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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Kate Beckinsale - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
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 But her fury at her father’s death gradually turned inwards, making her troubled and withdrawn, with a paranoid fear of illness, till she reached breakdown in the form of anorexia - anorexia, as she says, being “the mode of nervous breakdown most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. The play would be a great success, and it would introduce her to young Welsh actor Michael Sheen, starring as Konstantin. Beckinsale would claim that on seeing him for the first time she came over all “corny”, dropping all her pens. She returned to Tuscany with him when he appeared alongside Branagh in Othello - Sheen would soon turn up with Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly, and enjoy carnal knowledge of Stephen Fry in Wilde. Later the couple would produce a daughter, Lily Mo.
Now Kate returned to filmed roles. She took on Jane Austen’s Emma, receiving some poor reviews because - quite rightly - she realised Emma Woodhouse is an arrogant, interfering cow, far from Gwyneth Paltrow’s smarmy creation. Next she was good-hearted con artist Georgie in Shooting Fish, third biggest British film of the year. In spring 1997, she appeared as a reckless sprite in the video to George Michael’s duet with Toby Bourke, Waltz Away Dreaming, then temporarily shifted her base to Los Angeles. In the States, she quickly won a name for herself. First she was a selfish young woman seeking romance and meaning in early Eighties nightclubs in The Last Days Of Disco, for which she won a London Film Critics Award. Then, along with Claire Danes in Brokedown Palace, she was a high school grad framed for heroin smuggling in Bangkok.
Aside from this, she played an older Alice in Through The Looking Glass, and was tremendous in Merchant-Ivory’s return to form, The Golden Bowl, though there were stories in the press that all was not well in the filming of the latter. One alleged that Beckinsale feuded with co-star Jeremy Northam and, when she once dropped a line, he accused her of ruining his performance and followed her to her caravan, yelling abuse till Michael Sheen had to hit him. There was also a tape-version of Romeo And Juliet, wherein Kate and Sheen publicly professed their love for one another in the immortal words of The Bard. They were now something of a golden couple, with Beckinsale breaking through in movies and Sheen a theatrical heavyweight, having enjoyed huge hits with Henry V, Look Back In Anger and, especially, Amadeus. It was while Sheen was playing Mozart in New York that Beckinsale would get a call from a casting agent one night. could she possibly come in the next day to perform a reading of Robert De Niro's latest screen project, the Good Shepherd? Naturally, she could, and performed well when delivering lines in German and Russian accents. A Brooklyn accent was harder for her, particularly as she was using it in front of De Niro and his guest Martin Scorsese. Scorsese would remember her efforts, soon casting her in a picture of his own.
Next would come Pearl Harbour, where she took her first major starring role, as Ben Affleck’s lover, nurse Evelyn Johnson (she actually got the part when Charlize Theron pulled out to do Sweet November). For this she took no fee from producers Disney, instead agreeing to a percentage of profits. Quickly she moved on to rom-com Serendipity where, Christmas shopping in New York City, she met and fell for John Cusack. Obsessed by Fate, she wrote her details in a book and sold it, the assumption being that if they were meant to be together Destiny would drop the book back into Cusack’s eager hands. Years later, when both are attached to others but still bemoaning Destiny’s tardiness, things begin to happen.
2002 would bring an onscreen lull as Beckinsale appeared only in Laurel Canyon. Here she and Christian Bale were Harvard lovers who move in with Bale’s music producer and sexually liberated mother, Frances McDormand, at the time working and sleeping with Brit rock star Alessandro Nivola. This pervy pair then decide to include a curious Kate in a sexy triangle, while Bale seeks his kicks elsewhere. Other than this, Kate would be seen only in a Gap ad called Denim Invasion, paired with Orlando Bloom and directed by Cameron Crowe.
But seismic changes were on the way for Beckinsale. On the set of her next picture, Underworld, she fell for director Len Wiseman and ended her 7-year relationship with Michael Sheen (he’d go on to appear in Bright Young Things, Timeline, and alongside Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan in Laws Of Attraction). The tabloids were incensed. Not only was Kate failing to behave like a traditional English Rose, she appeared to be doing exactly what Kate Winslet had done when achieving Hollywood success several years before. On top of this, Sheen was actually IN Underworld. During the press tour for the film, the new couple were careful to say very little about the split. Instead they purposefully promoted the movie, a crazy take on Romeo And Juliet in a world where vampires battle endlessly against werewolves, Kate playing the fearless vampire warrior Selene. Togged up in the tightest of rubber cat-suits, her character’s name just had to be a reference to Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selena Kyle/Catwoman in Batman Returns. The suit certainly fitted her well - the film’s poster would make her a bona fide sex symbol before the movie was ever released.
With offers now pouring in, Beckinsale began to really mix it up. Her next outing was in Tiptoes, a freaky romantic comedy where she played the pregnant girlfriend of Matthew McConaughey. Given that McConaughey’s brother, Gary Oldman, is a dwarf, the couple at first fear that latent genes might restrict their baby’s size. Then, to complicate matters further, Kate begins to fall for little Gary.
2004 would see her really hit the heights. First she returned to the world of vampires in Van Helsing, Stephen Sommers’ big budget follow-up to the successful Mummy movies. Here she played Anna, the genteel but tough sidekick to Hugh Jackman’s titular vampire hunter, joining in the mayhem as he visits Eastern Europe to do wage war against Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster. She’d back this up with her most challenging role to date, playing Ava Gardner in The Aviator, Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited biopic of Howard Hughes, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. With Cate Blanchett taking on Katherine Hepburn, another of Hughes’ lovers, the onscreen competition would be fierce. Many wondered whether the slight Beckinsale could ever match Gardner’s mighty charisma - the woman did, after all, torment Frank Sinatra so intensely that he blubbed like a little girl and pretended to commit suicide. Beckinsale was taking one of the biggest gambles in recent screen history. Already a headlining star after Underworld, she would now either win everlasting respect as a big-screen actress or be laughed at for years. The girl certainly had guts, and would be rewarded with fine reviews for her efforts as the glamour queen who could not be bought with baubles. She loved Hughes but, recognising his onrushing madness, could not commit. Blanchett would win an Oscar, but Beckinsale would prove that she could live with the best of them - this was a vital role for her.
Having married Len Wiseman in May, 2004, the couple immediately continued their working relationship with a sequel to Underworld. As the original had cost only $20 million, it was considered a fair hit, and the sequel's budget was double. Showing the origins of the vampire and werewolf species, and featuring the mighty thespian talents of Derek Jacobi, it would be far more epic than its predecessor, with extraordinary action sequences and gothic sex scenes. With a high-profile ad for Diet Coke also on show, Kate was now an undoubted star, and she'd further cement her position by appearing in Adam Sandler's latest, Click. Here Sandler would play a workaholic architect who argues with his wife Beckinsale and ignores his kids. When he's gifted a magic remote control by mad scientist Christopher Walken, he gets to control his own life, fast-forwarding through spats with Beckinsale and any other unpleasantness till he realises his life has past and he's missed most of it. It was a thankless part for Beckinsale who had only to quietly love Sandler and regret his decisions, but it did provide her with another $100 million hit.
Her next few movies would see her move away from mainstream and blockbusting releases. First would come Snow Angels, a harsh, multi-faceted small town relationship tale. Here she'd play a waitress in a Chinese restaurant who's split from ex-alcoholic husband Sam Rockwell and is having an affair with the husband of her co-worker and best friend Amy Sedaris. Now Rockwell's sober and a Born Again Christian and he battles to win back Beckinsale and their child, but she rejects him, sending him over the edge when he discovers her affair. Meanwhile, a young kid also working in the restaurant has a massive crush on Beckinsale and does not notice when a girl his own age makes advances towards him. With young love blooming and old love veering towards violence and tragedy, it was a tough watch, but Beckinsale was excellent as a woman who's simply had enough of being pushed around.
Vacancy would be another low budget effort. This time she'd be in an unhappy marriage with Luke Wilson, bickering with him as he crashes the car on the highway and they have to walk miles to the nearest motel. The pair are drawn together though when they discover snuff movies apparently made in their room and begin to hear strange bangings and see masked men outside. It started well but became cliched, Beckinsale gaining little for having stepped in at the last to replace Sarah Jessica Parker.
More interesting would be 2008's Winged Creatures, otherwise known as Fragments. This would concern a gunman's rampage in a diner and the event's aftermath, the movie moving backwards and forwards to tell the tales of the different characters involved, the cast including Forest Whitaker, Embeth Davidtz, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson. Beckinsale would play a waitress in the diner, who flirts with doctor Guy Pearce and tries desperately to cope with a troublesome baby. Neurotic and bedraggled, she's revealed to be suffering Munchausen's syndrome by proxy. Unfortunately, the movie would go direct to DVD, the same fate befalling Beckinsale's next picture, Nothing But The Truth. This would see her as a political journalist who outs a spy in Washington then has to face jail because she won't reveal her source, thus alienating husband David Schwimmer and their young son. The film, based on the true-life story of Judith Miller, who was imprisoned for 85 days after revealing some of the skulduggery of George W Bush and Dick Cheney, would also feature Alan Alda who'd earlier co-starred with Beckinsale in The Aviator.
2009 would be another varied year. Beckinsale would successfully sue Express Newspapers for running a story claiming that she'd lost the role of Barbarella to Rose McGowan. Onscreen, she'd provide a voiceover for Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, appearing in the film's last scene (actually the first scene in Underworld). Then would come Whiteout where she'd play a US Marshal at a South Pole research station. She's resigned her position is about to leave, but then a body turns up in the ice and she must investigate, the body count rising as the departure of the last plane out comes ever closer. After this would come Everybody's Fine, a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore's Stanno Tutti Bene and a reunion with Robert De Niro. De Niro would take the Marcello Mastroianni role as the widower who attempts to reconcile himself with his grown-up children and discovers the secrets they have kept from him throughout their lives as they've tried to convince him that everybody was, as he dearly hoped, fine.
Smart and funny, Kate Beckinsale is still her father’s daughter. However, now that she's a bona fide Hollywood star of several years standing, now Richard Beckinsale is Kate Beckinsale’s dad.
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