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Character is a must for 'Atonement' star Keira Knightley

Stephen Becker
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Atonement

Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Brenda Blethyn, Vanessa Redgrave, Juno Temple, Patrick Kennedy, Benedict Cumberbatch
Distributor: Universal
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Focus Features
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-09-07 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-12-07 (Limited release)
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Keira Knightley has crooked teeth.

You may not have noticed, as they are frequently hidden behind that trademark pout of hers. But she has noticed, and she likes them just the way they are, thank you very much.

"Straight teeth are (expletive)," she says during an interview at this year's Toronto Film Festival to promote her new film, "Atonement." "My dentist asked me once if I wanted braces and I said (expletive) no! You've got to have teeth with character."

It's a telling observation coming from the one of the world's most recognizable and photographed faces. (If you need proof, she's now the face of Coco Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle perfume.) And her message is clear: Compliments are nice, but she's more than just her looks.

"It's better than them going, `God, isn't she ugly!'" says Knightley, 22. "I mean, don't get me wrong, but it's not really what it's about. I'm passionate about my job, I absolutely love making films and that's what's interesting and that's what's important."

She made good on those feelings with her role in the 2005 adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," for which she was nominated for an Oscar. Though she lost to Reese Witherspoon in the lead actress field, the nomination itself was enough to silence doubters.

"If people thought before that she was just a pretty face, I think that `Pride,' and the reaction to `Pride,' vindicated her self-belief that that wasn't the case," says "Pride and Prejudice" director Joe Wright during a recent telephone conversation.

And count Wright among the believers, as he is also the director of "Atonement." The adaptation of Ian McEwan's best-selling novel is set at the dawn of World War II and follows the well-to-do Cecilia (Knightley) and the working class Robbie (James McAvoy), two young lovers who are torn apart when Cecilia's sister falsely implicates Robbie in a crime.

The first third of the film unfolds on Cecilia's family's English estate and has the lushness of a Merchant Ivory film. And, as it is set in 1935, Wright says that Knightley's aura matched the film's atmosphere.

"I love the iconic feel of her. I grew up loving those 1930s and 40s films and film stars, and I feel like she's almost our modern equivalent," he says.

In addition to starring in "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice," Knightley is building quite a career on making period pieces, most notably this year's "Silk," 2004's "King Arthur" and the three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. And if that wasn't enough, her next two films are "The Edge of Love," about a love triangle involving early 20th-century poet Dylan Thomas, and "The Duchess," the story of an 18th-century aristocrat.

"I like fantasy. And I think the wonderful thing about doing a period film is it's a bit removed from the reality that we all live in," she says.

"I love it because in a funny way I find when I'm doing a modern-day piece I'm more confined by the fact that we know what today's society is. We know how we behave and how we wouldn't behave. With period pieces, I think there's more room for imagination - because, yes, you think you know what 1780 was like, but you can always play around a bit."

But don't expect her stuck in the past forever, she says.

"I think the whole point of the job is to keep changing the way that you are perceived, so that means changing your periods, changing genres of film and all the rest of it. So hopefully I can do that a bit."

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