."
Knightley and boyfriend Jamie Dornan decide to call it quits. Dornan later tells Britain's Mail on Sunday, "The man is meant to be the alpha in the relationship on the money and power front, and clearly I was not."
Though she is rumored to be dating Australian deejay Kaz James, Knightley tells PEOPLE, "I've never met him. Never!" At least she takes their reported breakup in stride. "Apparently he has dumped me now," she says. "It's the easiest breakup I've ever been through." A month later, she takes on the role of Domino Harvey, a model turned bounty hunter, in the film Domino.
Knightley stars as the Jane Austen heroine Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice. At the film's premiere, she wears a scarlet custom-made Calvin Klein dress, but her nipple briefly slips out in a wardrobe malfunction. She learns her lesson and invests in some double-sided tape for the next opening. "I didn't want to repeat that!" she tells Vogue.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): BBC; Photofest; Everett; Disney/Neal Peters Collection; Matt Baron/Beimages; Johnathan Hession/Buena Vista Pictures; Daniella Scaramuzza/Wireimage; Rick Mackler/Rangefinders/Globe