Parminder Nagra and Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham
Your breakout Bend It Like Beckham role was Jules, a soccer player mistaken for a lesbian because she’s so sporty and so close to her friend Jess, played by Parminder Nagra. You must know it has a big gay following as well.
Sure. I was only about 16 when I did that film, so I didn’t realize until later the impact that it had on women, gay and straight. So many women come up and tell me how much that movie meant to them. I’m quite proud of its feminist message.
Why do you think the film resonated with so many people?
It was about forging your own path and breaking norms, whether they’re racial, sexual, or gender-specific. That movie has incredible energy and positivity. I’ll never forget what my mum said after she came out of the screening. She said, “That’s one of the only films I’ve ever seen that made me want to be young again.”
Rumor has it that writer-director Gurinder Chadha originally envisioned Bend It Like Beckham as a lesbian love story.
This is the first I’ve heard of it, but that would’ve been exciting. It also would’ve meant a lot to so many young gay people. I’d love to see Jules and Jess get together. Hey, maybe we can do a sequel and make it happen!
What was your introduction to gay people?
A lot of my mum’s and my dad’s friends are gay, so I’ve been around gay men and women for as long as I can remember. My mum actually used to march in support of gay people in Scotland in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s always been the complete norm for me, like a wonderful fact of life.
So you were prepared to play the daughter of a woman having a same-sex fling in the 1995 TV movie A Village Affair.
Yeah, I didn’t find it shocking at all. I was about nine or ten when I told people about the story at school, and I remember some of the kids looking quite vexed. That was the first time I realized that gay wasn’t the norm for everyone. I was shocked by that, because it’s not how I was brought up.