Keira Knightley stands out as sole female in her movies
"There are very, very few female lead roles available, so I'm used to being one of the only women on set," she said while promoting The Imitation Game in London's Corinthia Hotel.
Among her colleagues Benedict Cumberbatch, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard, the leggy English actress stands out like, well, her character Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy.
Or in any of her previous male-dominated movies like King Arthur, Domino or Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, for that matter.
At 29, Knightley carries herself with a dignity and wisdom beyond her years.
As she glided into the room, graceful in a pale pink Chanel tweed dress and tan Mulberry pumps, she looked the embodiment of a woman in the prime of her life.
In The Imitation Game, which opens here tomorrow, Knightley plays mathematician Joan Clarke, the lone female code-breaker at World War II facility Bletchley Park.
Briefly engaged to fellow cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), Clarke was instrumental in breaking the German Enigma code and the pair remained close until Turing's death in 1954.
The historical thriller follows Turing, an English mathematician and logician, as he went through the process of breaking the code, which helped the Allies win the war.
Clarke and Turing's friendship mirrors the relationship between Cumberbatch and Knightley, who have been buddies since starring in Atonement (2007).
"People ask me if Ben has changed in the last seven years... I don't think he has. He has always been great, and he's still great!"
The Imitation Game may be another period film under Knightley's belt - think Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina, The Duchess, A Dangerous Method and Atonement - but this role could be her most understated yet.
"Joan Clarke was quiet, and had that British upper class femininity... she was so nice, and people just liked being with her," Knightley said.
"That was how she got into the room, as opposed to her bashing her way in, forcing the door open."
While Knightley has earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as Clarke, she insists her understanding of cryptology and computers is dismal at best.
"I can't make myself interested in computers at all," she said. "I try getting friends to explain them, then zone out within five seconds. I can send e-mails and stuff, but beyond, that, nothing.
"Thank God I'm an actor, and not a mathematician!"
As a child, Knightley struggled with dyslexia, but worked hard as her parents promised to let her attend acting auditions if her grades were good.
She admitted it was difficult to keep up with her research for The Imitation Game, as Clarke held a double first degree in mathematics from Cambridge.
Knightley said she spent three weeks studying advanced mathematical concepts to get into her role, to no avail.
Still, she was intrigued by Clarke, and found the real woman - who died in 1996 at the age of 79 - "totally fascinating".
"I love that she fought for what feminists are still fighting for today - a place at the table, and equal pay for equal work," she said.
These days, Knightley is battling a different kind of sexism - the portrayal of women's bodies in the media.
The British beauty famously had her A-cup chest digitally enhanced in the promotional poster for King Arthur in 2004, much to her public dismay.
In defiance of publishing norms, Knightley posed topless for Interview magazine last August, on the condition that they did no retouching for her images.
Proud of her boyish figure, she wanted to show women it was okay to be flat-chested, as beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
"I've had my body manipulated so many different times, for so many different reasons," she explained in an interview with The Times newspaper later.
It seems the popular actress is going to have her body in the limelight this year, just in a different way.
Last month, she announced that she is expecting her first child with husband James Righton of English indie rock group Klaxons.
The couple wed in France two years ago.
"No, I don't think marriage has changed me," she mused in response to a question about life after tying the knot.
"You don't really become a different person, like: 'Yes! I was a blonde, and now I'm a brunette!' I just feel very lucky... he's a very nice man."
Despite being the face of Chanel and gracing multiple premieres and magazine covers, Knightley said she would prefer to blend into the background if possible.
"I like to have a 'normal life', whatever that means.
"In fact, I was on the Tube yesterday, and no one noticed me! I could just disappear..." the actress said, grinning mischievously.
Making the leap
DAPPER: British actor Allen Leech in The Imitation Game. - PHOTOS: AFP, SHAW ORGANISATION
The latest Downton Abbey cast member making it to big screen is Irish actor Allen Leech.
He plays World War II code-breaker John Cairncross, who works with a team of fellow Brit brainiacs in The Imitation Game.
The 33-year-old chats with M about finding fame in the hit period TV series, and his co-stars in The Imitation Game.
How did you approach your character in the movie?
Cairncross was someone who had a very different idea about how to win the war. But he became (Alan) Turing's confidant, and a great friend to him. I also read his autobiography, and that gave me a good foundation.
How was it like working with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley?
Benedict is a phenomenal actor and a wonderful guy. I think people are so crazy about Benedict due to his fantastic performances. He's basically like the new Beatle now, with the attention he gets (laughs). And Keira was like one of the boys. It wasn't till we finished filming that we realised she was a girl!
So there was no diva behaviour from them then?
Nah... the biggest diva was actually Beardy (English actor Matthew Beard, who plays youngest code-breaker Peter Hilton)! He was also our resident geek, as he was the only one among the cast who was good at maths. The rest of us were pretty bad.
Why do you think the film was more popular in the US than the UK?
Americans tend to be very enthusiastic about stuff, whereas Brits are more reserved. We're not really into celebrating ourselves. I've noticed that with Downton Abbey, in the US, they'll cross the road to tell you they love your show. In Britain, they'll cross the road to tell you they don't watch it!
What's next for you?
The cast and I are opening a bar called Beardy's... no, I'm kidding. Right now, I'm doing some promotion for Downton Abbey, which has been commissioned for a sixth season.
Tom Branson has gone through some hard times...
Oh yes. Well, the character (Tudor courtier Francis Dereham) I play on (the 2010 TV series) The Tudors doesn't get treated too nicely either. Oh well, that's what happens when you sleep with the Queen!
- Lisa Twang
By the numbers
8 Number of Oscar nominations The Imitation Game received, including Best Picture, Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley)
29 Number of films Knightley has appeared in
41 Alan Turing's age when he committed suicide
58 Days of principal photography
2006 The year Knightley and Cumberbatch first met on the set of Atonement
3,000 Number of codes Germany's Enigma machine generated a day
$9.3m Amount The Weinstein Company paid for The Imitation Game, the highest amount ever paid for US distribution rights in the European film market
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