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Paparazzi Drove Keira Knightley to a Mental Breakdown: ‘I Told Them I Was Going to Kill Somebody’

Ryan Lattanzio

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English actress Keira Knightley, Academy Award-nominated for “Pride & Prejudice” and “The Imitation Game,” understandably did not handle public attention well after the release of her 2003 breakout, Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Or with the many hits that followed. According to a new interview with The Telegraph, Knightley said that at age 22 — with “Love, Actually,” “King Arthur,” and “Atonement” all under her belt — she suffered a “mental breakdown” in the wake of being shadowed by paparazzi.

“The value of photographs of any famous young women at the time went up if they were of a very negative nature,” she told Robbie Collin, in reference to the media circuses that burst around such headline-grabbing stars as Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears. “So if you weren’t already having a mental breakdown, they were trying to push you into doing things that kept your value as high as those who were.”

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Knightley went on to say, “I remember Scarlett Johansson getting forced off the road in Los Angeles, then someone trying to do the same to me in Kentish Town. I told them I was going to kill somebody; they said they’d get more money if I did…I don’t know how things are now…but it was definitely a moment I wanted to run away from. It did not feel like it would end anywhere well.”

Knightley said that after taking two years off, she returned to acting but “knew I didn’t want to do big-budget films any more, because the fame that came with them I just couldn’t handle.” As such, arthouse titles including “The Edge of Love,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “A Dangerous Method” followed. She can currently be seen in “Official Secrets” as post-9/11 whistleblower Katharine Gun.

“Looking back, I think Katharine’s story just got swallowed up by the actual invasion of Iraq itself,” she said. “Yet now it feels like an important piece of that puzzle. We’re still living with the legacy of that war, so trying to understand the lead up to it made this feel like an important story to tell.”

Knightley also opened up about her own political participation, including the unfolding Extinction Rebellion global environmental movement, which aims to take a nonviolent approach to urging government to act on ecological disaster.

“We keep having this discussion where we’re saying to each other, ‘Should we get arrested?’,” she said, referring to her husband, musician James Righton. “And I’m like, ‘We can’t, we’ve got a baby, she’s permanently attached to my boob. So how’s it going to work?’ So then he’s going, ‘Maybe I’ll go down and get arrested for both of us.’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s neither of us get arrested now. It’s not the right time.’ I think a lot of us just want to find a reason not to think about it.”

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