Kate Beckinsale never imagined she’d make a plausible action star until she donned a skintight leather catsuit to play a vampire warrior in 2003’s Underworld. ”The idea of me even holding a gun seemed ludicrous,” she says. This month the 38-year-old Brit returns to the role of Selene in the series’ fourth installment, Underworld Awakening, opening Jan. 20. It’s one of three movies Beckinsale has in 2012, along with the gritty crime thriller Contraband (opening Jan. 13) and this summer’s remake of the 1990 sci-fi film Total Recall, directed by her husband, Len Wiseman. There, she’ll take on the villain role originally played by Sharon Stone. Though she’s been making movies for two decades, there’s still an air of mystery to Beckinsale. For starters, she says, ”a lot of people think I’m American.” Here are some other things you may not know about her.
Before she starred in Underworld, she didn’t even know how to make a fist.
”I remember the look of horror on the stunt coordinator’s face when I turned up,” says Beckinsale, who studied French and Russian literature at Oxford. ”I really lived in my head at that point and was very academic, and I was just about managing to walk. They said, ‘Just throw a couple of punches,’ and I did it with my thumb tucked in — which you’re not supposed to do because you’d break your thumb immediately.”
Her husband and her ex-boyfriend — actor Michael Sheen, who’s the father of her 12-year-old daughter, Lily — get along quite well.
”The popular notion of how Michael and I broke up — that we were on [the first Underworld] and I ran off with the director [Wiseman] — is just not true. If that were the case, I think it would be very difficult and peculiar to have an okay situation. But everybody involved has felt that the priority is Lily and wanting to get to a good place for her. And everyone is nice. So it’s not bad.”
The London native has lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade and still doesn’t know how to drive.
”I’m basically trapped in my house unless someone takes pity on me,” says Beckinsale, who has no plans to try to get a license. ”I don’t want to get into it because I know there’s going to be a few [failed] tries.”
Around 2004 she had a ”moment of crisis” and considered dropping acting to go to medical school.
”I’ve got this amazing doctor in England who’s a Renaissance man — he keeps bees on his balcony, he rides his motorbike through France, and he’s just one of the coolest people on the planet. I went to see him and I said, ‘I wish I’d been a doctor like you.’ And he said, ‘You absolutely could!’ Then I went off to do the Aviator press junket and had a moment of thinking, ‘I’d quite fancy that.’ But I’m not a fan of effluvia and vomit — vomit in particular. Though I’m sure there are lots of doctors who don’t love vomit.”
Having sat out the last Underworld installment, the 2009 prequel Rise of the Lycans, she had no plans to come back and do a fourth chapter.
”I grew up with the idea that if a movie has 4 or 5 or 6 after it, it was automatically s—, it was straight-to-video soft porn, like Porky’s 7 or something,” she says. Ultimately, she was drawn in by the fresh twists of the story, which has Selene waking up from a cryogenic sleep to find that she’s the mother of a child she didn’t know she had. That said, Beckinsale thinks this may be her last Underworld: ”It probably is, but then who knows? We’ll see how people like this one.”
She has been turned down for roles because she was deemed too beautiful.
”That’s happened a bit. There have been a couple of times when people have said, ‘We just don’t think you’d be very believable as somebody who, you know, works in a fishmonger’s.’ I always think that if they say, ‘We think she’s too attractive,’ that’s just a very nice way of saying they just don’t like you.”
Surprisingly, the film on her résumé that male fans most often approach her about is not Underworld.
”Oddly enough, every time I’m approached in an airport by a man — especially if it’s sort of a very fratty-looking man — it’s always, always about [the 2001 romantic comedy] Serendipity. I think that’s more of a girls’ movie, but they’ll say, ‘My favorite movie of yours is Serendipity.’ I’m like, ‘Really? I’m running around with a machine gun [in the Underworld movies] — and that’s the one you like? How interesting!”’
In Total Recall, she will have a knockdown, drag-out fight with Jessica Biel.
”It’s a full-on girl fight. It’s quite ugly. There’s no strategic clothes-ripping. It’s always very annoying how men’s clothes never seem to get ripped in fights, while women get, like, their whole shoulder ripped off.”
She has no fears about being an actress over 40.
”Maybe I’m silly not to be worried about that, but I haven’t been sent lots of grandma roles or anything. The ironic thing is, the best roles — and there are maybe three of them — are for women in that age group, because I think it’s one of the most interesting times in a woman’s life. Maybe something terrible will happen over the next few years and, if it does, I’ll just go do something else, I suppose. I’ll write. Or I’ll be a doctor — a really elderly one with a walker, terrified of vomit.”