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The Knightley News

No one meets their onscreen demise quite as memorably—or often—as onscreen powerhouse Keira Knightley. But this month, the much-dispatched star of such weighty dramas as Anna Karenina and Atonement teams up with singer Adam Levine for some lighter fare, the feel-good Begin Again. Can the Oscar-nominated actress and face of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume make it to the end of the picture? Stay tuned.

In 2007, two years after earning an Oscar nomination for portraying Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, Knightley landed the coveted role as the face of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance.

Black tweed dress with white guipure detail at the waist, priced available upon request, at Chanel

Makeup (throughout): Vitalumière Aqua 20 Beige, Poudre Universelle Libre 20 Claire, Le Blush Crème de Chanel 64 inspiration, Le Crayon Khôl 62 Ambre, Illusion D’Ombre 837 Fatal, Inimitable Intense 10 Noire, Rouge Coco Shine 85 Secret

Keira Knightley was getting awfully sick of expiring.

“In each of my [recent] films, I either died or was subjected to a new situation that was more horrific than the last,” she says. Indeed, she’s experienced a virtual catalog of human misery. She commits suicide after a disastrous love affair in Anna Karenina; dies in a bombing raid without being reunited with her falsely imprisoned lover in Atonement; and is kept virtually a prisoner by a rich, abusive husband in The Duchess.

Not to mention all those misadventures with pirates in the Caribbean (though we suspect those may have been a tad more fun).

“I wanted more positive vibrations,” says the 29-year-old actress. Her new film, Begin Again, is almost as feel-good as 2006’s uberpopular Once—no coincidence, since both were written and directed by John Carney.

In the movie, which opens July 4, Knightley plays an aspiring songwriter who gets dumped by her boyfriend-slash-songwriting partner (singer and Voice coach Adam Levine) when he gets a contract with a major record label. Forced to hit the open-mike circuit, Knightley’s character is spotted by an equally down-on-his-luck music executive (Mark Ruffalo); in their mutual desperation, they team up to record an album.

“It’s this New York fairy tale of a young woman who tries to finally have the life she always wanted,” Knightley says—and a heartwarming antidote to her usual doom-and-gloom roles.

She even sings her own songs onscreen. “I worked with a vocal coach to find a sound that would work for the character,” she explains, “but two or three were just handed to me on the day we recorded them, so there was a bit of flying by the seat of our pants and hoping for the best.”

For Knightley, having fun with the role provided a welcome break from the serious approach she usually takes to her work—and her life. “I was spending so much time being neurotic and beating myself up,” she admits. Finally, she decided she “might get further by just going, ‘Oh, f**k it.’” Since then, she says, she’s “chilled out an awful lot.”

Yet, it was that kind of stern approach to life that no doubt helped Knightley, who started acting when she was only 9, make the transition from child star to adult actress (her breakout role was in Bend It Like Beckham when she was 17) without ending up in tabloid sideshows, à la Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, et al. She’s always pointedly guarded her privacy, eschewing not only drunken romps, nip slips and other paparazzi bait, but also social media. She shut down her Twitter account after only 12 hours.

“It made me feel a little bit like being in a school playground and not being popular,” she says. “I like being private.” Because she’s stayed on the down-low, she even managed to get married—in May 2013, to musician James Righton—with only 11 people in attendance and without attracting swarms of photographers.

In the past few years, Knightley’s slowed down her filming schedule (she made 12 movies between 2003 and 2008) to allow time for a private life. This spring, that meant she could play groupie when Righton’s band, the Klaxons, toured the U.K. She attended a number of his gigs, hanging out with friends till 4AM like any normal 20-something.

She’s always made time, however, for one project close to her heart: a series of short films for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance, of which she was a fan even before becoming the face of the brand in 2007. “It was a very strange thing when I first got offered the contract for this perfume because I’d been given it by a friend about two years before and had always worn it,” she says. “Until then, I’d never worn women’s fragrances because I found them too sweet or floral. Suddenly, people were stopping me in the street to ask what perfume I was wearing.”

The Chanel project has also offered Knightley more chances to work with Joe Wright, the director who’s become her closest collaborator. Together they’ve made Pride & Prejudice (which earned her an Oscar nod), Atonement and Anna Karenina.

“Joe’s always supported me and helped me push my limits,” she says. “Having this creative relationship with him has been an incredible opportunity for me. Working with someone you know and who knows you changes absolutely everything. We can create a story together more quickly.”

Knightley was also drawn to the project because of her admiration for legendary designer Coco Chanel. “She was a free woman in the strongest sense of the word,” she says. “She created clothing everyone could wear. Her creations precisely express her free spirit.”

Ironically for someone who’s already been in the business for two decades, Knightley is only now making peace with her career choice.

“For a long time, I had trouble saying I was an actress,” she admits, “but today I can. I’m still just as stressed out when I start a film shoot, and I’m not happy with everything that I do—far from it. But with time and each new film, I continue to learn, unlearn and learn again, and therefore build who I am.”

Styling by Tamara Taichman