“Love Actually” Casting Director Calls Keira Knightley Most Similar to Her 'Lovely,' 'Open' Character (Exclusive)

"She was this gorgeous creature who was just delightful and kind and open to everybody," Fiona Weir recalls of Knightley amid the film's 20th anniversary

<p>Album/Alamy </p> Keira Knightley  in <em>Love Actually</em> (2003)


Keira Knightley in Love Actually (2003)

When it came to finding the right actors to cast in Love Actually, casting director Fiona Weir felt "lucky" the process was so simple.

In an interview with PEOPLE surrounding the holiday classic's 20th anniversary, Weir says that many of the actors they had in mind were similar to their characters in real life — for example, Keira Knightley, who played the ebullient Juliet and "was very like her part."

"[Writer/director Richard Curtis] wanted Juliet just to be a lovely, easeful, open person," Weir tells PEOPLE. "And that was absolutely Keira. She was this gorgeous creature who was just delightful and kind and open to everybody."

"And also Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays her husband — just, like, the perfect guy. He was very like his part," she continues. "But they're all wonderful actors, so I think they all find a bit of themselves in every role. That's what great actors do: They connect a part to something in them."

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Everett Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor in <em>Love Actually</em> (2003)
Everett Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Love Actually (2003)

Related: Love Actually Is 20! Casting Director on Most 'Tricky' Role to Cast, Alan Rickman's 'Complexity' (Exclusive)

In Love Actually, viewers are introduced to Juliet and Peter (played by Ejiofor, now 46) on their wedding day, when it is revealed that Peter's best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) has secretly hired a band to perform The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" as the newlyweds exit the church.

But things go awry when Juliet shows up at Peter's flat unannounced and requests to see the wedding video he shot — only to discover that every scene is of her alone, revealing to Juliet and the audience his unrequited feelings for her. Then comes the famous cue-card scene in which Mark confirms his feelings to Juliet and resolves to live with them as she and Peter live happily ever after.

Though Peter and Juliet don't end up together romantically in the movie (despite a fleeting kiss), Lincoln's character does have a happy ending, as chronicled in the Love Actually mini-sequel released in honor of Red Nose Day in 2017: He ends up married to Kate Moss.

Knightley, now 38, was only 18 years old when Love Actually premiered, just months after her blockbuster hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

"When we cast her as Juliet, she was really young. I think she'd just done Bend It Like Beckham," Weir recalls to PEOPLE. "So everyone thought she was older than she was because she'd been acting from a very young age. But this was one of her first adult roles."

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock </p> Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley in <em>Love Actually</em> (2003)


Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley in Love Actually (2003)

Related: Viral Tweet About Keira Knightley & Thomas Brodie-Sangster's Ages in 'Love Actually' Shocking Fans

Of other casting decisions, Weir says both she and her co-casting director Mary Selway — who died in 2004, just months after the movie was released — "were very excited about the idea of Bill Nighy" as Billy Mack, a washed-up rock-and-roll star who lands a surprise hit during the holiday season and soon realizes his appreciation for his longtime manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher).

"He immediately stood out to us for that [part], because we knew he'd bring so much fun to it and so much irony and wit, and kind of embrace [Billy] being ridiculous but also slightly self-deprecating," she says of Nighy, 73. "So that was a part where we very quickly thought, 'Oh gosh, he'd be wonderful. Wouldn't it be great if we could make that happen?' "

Overall, Weir says putting together the extensive, star-studded cast of Love Actuallywhich also included Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Martin Freeman, Laura Linney, Olivia Olson and Rodrigo Santoro, among others — "was one of those lovely processes where everyone we wanted said yes."

"It's quite unusual and very special," she adds. "I don't feel like we missed anybody."

Love Actually is streaming on Netflix.

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