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Spotlight on Kate Beckinsale

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Believe it or not, there was a time when Kate Beckinsale was considered ”not very sexy.” Or so she claims. ”There was this whiff of crumpets when I came in a room,” the London native jokes, referring to her early attempts to land film roles in the States. An Oxford dropout, Beckinsale had mastered the British trifecta — Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing), Jane Austen (A&E’s Emma), and Jane Austen Lite (Cold Comfort Farm) — when she first encountered Hollywood indifference in the mid-’90s. ”There was a whole kind of ‘Yeah, but she’s very British, she’s very proper’ going on.” Now a veteran actress on both sides of the Atlantic, the 34-year-old understands that in the movie business, ”you’re always fighting the last thing you did.” These days, that means battling her image as a leather-and-latex-clad pistol-packing babe, thanks to three vampire movies (the Underworld flicks and Van Helsing) in as many years. ”It worked a tiny bit too well,” Beckinsale admits. ”It became ‘She’s very tough, she’s a bit too sexy.”’

With any luck, Beckinsale will soon be considered ”too serious.” In the bleak Snow Angels, David Gordon Green’s adaptation of the Stewart O’Nan tragedy opening this weekend, the actress plays a small-town working-class mom who has left her suicidal husband. With neither leather nor lace to hide behind, Beckinsale says, ”I feel very exposed. You kind of catch me a little bit because it feels very real.” But it’s exactly the kind of film the actress has been searching for. ”I’d been wanting to do something more dramatic,” she says. ”The sex-bomb thing is totally fun, but you want to take the red shoes off sometimes.” She’ll follow it up with Winged Creatures, a Crash-like ensemble tale costarring Dakota Fanning and Forest Whitaker; the thriller Whiteout; and the sure-to-be-talked-about Nothing but the Truth, which has her playing a journalist thrown in jail for protecting the source who exposed the identity of a CIA agent. (Yes, it’s inspired by — though not based on — the story of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.) Hopefully, this is a run of films she can be genuinely proud of. ”I don’t regret any of my movies, but I do have a certain level of embarrassment about one or two,” Beckinsale admits. Too polite to name them, she’s not too proud to offer her motivation: ”[I did them] so that I could see my kid every day and I could pay for her school fees and all that.”

The aforementioned kid is Lily, age 9, Beckinsale’s daughter with Welsh actor Michael Sheen (The Queen). If you read the tabloids, you’ll recall that Beckinsale was still involved with Sheen when she met her husband, director Len Wiseman, on the set of Underworld. Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2004 to be with Wiseman, Beckinsale has had her share of culture shock, but she’s also found an unexpected solace: the chance to carve out a story separate from that of her late father, Richard Beckinsale. A beloved British sitcom actor, he died at the age of 31, when Kate was only 5. ”Literally, you can’t write about me in England without ‘tragic daughter of so-and-so,”’ she says. ”It’s nice for me to be here, where there’s a little less of that.”

But she wouldn’t mind if her new hometown remembered that she’s a Brit every now and then. ”No one asks me to play an English person ever, except my husband, who has me play an English vampire.” And even being cast in the Underworld franchise was a bit of an iffy prospect, if you ask Beckinsale. ”There’s nothing more ludicrous than me being in an action movie,” she laughs. ”My whole family still thinks it’s a riot that I was ever allowed to hold a gun.” While she won’t reprise her role in the upcoming prequel Rise of the Lycans, Beckinsale does hope to pair with her husband again professionally. ”I said to him, ‘What’s the point of being married to you? You’re away all the time, and sometimes you have to work weekends. I mean, come on. I’m sleeping with the director, I should be in your movie.”’


A BROAD ABROAD
The very American things that unnerve and delight the British actress

Watching Telly
”Ten seconds in, there’s 400 commercials. They’re always medical and I have to get worried that I have everything, and by the time I get away from the hemorrhoid [ad] I can’t find my way back. We have TVs everywhere. I never, ever, ever turn it on. I read a lot.”

Spying Possums
”We don’t have things like that at home. When we first moved here I heard a rustling noise outside and in the tree was an actual monster with big crazy yellow teeth like Hannibal Lecter. I started shouting ‘Look at the monster!’ It was 11 at night, my daughter was probably 4, and I dragged her out of bed. I was so excited!”

Scott Speedman
”He’s like the family pet,” she says of her Underworld costar. ”He gets me so excited that I want to slap him. There’s a force that is Scott Speedman and we’re all under it.”

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