Kate Beckinsale has made a successful transition from prim English rose to feisty action heroine, demonstrated to the max in her latest role in Total Recall, released on Wednesday, August 29. The actress reveals all about beating up co-stars Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel, working with her director husband Len Wiseman again and letting her daughter loose on set.
By Kate Whiting
Dressed in a sleek black playsuit and killer heels, with her glossy, dark waves flowing freely, Kate Beckinsale looks a million dollars.
The actress, who turns 40 next summer, clearly takes care of herself, but it helps that she's been filming two action movies back-to-back.
She'd barely wrapped on Underworld: Awakening, the fourth instalment in the cult vampire series, when she went to work on the remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall just four days later.
Most actresses would be forgiven for wanting a break, but when it's your husband pleading with you join his film, saying no is harder.
"It was a bit crazy," admits Beckinsale, who plays Lori in the film adaptation of sci-fi short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, by Phillip K Dick.
From director Len Wiseman's point of view, the timing couldn't have been better, as he'd always pictured his wife playing Lori.
Beckinsale explains: "It was actually weird, because when Len was planning out the movie at a really early stage, he needed some voices and my daughter's dad Michael Sheen and I happened to be in the house and helped out.
"So in a sense, I was involved right from the get-go. But then I wasn't going to be available for this movie, I was doing Underworld and we'd kind of made our peace with that.
"At the last moment, they pushed Total Recall back by a couple of weeks."
The film centres around bored factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) who visits Rekall, a company that can implant virtual memories. He soon starts to suspect he's a spy but isn't sure what side he's on and what's actually real, and when he returns home his wife Lori (Kate) tries to kill him.
Beckinsale had to learn a complex fight scene between her, Farrell and Jessica Biel, who plays goodie Melina.
"As the director's wife, you don't want to be the one that keeps messing it up, so I was extra nervous," she says.
"And if I hit Colin, whatever, but who wants to be the person responsible for breaking Jessica Biel's nose?" she adds, giggling.
Beckinsale enjoyed playing her first villain - "It's mandatory for British actors at some point to play a bad guy in an American movie" - but admits it was a little awkward kissing Farrell in front of her husband. "We all sort of swapped who was married to who," she jokes.
Beckinsale met Wiseman when he directed her in the first Underworld film, and she swapped her home town of London for Los Angeles when they married in 2004. It took some getting used to and she still gets "really homesick".
"Obviously I was madly in love with Len and I was very happy to be in that relationship, but I did suddenly go, 'Oh, where did all the people go that knew me before everyone started taking pictures of me in the grocery store?' As a grown-up, it takes a bit to make really good friends," she admits.
"It's hard to know what's homesickness, and what's nostalgia for a different period of your life, but I do know I need to get home more regularly than once every couple of years."
Although promotional duties have now brought her back to England, Total Recall was shot in Toronto. Beckinsale brought Lily, her daughter with English actor Michael Sheen, and Lily's friend Molly along for the ride.
"They were both just 12, and Jessica and I taught the two girls the whole fight which, embarrassingly, they learned in about 19 minutes.
"The costume department made them little versions of our costumes and they filmed the fight, so that was a high point for me."
Lily won't be watching her mum in Total Recall just yet though. "She doesn't watch any of our movies, apart from Twilight because her dad's in that. She doesn't really like blood very much and fair play to her!"
Despite the happy family feel on set, Beckinsale says she wasn't able to see much of Wiseman during filming. "That's my big complaint on this movie, directors don't have any free time from the moment they open their eyes until they go to sleep.
"But I do appreciate there being such a thing as texting, because you can have quite a good argument without anyone knowing," she says, smiling.
So important is family time to Beckinsale that, when her daughter was younger, she took two years out of acting to make sure she didn't miss anything.
"In the beginning, it really was the best job to have with a child, because babies are very portable and as young children they can handle a new school every now and again. Then suddenly they're 10, and you can't do that any more."
With Lily now a teenager, Beckinsale may soon be able to return to theatre and possible writing projects.
"I'm moving into a different stage with my daughter, so I'm anticipating a little more free time while she's on Facebook," she jokes.
Unless, of course, there's the pitter-patter of tiny feet again...
"I do occasionally think about [having another child]. It's difficult, we're already balancing an unusual situation.
"My kid's grandparents are in London and we have two Dads. By some miracle we managed to make that work really well, so I do have a fear that if we throw another kid in, does it all become anarchy? But maybe, I'll think about it..."
Beckinsale's career is very different now from her early roles as the typical English rose in period dramas like Much Ado About Nothing and Cold Comfort Farm.
"My instinct is to always do something different, or something that makes me nervous. And that's exactly how I got into this whole action thing in the first place, then it all spiralled out of control.
"I wasn't a gymnast or athletic, so it terrifies me every time, because I feel like a complete fraud, but it turns out I'm OK at it."
For her next role, in The Trials Of Cate McCall, she's returning to straightforward drama as a former hotshot lawyer who takes on the case of a woman wrongfully convicted of murder.
"I feel more at home in a drama because that's where I started," she says.
"As much as I'm thrilled to be able to do action, it's nice to come home."
Extra time - Kate Beckinsale
:: Kathrin Beckinsale was born on July 26, 1973, in Finsbury Park, London.
:: Her father Richard was also an actor, best known for starring in prison sitcom Porridge. He died suddenly of a heart attack aged 31.
:: She studied French and Russian literature at New College, Oxford and was once directed in a play by fellow student and The King's Speech director Tom Hooper.
:: She's proud that her daughter Lily has an English accent even though she's growing up in Los Angeles.
:: Total Recall is released on Wednesday, August 29