Kate Beckinsale: 'If a woman has opinions she's called difficult'
Article taken from The Telegraph.
Sitting in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Kate Beckinsale looks every inch the movie star. Teeth, bright white; tan, perfect; hair, dark, fulsome and tucked up behind her head. Normal 42-year-olds do not look like this. And yet, one has to remind oneself that Beckinsale is not from the Hollywood production line.
“I remember someone saying to me that if you’ve lived for five years away from where you came from you’re never completely at home anywhere and I do feel a bit like that,” she says, wistfully.
“I’m very familiar now with Los Angeles and America but I still feel one hundred per cent a foreigner here, and then I go back to London and I don’t feel completely un-foreign there.
“I feel intensely old when I get there and all the shops have changed on Chiswick High Road, for instance. And I went to John Lewis and there was not one old lady in a cardigan, even in the haberdashery section. Everyone was young and trendy and it was a whole different vibe. Where are those old ladies now?”
It’s a good question, and an exquisitely British one. For the fact is, despite her feelings of dislocation when she visits these shores, Beckinsale is still very English, with a self-deprecating sense of humour and an accent that belies her private schooling.
Her latest role, as a scheming widow in a Jane Austen adaptation called Love & Friendship, proves the point.
“It felt very familiar,” she admits. “It’s back to what I originally started out doing, because when I started acting if it wasn’t Shakespeare or Chekhov or Henry James or some kind of period thing then I wasn’t doing anything else.”
In fact, it was a role in Much Ado About Nothing that set her on her path to stardom. Beckinsale dropped out of Oxford to play Hero in Kenneth Branagh’s film of the play in 1992. Television parts in Cold Comfort Farm and Jane Austen’s Emma followed.
But her segue into mainstream Hollywood came at the end of the Nineties when she was cast as Evelyn, the love interest of both Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck in the overblown blockbuster Pearl Harbor. (It has been reported that the first thing the director Michael Bay did after offering her the part was tell her to go get “a tan and a trainer”.)
Since then, she has co-starred with Hugh Jackman in the horror thriller Van Helsing, played Ava Gardner opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the Oscar-nominated Aviator and built up a huge cult following via the Underworld action films, in which she plays the ice-cool vampire Selene.
But, while these films have certainly made her a global star and paid her very well, one has always suspected Beckinsale, who is the daughter of the late comic actor Richard Beckinsale, hankered after more cerebral roles.
And in the witty Love & Friendship, she may have found one. An adaptation of Lady Susan, a little-known unfinished novella by Jane Austen, the film is about an unscrupulous widow who takes up residence at her in-laws’ country estate, with the intention of securing her financial future by marrying her sister-in-law’s handsome younger brother. Her plans are thrown into disarray, however, by the surprise arrival of her daughter, who has just run away from school.
Lady Susan is clever, funny, vicious, immoral and a bad mother to boot.
“I’m fairly familiar with Jane Austen and I think she’s so incredibly insightful and funny but I didn’t realise she had such a naughty streak,” says Beckinsale. “I hadn’t seen such a broad kind of feministy heroine who is terrible and diabolical and cruel. Yet she’s also functioning within the constraints that existed at that time for women. Her big concern is her future security.
“I went to a screening of the movie in San Francisco with a fairly seasoned crowd who had seen a lot of stuff, but they were gasping in shock and horror at the behaviour of this woman from 1794 and I thought that, considering the age we live in, with the availability of [things like] internet porn, that was not a bad sign for the human race.”
Beckinsale herself is also alive to the constraints placed upon women today, arguing there is “an innate sexism” in the film industry.
Beckinsale, it has to be said, seems to have a relatively harmonious relationship with the key people in her life. Although recently separated from her husband of 12 years, the film director Len Wiseman, she is still close friends with Michael Sheen, the father of her daughter Lily.
“We’re very lucky,” she says. “I spent nearly 10 years of my life with Michael. I don’t think I’ve got horrible taste and I really value the friendship I have with him and the fact that he’s Lily’s dad.”
She and Sheen have been on a tour of the East Coast to find a college for Lily, who is now 17. “Being the mother of a teenager does free you up a bit. A lot of my career has been based on what stage Lily is at, where I can be and whether it would be appropriate to bring her or not. All that is now becoming less of a constraint.”
The actress made her stage debut in The Seagull in 1995 and went on to appear in the London stage productions of Sweethearts and Clocks, but, she says, “I’ve not done theatre since Lily was born because I’ve always thought bedtime to be a very important time. But now she’d be appalled if I tried to put her to bed so being able to do other things is pretty exciting.”
Beckinsale has two further films in the can: the psychological thriller The Disappointments Room and the fifth instalment of the Underworld franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars. But she has also bought the film rights for a novel, The Chocolate Money, which she is in the process of adapting for the screen, and it is this, you sense, that is her real passion project.
“I’m very happy with my career. I’ve been really enjoying the work I’ve been doing and I’m really enjoying writing. And, you know, this different stage of being a mother is a whole new set of skills so I feel pretty excited about everything, to be honest.”