NEW YORK – Keira Knightley (search) is staring at a photo of Keira Knightley's breast.
Yep, there it is — the starlet's exposed right breast — smack in the middle of a pictorial for the October issue of Esquire. And it's very definitely not covered by her unbuttoned black blazer.
Thing is, Knightley never OK'd the cheeky photo. She never even knew it happened. It was an accidental slip. And now she's getting her first good look at the sneaky-peeky snapshot.
"I'm not a purist," says the 20-year-old British beauty. "I'm OK with nudity or sex in a film, as long as it's done well."
She eyes the magazine distrustfully, and finally tosses it onto a coffee table. As it lands, the front pages flip back over, neatly closing the magazine and the controversy.
"Well, I've got my t—s out in my films quite a lot anyway," she quips, "so they may as well be in a magazine, too."
This isn't how Knightley planned it, this whole Hollywood hottie thing. The daughter of a London stage-actor dad and playwright mum, her ambitions have always been "Macbeth," "The Lion in Winter" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Jane Austen (search) is where her mind's at, even if her bod is lying there on the coffee table. But if all this exposure helps her career, so it goes.
"Look, I'm not stupid in knowing that the more popular I am perceived to be," she says, "the more I can get parts that I want."
Knightley is relaxing in her room at the W Hotel in Los Angeles after enduring a day of publicity for her new bad-girl bounty-hunter flick "Domino (search)," which opens this weekend.
Soon enough will come the promotional push for next month's "Pride & Prejudice," which is already generating Oscar buzz for the young actress, who plays Austen's feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet.
It's a two-for-one breakthrough for Knightley, who puts both ends of her acting range on display —badass and bodices. Plus, she's busy shooting two sequels to the 2003 film that put her on the map, "The Pirates of the Caribbean."
So, with a few precious minutes of down time, if it's all the same, Knightley would just as soon talk a little college football.
"I've been watching since last year, and I'm really into Notre Dame," she says, tucking her bare feet up on the couch and making a quick score-check on the TV. The Fighting Irish are down three touchdowns to Michigan State. "F—-ing hell!"
That's another thing. Knightley swears like she's a sailor in the Royal Navy. It's partly a British thing. And it's partly a tomboy thing, too.
"Bollocks is my favorite curse word," she says. "And t—-. Oh, and c—- is a good one, too."
Are you getting the idea that the angelically adorable Knightley is neither angelic nor adorable? Well, don't believe the tough-chick act. Knightley is simply more at ease after running that whole "beautiful movie star" elephant out of the room.
"It's true," she admits. "I'm really not very tough. I'm a wimp, in fact. But I do like to swear a lot."
In "Domino," Knightley gets to swear and brawl and sling a sawed-off shotgun over her shoulder as she prowls the streets of L.A. looking for bail dodgers.
"My agenda is to kick a— and secure the bounty," she says at the beginning of the film, a shoot-'em-up directed in spray-fire style by Tony Scott ("True Romance").
The film is loosely based on the real-life story of Domino Harvey (search), a British girl of proper upbringing and daughter of an actor who walked away from a promising Ford modeling career to pummel fugitive sleazeballs in Southern California.
"We all dream of changing our lives," Knightley says. "That's why I'm an actress, because I can never make up my mind as to who I want to be."
It's a role Knightley felt connected to — a beautiful woman with another agenda.
"Here's Domino, a woman with everything we think we want: the celebrity, the Hollywood royalty vibe going on. She could've gone, I don't know, a Paris Hilton route or something like that, but she decides not to. That's a fascinating choice."
Knightley talked with the real Domino on set in the months before the bounty hunter was found dead in June in a West Hollywood bathtub after overdosing on the painkiller fetanyl. She was 35 years old.
"Everyone has moments of strength and weakness," Knightley says, "and in playing her, I sought to embrace Domino's imperfections, as well. Still, I was shocked and saddened by her death.
"The couple of times we talked, I asked if there was anything she wanted me to put in or leave out. She was amazing. She just said, 'I'm cool with it. Do whatever you want.'"
Before hunting down movie fugitives, Knightley first had to learn to wield an automatic.
With co-stars Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez watching nearby, the petite 5-foot-7 Knightley let rip at a practice range with a machine gun.
How'd it go?
"I burst into tears," she says. "It shocked me. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like Domino."
Director Tony Scott, who was friends with the real Domino, didn't let Knightley off that easy.
"I knew Keira could do it," Scott says. "But the challenge was less about her finding Domino. My direction was usually, 'Let me see more of Keira.'"
Knightley remembers it a bit differently. "Tony was always shouting, 'Come on, Keira. Nasty b——! Nasty, nasty b——!'"
To help get into that nasty mindset, Knightley would also sneak off during breaks in filming "Pride & Prejudice" to practice whipping nunchucks around her head — still dressed in 18th century corsets and ball gowns.
"I must have looked weird out there in the English countryside, whacking myself in the head with these things," she says. "We started out with foam ones, but it still f—-ing hurts when you hit yourself."
Landing the lead role in "Pride & Prejudice" was the culmination of a lifelong dream that began with little Keira playing with her Bennet-family dollhouse as a kid in Twickenham, England. That's where she caught the make-believe bug.
"Neither my parents nor any of their friends had ever done any acting in America," Knightley remembers. "And that wasn't my plan either. Being a big star was never the point. You do this because these are stories you'd like to go and see."
Knightley already has more than a decade of acting experience under her belt, dating back to her debut at age 7 playing "Little Girl" in a BBC movie called "Royal Celebration."
Yet when she read last year for "Pride & Prejudice," she still had to sway the film's producers, who initially feared Knightley couldn't pull off the role she'd always dreamed of — Lizzie, the unlucky-in-love and scandalously unmarried Bennet sister.
Was it her acting? Nope.
Surely it couldn't be her box-office potential, not with the fast-rising starlet's sultry pout all over magazine newsstands.
No, the film's producers had initially thought Knightley was just too pretty for the part.