Steve Pratt catches up with two of the many stars from Love Actually.

Keira Knightly talks about the enjoyment of melting hearts by playing a marriage scene, while Bill Nighy admits his scene-stealing antics might earn him a No 1 hit single.

EVEN tough guys went all soppy when Keira Knightley got married. The ceremony was "quite possibly the most romantic thing I've ever seen", says the actress, who spent the summer on screen swashbuckling with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in The Pirates Of The Caribbean.

The fact that the wedding was only for the movie cameras - in Richard Curtis's romantic comedy Love Actually - didn't make it any less emotional.

"We had some real lads there, sparks and assistant directors and the rest of the crew, and they were all standing there with little stupid grins on their faces during the marriage scene," she recalls.

"It was great. And I was thinking to myself, 'oh yes, this works'."

Since she kicked a ball around in Brit hit flick Bend It Like Beckham, 21-year-old Knightley hasn't stopped working. After starring in the TV adaptation of Doctor Zhivago, she sailed with The Pirates Of The Caribbean and is currently playing Guinevere in the epic King Arthur, being filmed on location in Ireland with Clive Owen and Ray Winstone.

In Love Actually, she features in one of a dozen or so romances that writer-director Curtis weaves together. Knightley plays Juliet who marries Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor, from Dirty Pretty Things) as a gospel choir sings All You Need Is Love and thousands of rose petals cascade down on the happy couple. The surprises have been planned by Peter's best friend and best man Mark (Teachers and This Life actor Andrew Lincoln) who secretly is also in love with the bride. "It's a bit of a love triangle really," says Knightley. "Juliet has always thought Mark hated her and it turns out that he's actually completely in love with her. "The entire story is played out in five or six scenes. It could be a whole film, but Richard is so clever because everything you need to know is there. It's really beautifully written."

It may have been only five scenes and two weeks filming, but she laughed her way through the whole thing. Getting along with her co-stars was one of the reasons. "It was really exciting to get the chance to work with two people I admired so much and really, we weren't doing anything," she says.

"I got married, got to kiss a couple of really good looking guys and, you know, all is good. Lovely costumes, lovely hair and lovely make-up - and no corsets, which was nice. It was really cool."

She was already a fan of romantic comedies, something she considers 100 per cent escapism. "You just sit there and lose yourself in this world. Lovely. I cry my eyes out or laugh or both. I love them," she says.

"The thing about Richard is that he makes feelgood movies, and he makes them well and that's very difficult to do. There is very few who can do it and Richard is at the top of that list, no question."

What she found most nerve-wracking was the read-through by the entire cast in a hall in Notting Hill before filming began. "I've never been more nervous in my entire life," she says.

"I've done read-throughs with Johnny Depp and that wasn't terrifying. But for Love Actually there were 50 people sitting around this huge table. It was astonishing. You looked up and there was Hugh Grant, over there is Alan Rickman. Oh, there's Liam Neeson, there's Emma Thompson.

"I mean, how can you blame me for being nervous? I mean, just the fact that all of those people turned up for this read-through shows how much respect they have for Richard. It was huge, huge.

"And, at the end of it, I was like, 'ah! I can't handle this'. And ran away. I got out of there as fast as I could." As the film has lots of different stories, loosely connected, it was like working in her own little movie.

"Yeah, you really did feel that. Me, Chewy and Andy. And we did our big wedding thing and we were like the stars of the show," she says. So it came as a bit of a shock when they shot the final scene at Heathrow airport, where virtually all of the characters in the film are there at the same time.

"Suddenly you've got all these other people with their stories. And it was like, 'excuse me, I know you're Alan Rickman, but get out of my film please," she laughs.

There have been stories that her parents - actor Will Knightley and playwright Sharman MacDonald - are expecting her to go to university. She has other ideas. "They probably expect me to become a doctor or something. But no, I think I'll stick with this. I'm having a very good time," she says.

... but is a hit Nighy?

THE role of an ageing rock star attempting a Christmas comeback in new British romantic comedy Love Actually is having an unexpected spin-off for actor Bill Nighy. He's lined up as a competitor in the race for the seasonal No 1 single with a song from writer-director Richard Curtis's romantic comedy.

This isn't his first go at becoming a pop star. Five years ago he was acclaimed for his eye-catching turn as another fictional ageing rock star, Ray Simms, in Still Crazy. If Billy Mack in Love Actually seems a not-too-distant rock relative, who can complain when Nighy is given the best lines and his delivery ensures he attracts the biggest laughs.

Mack spends much of the film recording and plugging his would-be comeback hit, Christmas Is All Around - a holly and tinsel version of Love Is All Around, which played a key role in the Curtis-scripted Four Weddings And A Funeral.

"Life will reflect art and it will be available in your local record store," says Nighy. "We're going to produce the single to be released in real life. Don't put your house on me getting to number one, although it would be funny."

He may have the last laugh as the bookies' odds on him hitting the top spot at Christmas are 4-1.

The chance to be a chart-topper comes as Nighy's career is looking good.

He's always worked, sometimes in controversial pieces like the steamy BBC TV series The Men's Room, but in recent years he's enjoyed a succession of well-received roles. Most recently they included a pair of small screen roles, again for the BBC, in State Of Play and The Lost Prince.

Working with Curtis appears to have been a pleasure, and Nighy says if you'd have been visiting the set from Mars you'd never have imagined you were in the presence of a first time director. "He took to it like a duck to water," he says.

"He builds scripts and jokes are built like clocks, and he's one of the greatest clockmakers of all time. He knows how they should be tuned and is very clear at how they should be delivered," explains Nighy.

Another treat was working in the same movie as a roll call of familiar British faces including Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman. Everyone got along well on location. "It was a huge trailer park, like you've joined a circus. It was like a small village because there were so many people in it. There were little streets that you went down, with Emma at number 47 and Hugh at number 13.

"And you'd turn a corner and there was Liam Neeson. It was a really sweet feeling because you'd meet on the corner on the way to make-up."

The 54-year-old actor was a relatively late starter in movies, not making his feature film debut until 1981. Now he's making up for lost time. This year he's already been seen in romantic drama I Capture The Castle and vampire horror movie Underworld.

Now, if anyone comes close to stealing Love Actually from under the nose of bigger box-office names like Grant and Colin Firth, it's Nighy. His portrayal of Billy Mack wasn't based on any particular rock star, he maintains. "I guess it's just an amalgam of people I've observed over the years," he says.

"There were certain little things I nicked, almost unconsciously. Just stuff I've absorbed over the years, people I used to admire. His goosed look belongs almost entirely to Gary Glitter. The rest of it, I don't know really.

"Elvis Costello was always a favourite of mine, because he always used to do post-modern ironic dancing which involved putting your knees together and looking really stupid.

"It gives me so much pleasure to do that, maybe because I've reached a certain age. My daughter nearly dies with embarrassment every time I do that, but for some reason I find it strangely satisfying."

One of his next screen roles could find Nighy playing the new Doctor Who. He's one of the hot contenders to step into the Time Lord's Tardis when the planned film version of the BBC cult hit is made next year, but proves evasive about committing himself.

"I don't know," he says. "No one has asked me. I did hear a rumour. It would depend on so many things."

Love Actually (15) opens in cinemas today and is reviewed on page 10

The Pirates Of The Caribbean is released on DVD on December 2

Published: 20/11/2003