Pixie-ish British actress Keira Knightley went from a relative unknown to a blockbuster leading lady after 2002's sleeper soccer flick Bend It Like Beckham caught on with an international audience. Born in Teddington, London, England, in 1985, young Knightley was enticed by the lure of cinema at an early age. Playwright mother Sharman McDonald and actor father Will Knightley were at first reluctant to let their daughter follow them into show business. Although they would accommodate her wish three years later, their strict demand that their daughter study through school holidays and only take jobs that didn't interfere with her education ensured that Keira would keep her priorities straight.
Trained in dance from an early age, Knightley made her film debut when she was 12 in Moira Armstrong's romantic drama A Village Affair. Gradually climbing the credits with subsequent roles in Innocent Lies (1995) and the made-for-TV features Treasure Seekers (1996) and Coming Home (1998), she got her first big break when cast as the decoy queen in the eagerly anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Knightley resembled the actual queen (portrayed by Natalie Portman) so much that her mother couldn't distinguish the two and some fans still insist both were portrayed by Portman.