Keira Knightley reveals stress over early career criticism caused breakdown and PTSD

Ben Arnold
Contributor
Keira Knightley (Credit: Getty)

Keira Knightley has said that she took the criticism of her early career success badly, and was ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following a breakdown at the age of 22.

Knightley starred in a string of hits from the age of 17, from Bend It Like Beckham, Pride and Prejudice, and Love Actually, to the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

“That run of films was completely insane,” she told The Hollywood Reporter’s podcast.

“It’s amazing looking back at it from the outside — you’re like, ‘Whoa, that was hit after hit after hit!’

“But, from the inside, all you’re hearing is the criticism, really. And, also, I was aware that I didn’t know what I was doing, you know? I didn’t know my trade, I didn’t know my craft. I knew that there was something that worked sometimes, but I didn’t know how to capture that.

“I literally felt like I was worthless.”

She also spoke about the ‘violence’ of the paparazzi which she found were soon hounding her.

“It was big money to get pictures of women falling apart,” she went on.

“If you [female stars] weren’t breaking down in front of them, then it was worth their while to make you break down in front of them. So suddenly there was a level of violence, it felt, in the air, that is not a thing that anybody would react to well.

Keira Knightley in a scene from Colette (Credit: Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street via AP)

“Being followed around by 20 guys who are actually deeply misogynistic, it was a really rude awakening to the world of misogyny. It was literally men shouting at me, calling me a whore.”

It was after her BAFTA-nominated turn in Atonement in 2007, and then The Duchess in 2008 that she felt she ‘was sinking’, and then took a year off work.

“I did have a mental breakdown at 22, so I did take a year off there and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of all of that stuff,” she continued.

“I hadn’t been out of the house for three months when the BAFTA nomination happened, and I remember having conversations with my agent and going, ‘I can’t get there,’ and everyone going, ‘If you don’t get to the BAFTAs, the heat on you is going to be ten times more.’

“So I actually did hypnotherapy so that I could stand on the red carpet at the BAFTAs and not have a panic attack.

Pirates of the Caribbean (Credit: Disney)

“It was amazing when I finally went deep into therapy and [the therapist] said ‘I normally come in hear and have people who think people are talking about them and they are being followed, but actually they are not. You’re the first person that actually that is happening to’.

“She said a wonderful thing, and that’s that the world around you is going crazy but actually you’re dealing with it quite well. I took a year off at that point and very much stepped back from big budget films.”

But the 33-year-old actress, who is getting awards buzz for her latest role in director Wash Westmoreland’s movie Colette, says that she ‘can really enjoy things now’.

“I think the main thing that I’m very proud of myself for,” she says, “is I learned my trade. I did it very publicly, but I have learned my trade, and technically, whatever you need me to do, I can deliver it.

“I want to get better and I’m not saying that there’s not a ways to go — I want to keep learning and keep pushing myself — but I’m in a good place where I feel pretty confident about what I can do.”

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