• "swordfights, axe fights, garrottes, bows and arrows... I really like all that stuff"
Outside, it's a blazing hot summer day in 2000 and Total Film is hanging around on the set of a small British thriller called The Hole. We're here to interview the star, Thora Birch, but the American actress is busy filming.
So instead of settling for a cool spot on the soundstage sweat box, we decide to take our minds off the heat by chatting to the rest of the cast. Hey, it'll kill time...
First in is a bright-eyed girl with grubby yellow hair and a beaten-up white leather jacket: she's playing Frankie, the film's bitchy teenager. "I'm 15 and a half," she laughs, introducing herself. "I always put the 'half' bit in... Very Adrian Mole!"
Her name is Keira Knightley and she's only done one film before - she was Natalie Portman's decoy in The Phantom Menace - so this is her first proper lead role. For most of the film, there are only four actors on screen. She gets to be sexy, nasty and to snuff it. "I get to die tonight! It's my first death sequence so I'm really looking forward to it," she grins.
You can't help liking her. You also can't help wondering how her parents - Dad an actor, Mum a playright - feel about it all. "They didn't want me to do it but they're kind of coming round to it now," she shrugs. They must have known it was coming, though: a precocious talent, Knightley asked her parents for an agent when she was three years old.
So, presumably, acting's going to be her career? "I'm at school in Teddington, and I'm doing my GCSEs when I get back," she says, suddenly serious. "I want to go to university. That's the big plan..."
Skip forward four years and it's safe to say things haven't quite gone to Knightley's "big plan". Bend It Like Beckham came from nowhere, making her famous in the UK and - crucially - in the USA, where it was a surprise sleeper hit. Then Pirates of the Caribbean and Love Actually rubber-stamped her burgeoning star-to-be status. Right now, she's roughly where Kate Winslet was after Titanic, but with one crucial difference. Reflecting her slightly tomboyish aura, Knightley hasn't had to wade through an ocean of corsets and period mumbo-jumbo to get there. In fact, her period movies are more likely to see her battling animated skeletons or cutting Dark Age warriors down to size than taking tea at the vicarage. Oh, and she's also extraordinarily happy to see Total Film.
"My God!" she shrieks gleefully, recognising us immediately. "You were the first interview I ever did! Ever!"
Catching up after four years, the odd thing isn't how different she seems, but just how little Knightley has changed. In fact, dressed down in an approximation of student chic (black T-shirt, worn denims) and still sporting the dyed black hair for her role as Guinevere in King Arthur, the girl sitting opposite us in London's Dorchester Hotel seems remarkably untouched by having suddenly become a star. Maybe she's a little bit more polished, maybe she talks about LA more, maybe there a few more actor-y buzz phrases scattered through her speech, but the differences are minor. She's still friendly, enthusiastic and clearly having the time of her life.
The jump from Teddington schoolgirl to international star is a big one and you can't help feeling that Knightley hasn't quite got her head round it yet. In fact, she's still moping over dropping both her A-levels and university ambitions. "I feel very stupid for not having gone, especially as I was such a snob about it."
Ask her if she thinks of herself as famous and her first instinct is still to say "No" (self-deprecation is a very Knightley trait). Press her on it, though, and she will admit that people do, well, recognise her in the street now...
"It's very strange," she says. "There are people you don't know who know your name." She drops into a little-girl voice for a second: "How do they know my name? Alright, it's pretty fucking obvious why they know my name, but it's odd. It's going from being completely invisible to not being anymore. It's weird."
Unsurprisingly, she's not too keen on the growing tabloid attention, either. "The majority of things that people write about me aren't true," she says, doing that sudden snap-into-seriousness thing - just as she did four years ago. "Some papers went for the story that I've had my lips done, which is completely untrue, even actually saying that I'd admitted it. Completely made up. But hell, it doesn't matter if you say I've had my lips done or whatever, but is that the principal for all of it? What about the stuff that does matter? Is that the same? It does kind of make you go, 'The world's not quite what I thought. Where does it start?'"
Does she have any doubts that her level of movie success will last, though? After all, it all came pretty quickly...
"Oh, there's a huge doubt in my mind," she says. "I'm sure it's not going to last. Look at the statistics, if there are any statistics about this kind of thing. It can't, it won't. It's not that kind of industry. When I spoke to you back on The Hole, it hadn't even entered my head that I wouldn't go to university. I still find it odd that I'm working as much as I am."
It's easy to ignore all this stuff about the flimsiness of an acting career and assume that Knightley has it made, but this doesn't sound like the 'Oh, my poor, poor life!' griping of many successful actors. She really is taking very little for granted (it helps that, growing up, she saw actor dad Will Knightley slum it as a mini-cab driver between jobs). Describe her to her face as being borderline A-list and she starts bartering you down: "High B? B-minus? Middle-B, perhaps?" And she's only half joking.
She's adamant that roles don't just drop into her lap. Despite having made Pirates of the Caribbean for the same producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, she doesn't miss the chance to point out that she still had to audition for her role as Guinevere in King Arthur, worrying every step of the way that she wasn't going to land the part. It's easy to see why she was cast, though. Behind those classical looks is an action-movie-obsessed tomboy fighting to get out.
"I really like all that stuff," she grins. "I was complaining a lot about not having swordfights in Pirates and now I've got swordfights... And axe fights. And garrottes. And bows and arrows and all the rest of it."
Still, Total Film can't help remembering that on The Hole she sported a comedy burn on her face, received after accidentally jogging another actor's arm while he was smoking a cigarette. Is Knightley, in short, a bit clumsy?
"Um, I'm not particularly well co-ordinated," she shrugs. "I can pretty much put things together with a lot of perseverance, but I'm not great. For Arthur, I did three months of training beforehand. I was doing general weightlifting to build up my upper body, a lot of archery and a lot of swordfighting, axe fighting, knife fighting, boxing and also horse riding, which I never got to do in the film."
She trained with the male cast, too, which brought out her competitive side. "I could've had the lot of 'em," she laughs. "On a film set, the sociable bit is normally round the coffee, tea and cakes, but on King Arthur, the social scene was in the training bus with all the weights. I was getting really strong, so I'd enter the press-up competitions the lads had. I completely lost ever time, but I kept trying. But as far as all the fights go, I'd have had the lot of them..."
What, even Ray Winstone? "The lot of 'em!"
Knightley's not trotting out some luvvie party line about the heady craft of shaping a character, either.
"I love films," she insists. "That's what I do - I go to the cinema and watch films, always have done. I dunno... I'm just interested in the way it works. I love watching the end product. I love being able to sit on a set and see how it's all put together.
"The thing about being high B-list or mid-B or whatever," she continues, "is that you get some choice as to what film set you get to work on. That's the really great bit."
So going to premières in $800,000-worth of jewels isn't just a teeny little bit enjoyable then?
"Hey, I give it back at the end of the night!" she splutters. "If it's a film that you really believe in, they're fun. You see people. You get to dress up for a night. You give everything back the next morning. You can be Cinderella for a minute or two. But just like a film, it's not a real world. It's just pretend.
"Part of me finds those social engagements absolutely terrifying, though. I've never been terribly good at those things. Even here, we're just sitting in a room talking and I'm still slightly worried that there's a tape recorder going. I've never been a big person for going to clubs or going to parties, so premières? I'd sooner sit in a pub with mates having a chat and a drink.
"Which is one of the annoying things about America - I'm too young to drink out there! Which is why when everybody asks, 'You moving to America?' I go, 'No!' Why? I'll drink a lot of wheatgrass when I'm out there. I think that's the big LA thing, isn't it? I don't drink that much anyway, but every time I go out to America, because I can't drink there, I want to."
After King Arthur, Knightley's got one more movie in the can, Glasgow-set fantasy The Jacket with Adrien Brody ("I'm an alcoholic American waitress in 2007," she enthuses. "It's my very first job with an accent!"). It's also a role she had to fight for. Although the producers wanted her name on the billboards, the director John Maybury didn't. He didn't think Knightley had the acting chops for the part and it took an intense audition for her to convince him otherwise. Still, there are other projects. Tulip Fever, opposite Jude Law may have been bumped back to  due to financial problems ("See? I told you things were unstable even at mid-B!") but she's just signed up to pay her corset dues in Pride And Prejudice, which will see her working through the summer ("This is proper period stuff. Which will be fab..."). And, of course, the sequels to Pirates Of The Caribbean must be set in stone, right?
"As far as I know there are definitely talks about them. I should think that if they happen, all of us will definitely be up for it, because we did have a great time on the first one. But as far as when, where and scripts and all the rest of it, I don't know yet."
Whatever the future holds for Knightley, she's not counting her chickens before they've hatched. She knows that acting is a potentially bleak profession and if the roles dry up, her fallback plan involves - get this - "doing a bit of waitressing or working in a bookshop". So when we ask her where she'll be if we catch up with her again in another four years, she hedges like crazy.
"Back when we met on The Hole, I talked to you about plans to make a French film called Monsieur N. It fell through when I was doing it and when it came back round I was doing something else [the film finally come out in 2004 - without Knightley in it]. But that's just the way it goes. You're never secure. So, as far as what's going on in another four years' time, I haven't a clue."
C'mon though. What would you like to happen?
"I'm not even going to go that far! Honestly, I'm perfectly happy to know that I've nearly got another job and that's as far as you can go. It's as much as you can ask for."
Meet up in another four years and we'll see... back to the top
• actresses sunbathe while the others take lessons
Kid Rock, real name Robert Ritchie, and Slater had to take lessons before they were allowed to dive in Honduras on the celebrity eco-travel show, while the actresses sunbathed.
Diaz was certified when she was 19, while water-loving Alba has been diving since she was 13.
On their diving expedition, the celebrities surveyed a decaying, endangered coral reef and swam underwater with dolphins.
Also on the trip to Honduras, the stars enjoyed a little local hospitality at a beach barbecue and went hunting for the rare pink boa, which exists nowhere else on Earth. back to the top
• "i've done a few kisses in my day"
Jessica Alba says she was stunned when she had to kiss Bruce Willis for a scene in their hit movie Sin City - because he nervously tried to back out of doing it.
Alba, who plays stripper Nancy Callahan in the movie, was ready to get intimate with the Die Hard hardman when he suddenly asked director Robert Rodriguez if they could approach the scene differently.
She says, "It was easy for me. I've done a few kisses in my day... We had this big romantic kiss and it was supposed to be like this big epic beautiful kiss... like you're anticipating this thing.
"We finally get to that scene and Bruce is sitting down and I'm going in for the kiss and he goes, 'Maybe I get up and walk away and she runs after me.' He says it to Robert when we were shooting it and Robert was like, 'What?'
"He goes nervous - Bruce Willis! It was really cute, 'cause it's like this man, Die Hard and Moonlighting."
Willis was eventually forced to face his fears and pucker up for the kiss.
Alba adds, "It's a very romantic, passionate beautiful kiss." back to the top
• "she didn't snore"
Dark Angel star Jessica Alba got to know Cameron Diaz very well during a recent trip to Honduras - because they shared a bed.
Jessica was one of a handful of celebrities who joined Diaz on the trip as part of the Charlie's Angels star's new MTV show Trippin'.
And while she'd never met Diaz before, they quickly became bed buddies.
Alba says, "We shared a room and best most of the time, 'cause it's scary. I didn't know her [before the trip]. We were strangers. There weren't enough rooms. Everyone sort of had to bunk together. The boys all stayed in one room. She didn't snore." back to the top
• "i april fooled my mother"
Jessica Alba claims she took her time coming into the world - she was born a full month late.
The Sin City star turns 24 on Thursday (28 April) but claims she was supposed to be born on 1 April 1981, but arrived much later.
She says, "I April fooled my mother. I was supposed to be born on April Fool's Day and I ended up being 28 days late. She carried me for a month too long."
And the actress has found there were great advantages to her late appearance.
She explains, "I came out with a full head of hair. I looked great. You know how newborns have wrinkles? I didn't look like a pug. I looked like a baby!" back to the top
• "i hoped to god i wouldn't get bitten"
Jessica Alba relied on her faith to get through the shooting of new shark thriller Into The Blue because she was sure she was set to become fish food.
The star spent days swimming in shark-infested waters for the film and was spooked when she saw the project's fish wranglers gashes and bites after their encounters with the monsters of the deep.
She says, "These shark wranglers, they have a piece of their side taken out ... chunks of their legs."
"I said my Hail Marys every day hoping to God I wouldn't get bitten." back to the top
• "it's the magic of film"
If you hope for true romance, keeping an imaginary love interest might not be the best move.
The lesson is a hard one for the heroine of Everything You Want, a gentle, charming romantic comedy premiering tonight on ABC Family. Played by Roswell's Shiri Appleby (right), Abby struggles to resist Quinn (Nick Zano), the cousin of her roommate, Jessica (Alexandra Holden). To keep him at bay, she makes frequent mention of "Sy" (Orlando Seale, Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story), who has long existed only in her mind as the image of the ideal boyfriend.
As art student Abby reluctantly tutors fellow pupil Quinn, she gradually falls for him, but she's hesitant to give up Sy, who Quinn believes is real. Ultimately, Abby has to make a choice between the suitor residing in her imagination and the one facing her. Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) and Edie McClurg co-star.
Adapted from Natalie Prado's play Sy's Girl, Everything You Want was made as an independent feature, then ABC Family acquired it. "After I decided to do it, I was shown the play," Appleby says. "When we were working with the script, [the filmmakers] were pretty open to ideas and weren't sticklers about staying with the exact content of the play. It was more about the overall concept."
Appleby enjoyed playing out Abby's internal flights of fancy, but she also is glad the tale stays largely reality-based. "The Sy stuff is interjected only intermittently, so that you don't feel you're stuck in her imagination all the time," she says. "In those moments where things get tough for her, they allowed her to go into that other world. Orlando Seale and I really wanted to make that relationship real, so that it seemed she was actually involved with someone, instead of just escaping into nothing."
Part of Appleby's role called for having a paintbrush in her hand and a canvas in front of her. "I paint a little bit," she says, "but nothing that I would ever show anybody. There are some things in the back of my closet ... but as far as people looking at them, it's like, 'Don't even.'" As for the presumed authenticity of her on-screen painting, Appleby says, "It's the magic of film."
In the aftermath of her three-season run as alien-befriending Liz Parker on Roswell, Appleby regularly gets science-fiction and fantasy offers. She occasionally accepts one, as with last year's Sci-Fi Channel movie Darklight, but she's intent on keeping her career varied. "It's definitely about finding strong female characters," she says. "That's the point for me, regardless of the genre. Being offered a role like the one in this movie, which has comedic elements and romance, just helps me find a balance."
Still, Appleby appreciates the fans she retains from Roswell. "They're still on the Internet and still very supportive. To be a young actress still trying to make her way in this business, and to know there's a group of people out there that will support and watch you in whatever you do, it's so comforting."
Another project that gained Appleby attention was Swimfan, the 2002 movie thriller dubbed a teen Fatal Attraction by many critics. "It's on cable all the time," she says, "which is both wonderful and quite surprising. We had a great time making it, but that it's always on TV somewhere is just crazy."
One Swimfan scene remains memorable for Appleby, since she was handcuffed to a chair and tossed into the deep end of a swimming pool. "They taught me how to scuba dive for the movie," she says, "and when we came in to shoot that day, my stunt double had never gone that far underwater without a mask on. She got really panicky and couldn't do it, and everyone sat around going, 'What are we gonna do?' I finally said, 'I'll do it,' and it was really fun. It definitely was not a normal day of work."
Appleby has another ABC Family movie slated to air in July: Pizza My Heart, which she terms "a 'Romeo and Juliet' story set in the world of pizza." And she'll soon learn if ABC picks up her pilot for another series. She's in the ensemble cast of 1/4 Life, a post-college drama from Once and Again and My So-Called Life producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz.
"We're just sort of keeping our fingers crossed on that," Appleby says, "and looking for other interesting things to do. I want to work with people who are inspiring, and just look for good stories." back to the top
• "it's a gift "
Jessica Alba has sparked speculation that she's planning to take a trip down the aisle after she was photographed wearing a ring on her wedding finger.
The former Dark Angel star, 23, and her boyfriend Cash Warren, 25, have been dating since January after meeting on the set of her forthcoming movie The Fantastic Four.
And while she was doing reshoots for the movie in Vancouver, Alba was spotted with Warren on 8 April, wearing what appeared to be an engagement ring.
But the actress' representative insists there's a simple explanation amid all of the fuss, stating, "She is not engaged. She's had the ring for a while, usually wears it on her right hand, but it was swollen (from flying), and she switched it."
Alba says the ring is "a gift", but refuses to reveal who handed it to her. back to the top
• "i don't want to play the same character"
Keira Knightley is hoping to perfect her American accent so she can get more roles.
She said: "If you can do an American accent as a British actor then the likelihood is that more work will be open to you."
"As an actor what you want to do is change. I don't want to play the same character for my entire career, that would be supremely boring. As a British actor in Hollywood you get typecast very easily, if you're lucky."
"If you can possibly avoid being the plucky British broad for your entire life, then I do want to do everything I can to fight against that and play as many different characters as possible."
Keria is currently filming the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel and her new film The Jacket opens next month. back to the top
• comedy pilot role for ex-"charmed" star
According to the Hollywood Reporter, former Charmed star Shannen Doherty is in final negotiations to assume the title role of a matchmaker in UPN's comedy pilot Wingwoman.
Still in development, the show centres on a single woman (Doherty) who helps her male clients find their soulmates.
Reagan Gomez-Preston (Love Don't Cost a Thing) would co-star as Doherty's longtime friend, co-worker and roommate. back to the top
• "keira looked sensational"
Keira Knightley might have asked for a body double for her lap dancing scenes in Domino, but it appears that she has absolutely nothing to worry about.
At the time Keira was quoted as saying, "you're not going to see my arse! The top half is fine, but the bottom half isn't."
However, judging by the photos of her and boyfriend Jamie Doran on holiday in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the bottom half looks just as fine as the top half does.
According to the Daily Mirror, Keira drew "admiring glances" as she strolled along the sands between takes for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.
The ubiquitous "onlooker" said that "Keira looked sensational.
"For someone with an aversion to exercise she was very well toned.
"She is obviously totally in love with Jamie. They were incredibly tactile and didn't mind the world the world seeing how happy they are."
Meanwhile, Keira's mother has revealed that her daughter avoids the trappings of A-list life.
Sharman MacDonald insisted Keira liked nothing better than staying at home with a good book. "Reading is like a drug for us," she said. back to the top
• star to direct 11 may episode
Alias star Jennifer Garner is to step behind the camera for the 11 May episode, In Dreams, which features guest star Joel Grey and deals with the Rambaldi mythology.
Grey plays a mysterious man impersonating Arvin Sloane, hot on the trail of a Rambaldi secret, according to Zap2it. Amy Irving, who hasn't appeared on the show since 2003, will also appear as Emily Sloane. back to the top
• "buffy" star returns to upn series
Alyson Hannigan makes a return visit to UPN's Veronica Mars in the episode to be screened on Tuesday 19 April. Here's the network's blurb for the episode:
Veronica's search for a classmate's beloved terrier leads to clues in an even bigger mystery affecting pets all over Neptune, on Veronica Mars, Tuesday, April 19 on UPN
Alyson Hannigan (UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) guest stars as Trina Echolls and Harry Hamlin (L.A. Law) guest stars as Aaron Echolls.
Three original episodes until the May 10 season finale, which will reveal who killed Lilly Kane
Hot Dogs - While helping her classmate Mandy search for her missing Jack Russell terrier, Veronica stumbles onto a bigger mystery which affects pets all over Neptune, Calif., on Veronica Mars, Tuesday, April 19 (9-10pm ET/PT) on UPN. Nick Marck directed the episode from a script by Dayna Lynne North.
Meanwhile, tensions mount in the Echolls family as Trina (guest star Alyson Hannigan) tries to convince the now-retired Aaron (guest star Harry Hamlin) to take a part in her new boyfriend's independent movie. Later, Weevil is arrested for breaking into the Kane residence and taking something from Lilly's room.
• "we know what our assets are"
Sin City stars Brittany Murphy (right) and Rosario Dawson have defended the film's depiction of women, who are shown variously as innocents, victims, hookers and sadistic killers in an assortment of revealing costumes. "I think that's been the question: ... Are women going to want to see this, specifically, for this reason?" Dawson asked reporters. "I think, absolutely."
Dawson plays Gail, the leader of a pack of hookers who use violence to protect their turf in Old Town, the red-light district of a corrupt mythical city, which is based on Frank Miller's noirish graphic novel series. "We're very in control of what we are," Dawson said. "We know what our assets are. We make money off of it, and we call the shots, which I think is very powerful. I think it's a very even-keel sort of strength between the men and the women. You know, the guys get their balls ripped off, and the girls threaten to do it and will. I think it's a pretty tough town on both sides."
Murphy, who plays saloon waitress Shellie, agreed. "If you look at the undertones of Frank Miller's writing, there's a balance to everything. If you're a true fan of his work and his graphic novels, ... there's actually a great balance to his work, and there's also subtle moments."
Robert Rodriguez, who co-directed the film with Miller, added: "It's not the real world. In Sin City, the men are all criminals, the women are very strong in their own way. It's supposed to be the dark side of life there.
Meanwhile, Devon Aoki told Sci Fire Wire that Rodriguez and Miller made it easier to perform against green screens, which were later replaced with computer-generated cityscapes. "The environment that Robert and Frank created out there was easy," Aoki said in an interview. "It was sort of seamless and really enjoyable. You're working with actors who are brilliant, and who are talented, so you start to sort of believe the scene material and stuff."
Aoki plays a silent assassin named Miho, who protects a community of prostitutes. Rodriguez and Miller shot the actors mostly against green screens and later filled in the backgrounds, props and vehicles with black-and-white, noirish computer-generated imagery.
Aoki said that she occasionally found it difficult to react to the minimal sets. "All of my scenes were shot with green screens," she said. "You show up, and you sort of basically go into the same set every day, the same stage. You're surrounded by this bright green colour, and it could be sort of difficult to imagine the things that will be surrounding you once the movie's up on the screen."
But Aoki said that she enjoyed working with co-star Benicio Del Toro, who plays the villainous cop Jackie Boy, a victim of Miho's vengeance. "I basically kill, like, half of the people in the film," Aoki added. "It was scary fun. I'd be doing these [fight] scenes with Benicio, and he's like, 'Does she have to do this with me sitting here?' It was great." back to the top