Personal detailsName: Kate Beckinsale
Born: 26 July 1973 (Age: 40)
Where: London, England
Height: 5' 8"
Awards: No major awards
All about this star
It was only with her role alongside Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett in the $130 million blockbuster Pearl Harbour that Kate Beckinsale finally came to be regarded as a major screen actress and personality in her own right - as opposed to the damaged daughter of a famous father. Being smart, well-read and occasionally outspoken - much like her screen heroines Geena Davis and Katherine Hepburn - she had producer Jerry Bruckheimer say of her: “She has such subtlety and style. She can switch to humour from high drama in a split second. She reminds me of Meg Ryan some years back”, while legendary director John Schlesinger added that she has the “same combination of freshness and intelligence” as the young Julie Christie. High praise, hard earned.
As said, Kate took some time to emerge from the shadow of her father, the much-beloved comic actor Richard Beckinsale, star of Rising Damp, The Lovers and Porridge. Born on July 26th, 1973, she was only five when he suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving her to be raised by her mother, the actress Judy Loe (Kate has a half-sister, Samantha Beckinsale, herself an actress and star of London’s Burning - they met when very young, but not again till 1995). Yet, so popular was her dad, and so shocked was the nation by his untimely death, that she would for years be talked about as his tragic daughter, rather than her own person.
Her bereavement affected her deeply. She describes herself then as “a furious and passionate child” who went off the rails at school. She was further disturbed at the age of nine when Loe began a relationship with director Roy Battersby and moved in with him - Kate now having to share her space with Battersby’s daughter and four loud sons. She remembers feeling “invaded”, and hoping that her mother would not remarry, though she now gladly acknowledges Battersby’s positive influence on her life.
Attending public school at Flexlands, Godolphin and Latymer, she was a bright student, tomboyish and encouraged to be foul-mouthed by Battersby, a working-class Londoner who found it hilarious to hear a posh girl swear. But her fury at her father’s death gradually turned inwards, making her troubled and withdrawn, with a paranoid fear of illness, till she reached breakdown in the form of anorexia - anorexia, as she says, being “the mode of nervous breakdown most available to teenage girls”. By the age of 15, she weighed just five stone yet, with the support of Loe and Battersby, and the aid of five years of Freudian analysis, eventually recovered. Now she claims that anorexia and the learning process it forced upon her were “the best thing that ever happened to me”.
Throughout this crisis, though, her passion and creativity were undimmed (she proudly claims the same birthday as Jung, Aldous Huxley and George Bernard Shaw). She won the prestigious WH Smith’s Young Writers competition two years running, once for her short stories, once for poetry. And, having been asked all her life whether she would follow her parents into acting, she decided that she would. She’d always enjoyed theatre, once following The Rocky Horror Show round the country, all togged up and hurling obscenities and tampons at the stage. Now, she joined a youth theatre near her home in Chiswick, and began seeking employment.
Parts came relatively quickly. Her first professional performance was a small voiceover as the tormented Alice Mair in a TV adaptation of PD James’ Devices And Desires. There was Rachel’s Dream, a 30-minute short for Channel 4, concerned with environmentalism and capitalist wickedness, in which she headlined along with Christopher Eccleston. And the first big break, when she appeared in One Against The Wind, starring Judy Davis and Sam Neill. Here Davis played a Red Cross worker helping the Allies in Occupied France in WW2, with Beckinsale as her daughter, engaging in a treacherous affair with a Nazi officer.
With all going so well, Kate considered enrolling in drama school, but instead decided to widen her horizons by enrolling at New College, Oxford, to study French and Russian Literature (this would also, she reasoned, allow her to act in several different countries). Yet she continued to act, joining in with student community theatre groups, appearing notably in a presentation of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. And it was here that, having mostly kept away from boys, she began her first serious affair, with fellow student actor Edmund Moriarty - the pair first meeting when engaging in an increasingly torrid onstage kiss.
Still pursuing professional roles, Beckinsale had her ups and downs. One major down was missing out on the part of Cathy in Wuthering Heights, Juliette Binoche at the last minute nabbing the chance to haunt poor Ralph Fiennes. Yet there was also a most excellent up (dude) when she passed an audition to play along Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington and Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, her first celluloid venture. Filming in Tuscany in the summer break of 1992, she shared a villa with Reeves and Robert Sean Leonard, but still managed to concentrate on work enough to avoid turning her character, Hero, into the usual wimp. “I don’t want to play drippy women”, she explained later “because I don’t know any”.
Somehow managing to maintain her studies, in the Easter holiday of 1993, she went to Copenhagen to film Prince Of Jutland. Directed by Gabriel Axel, of Babette’s Feast fame, this was a retelling of Hamlet that returned to the original Danish source material, and starred Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren and Christian Bale. Beckinsale worked again in the summer, filming Uncovered, a now-hard-to-find thriller about a picture-restorer who accidentally discovers a clue to an unsolved murder. She also appeared as main guest in Headcase, the first episode of the Imogen Stubbs-starring crime series Anna Lee.
Kate’s third year of college was to be spent in Paris. She enjoyed her freedom here, particularly the break from Oxford life which she now found too empty and frivolous. But her acting career was now taking over from academia. She won the lead in a French movie, Marie-Louise Ou La Permission, and attempted to score the part of Flora Poste in a BBC production of Cold Comfort Farm. Considered too young for the role, she revealed her acumen and ambition by writing to director John Schlesinger, asking to try out for him again when they were both in Paris. She achieved her goal and, having left university early in the spring of 1994, found herself filming alongside Ian McKellan and Rufus Sewell by late summer. Cold Comfort Farm was the BBC’s standard-bearer on New Year’s Day, 1995 but, more importantly, when released to American art cinemas the next year, it was an underground smash, grossing $5 million and forcing a UK cinema release in 1997.
Meanwhile, Beckinsale was having a rough ride. Tired of playing young innocents, she took the part of the mischievous and possibly malevolent siren in Haunted. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, who’d helmed Alfie and Educating Rita, and co-starring Aidan Quinn and Anthony Andrews, this was a superior ghost story but Beckinsale - quite reasonably - had a problem with the nudity and sex. Though originally a tiny part of the screenplay, this exponentially expanded as shooting began. “I despise that”, she said later, just as she despised it at the time, demanding the use of a body double.
Bored to distraction by the mediocre screen roles offered to her, Kate took to the theatre. She did Sweetheart upstairs at the Royal Court: played an aspiring actress with “a frozen soul” in Clocks And Whistles at the Bush Theatre: and performed in Faithless and The Proposal, the last being for BBC Radio 4. More importantly, she'd appear in a Thelma Holt production of Chekhov's The Seagull, first at Bath Theatre Royal, then on a UK tour. Opening in April, 1995, this would see her as Nina, who stars in a useless play put on by the tragic Konstantin, then rejects his advances when he tries to win her love by presenting her with a seagull he has shot. Ambitious, she leaves for Moscow to pursue an acting career, then returns to reject him once more, this time with horrific results.