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The Hot Seat: Keira Knightley

Sometimes, the way into a girl's heart is less poetry and more burrito.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

During her brief but versatile career, British actor Keira Knightley has inspired us in "sport" films (Bend It Like Beckham), made us think in highbrow literary adaptations (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) and, of course, shivered our timbers with the sexy cut of her jib in buccaneer flicks (Pirates of the Caribbean). Now, the intrepid soon-to-be-24-year-old appears (and, for the first time since she was a schoolgirl, sings) in The Edge of Love, about the many infatuations of Dylan Thomas. She plays Vera Phillips, Thomas's Welsh muse. We wondered, Is there anything Keira Knightley can't do? (The answer is drink beer.)

RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews

Happy early birthday.
Thank you. I was kind of trying to ignore it.

You're not old enough to try and ignore it yet.
No, I am. I'll ignore it now, and when I'm properly old enough to ignore it I'll have been ignoring it for so long that I won't even notice.

Is it true that you were shy about singing in the new film?
I was frightened of it, yes [Laughs]. I had to go into this very posh studio in London and record it, which was fucking frightening. Just before I was going onto the set, John [Maybury] the director came down and said, "I actually want you to do it live." I nearly died, really. There were about a hundred extras, and about 50 crew. I sounded a bit like a pubescent boy, I think, on the first one. And I could just see all of these faces going, Oh God, this is really embarrassing. And then I had a shot of vodka, and it was all right after that.

More difficult: singing, swashbuckling or making yourself understood in a Welsh accent?
Probably singing. Singing in Welsh, actually, was quite interesting. I don't speak any, but Matthew Rhys, who plays Dylan in the film, his first language is Welsh. Matthew taught me that one, and it's a very beautiful song.

Ever been to Thomas's beloved White Horse Tavern when visiting New York?
Where he downed all of his whiskeys? Isn't there a bit of a question about whether or not he actually did that? No, I didn't. I should have done. Where is it?

Not far form TONY's office, actually. And let me assure you that people are still getting hammered in there, much as they did in Thomas's day.
Oh good. I'm glad. Be a big shame if they weren't.

What's your pint of choice?
I really, really hate beer. I tried to like it for ages and ages, and now I'm just admitting that I really don't like it. It tastes like piss water and it makes you belch. I have a lot of friends that like ale, but ale is pretty fucking grim. Occasionally if I'm in Dublin, I will have a Guinness, and I quite like one of them sometimes. The idea of having Mexican food and a cold beer sounds great, but I never enjoy the cold beer.

What does one do for fun in Wales anyhow?
Wales? Well, you know, it's very beautiful. Sort of lots of windswept cliff walks. We were staying in a place that had a bluebell wood, which was very beautiful.

I guess I pictured a lot of folk dancing and cow tipping.
No, we didn't do any cow tipping or folk dancing.

Are you going to sit there and tell me that you've never been cow tipping?
I heaven't, actually. They always looked rather large. I got chased by a herd of cows once, but I never managed to tip one over. They're frightening when they chase you. I think that was for The Duchess, and I went for a walk from where we were staying in Derbyshire, and I turned around and had an entire herd of cows running at me down a hill. I've never run so fast in my life. I actually managed to vault this incredibly high stone wall. Death by cow would be a really bad way to go. They weren't even bulls. They were, like, dairy cows.

Tell me someone got this on film.
Thank fuck no, they didn't. No, it was just me.

The Edge of Love opens Fri 20.

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