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Kate Beckinsale UK Elle (December 2008)


Kate Beckinsale UK Elle (December 2008)


Kate Beckinsale does UK Elle (December 2008)

When you first catch sight of her, walking through the hotel lobby dressed exclusively in black (black vest, black leggings, black stilettos, impenetrable black sunglasses), an air of undeniable hauteur about her, it seems that the inevitable has happened. A five-year process of californication is now complete, and Kate Beckinsale, 35, has become properly Hollywood. Further proof? The woman who was always so proud of her rampant love of nicotine has even given up the cigarettes because, of course, no one in Los Angeles smokes any more.

‘Californi-what?’ she asks, with a sardonic smile. ‘Oh Christ, I hope not. OK, the smoking I’ll give you, but I didn’t give it up simply to fit in, I just lost the compulsion. Honest. Otherwise, I’m still very much the girl from Chiswick, alright?’

True, she still speaks in a beautiful cut-glass English accent, continuing to say ‘water’ to rhyme with ‘porter’, and turns her nose up at the very mention of that Los Angeles pastime of choice, plastic surgery. Plus, in a city where everyone appears to have half a dozen cars, she point-blank refuses to learn how to drive. She also, wherever possible, surrounds herself with expats: her driver and her nine-year-old daughter Lily’s nanny are British, as is her assistant. Hang on, she has staff? Now that, surely, is incontrovertibly Hollywood.

Her cheeks redden, and she holds up her hands in mitigation. ‘I know, I know, it’s ridiculous, right? I remember when Claire Danes turned up on this movie we were doing together [1999’s Brokedown Palace] with an assistant, and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t understand why anybody would need somebody to assist you to act. The production crew insisted on hiring me one as well, and I was traumatised. I only have one assistant though,’ she says, ‘and it really does make life easier out here. But let me just point out that I am always very nice to her, I haven’t lost my British manners. The way I see it, you can’t possibly shout at someone who knows which kind of tampons you use, can you?’

Kate Beckinsale is a bona fide A-list actress these days, a proper star. She can bank several million a film, and lives in some splendour with her husband, American film director Len Wiseman, high up in the Brentwood Hills (sharing a postcode with Naomi Watts and Reese Witherspoon). A veteran of both lavish costume dramas (Much Ado About Nothing) and gothic vampire fare (Van Helsing), the girl has done well. But then acting is in her blood. Both her mother and father – Judy Loe and 1970s sitcom favourite Richard Beckinsale – were in the industry, so following in their footsteps was an inevitability. She went to Oxford at 18 to study French and Russian literature ‘chiefly to meet a different social circle from the one I knew I’d end up surrounding myself with in professional life’. But she never completed the course, thanks to Kenneth Branagh, who gave Kate her big screen break in his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. She has rarely been out of work since. Over the next few months alone, she has four new films out, among them the political drama Nothing but the Truth and Everybody’s Fine, in which she plays Robert De Niro’s daughter.

‘If you’d told me when I was 18 I’d one day be in a film with Robert De Niro,’ she says, her eyes saucers, ‘I’d never have believed you. In fact, I still don’t. They say I’m a successful actress these days, but I still feel like a right old herbert somehow…’

We meet on a hazy LA day in a discreetly upmarket Bel Air hotel restaurant, ostensibly for a 2.30pm lunch, though Kate partakes of nothing more than a cup of tea. Given that she is already super-slim, one could easily conclude that her refusal of food at a traditional feeding time might just suggest, in capital letters, eating disorder.

‘Not true, I’m afraid,’ she smiles. ‘I ate a chicken wrap before I came out.’ I point out that she could have had the decency to wait; I had waited. ‘Sorry, but I was hungry!’

Beckinsale was anorexic at 15, though, whittling down to just five stone, existing on little more than cigarettes and angst. She puts this down to what she calls ‘my Sylvia Plath period. We’re all miserable in our teenage years, aren’t we?’ she says, with a wry smile. ‘I’d already had a pretty rocky start. My father dropping dead when I was five years old didn’t help [at the height of his fame, aged 31, Richard died of a heart attack], and then my mother moved in with another man [TV director Roy Battersby], who had four sons. That was quite a jolt. Here I was, this posh, clarinet-playing girl suddenly thrown in with these rough comprehensive lads. I retreated.'

Despite her troubled adolescence, Beckinsale found success as an actress quickly, and skipped from role to role having the time of her life. But then, at 24, she unexpectedly became pregnant by her long-term boyfriend, actor Michael Sheen. Was she concerned that this would damage her Hollywood prospects? She shakes her head.

‘No, I wasn’t worried about the impact having a baby would have on my career. I was so young that taking a year out didn’t seem like a big deal. Somehow it seems a scarier prospect now. It wasn’t easy balancing my work and a baby to start off with, though. When I was doing Pearl Harbor, I didn’t want to employ a nanny, as I couldn’t bear the idea of someone else looking after Lily.’

She temporarily relocated to America to shoot Pearl Harbor and, despite Sheen’s reservations about the move (their relationship was by this point floundering), she found herself drawn to the US, spying not only a chance to step out of the shadow of her much-loved father (‘it’s all anybody ever wanted to talk to me about,’ she notes), but also for reinvention.

‘Nobody knew who I was when I first got here,’ she says. ‘All they saw was this Chekhov-reading Brit who had, as they saw it, no edge. I tried hard to prove otherwise.’ Which explains the succession of high-octane thrillers she subsequently starred in, one of which, 2003’s Underworld (vampires, werewolves, fangs galore), propelled her into the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons: a love scandal. ‘Yep,’ she nods, ‘I fell in love with the director, and ran away with him.’

Kate says she knew that she would end up marrying Wiseman the moment she first kissed him, this good-looking Californian who, despite appearances to the contrary, is anything but your typical American frat boy. ‘He hates sport,’ she says. ‘We have similar interests. We enjoy going to the movies or out to dinner together. We also like going to New York or London and seeing 12 plays in a row – there’s not as much theatre in LA so we binge on it when we travel.’

Now part of a Hollywood power couple (they married in 2004), a newly assertive Kate wasted little time in proving her acting credentials. The thrillers kept on coming, most of which demanded her to dress sexily – no easy thing for someone with body issues (she once described herself as ‘a twig with a bum and small breasts’). In preparation for one role, she was inducted into an army-style boot camp ‘which I absolutely hated, but it did have an upside: when I was next invited to go swimming, I no longer felt the horror I normally would’. Horror? Was her self-image that bad? Her response is a little testy. ‘Look, I have no worse a body image than my daughter’s nanny does. In other words, I’m entirely normal. I have my good days and my bad days. I am a lot more body confident now I’m in my thirties, and am in better shape, too. I didn’t have a clue [about healthy eating] when I was in my twenties – I’d eat a small breakfast and lunch and then have a baked potato for dinner and feel really horrible. Now my typical daily diet is eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, a chicken or vegetable wrap for lunch, then fish and vegetables for dinner. But if someone turns up with cupcakes mid-afternoon, I’ll have one. I’m not aiming to be Gisele. And I’d hate to be one of those people who won’t allow themselves a slice of birthday cake.’

She’s not a natural-born exerciser. ‘I just can’t make it part of my daily life. I go to the gym when I have to, and if I have to bulk up or slim down for a film, I will. I’ve recently got back into exercising four times a week. Although I hate what a personal trainer represents, mine is really good – we mainly do weights and running. I run for half an hour at a time but never outdoors as I don’t exercise in public. My gym’s in my garage at home.’

A frown crosses her brow, ‘I’m amazed that people obsess over my body image so much. And I hate the way magazines mock cellulite on celebrities. Why do we encourage this war on women’s bodies? It’s a horrendous way to live, and I refuse to.’
That said, Beckinsale is no slouch in the grooming department, never papped looking anything other than glamorous. ‘Well, I have my hair blow-dried at the hairdressers once a week because I’m terrible at drying it myself, and I love wearing Laura Mercier tinted foundation. I don’t like to walk around wearing no make-up, with my hair rolled on top of my head on my days off,’ she says. ‘I think my husband would be a bit bummed out if I did. It’s nice to feel like you’re wooing the other person a bit, as once it degenerates into wearing yesterday’s sweatpants and farting on the sofa you lose a bit of the spice. You’ve got to keep up the seduction phase – it’s fun.’

She concludes that as long as Len still finds her attractive, that’s all that counts. And does he? ‘He does,’ she smiles sweetly. ‘There’d be hell to pay if he didn’t.’

Kate admits that her first few years in LA were awkward. She had few friends, and didn’t quite know how to meet people. She mostly avoided bars or clubs because she has no real love of alcohol, much less drugs (‘you’d have to rush me to hospital after a single espresso; I’m no good with stimulants’). She has a small circle of friends now, many of them English. Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria is the token American, and she’s also bonded with Victoria Beckham. They have doubled dated, with their husbands, and recently went away for the weekend to a hotel in the Napa Valley, California’s wine region, children in tow. ‘We just hung out and went for nice dinners. Victoria is lovely and very down-to-earth. She loves taking the piss out of herself, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. We laugh a lot together.’ What does Kate make of Beckham’s new career as a fashion designer? ‘Her line of dresses is fantastic and I’m really proud of her. I’d definitely wear one of them, provided I could fit my bum into it!’ Her clothes obsession hasn’t rubbed off on Kate, though. ‘Victoria dresses amazingly, I don’t know how she does it. I haven’t had a stylist for the past six months. When I’ve got an event coming up, I’ll either go shopping myself or ask a designer if I can borrow something.’

Their menfolk have also hit it off. ‘Len really likes David, even though he has no clue about football, which David probably finds quite refreshing.’ And what does Kate think of football’s most iconic sex symbol?

‘I go for dark-haired men, I’m afraid, so I was completely immune. That said,’ she allows, ‘he is terribly sweet.’

At the gates to her Brentwood home, there forever congregates a sweating throng of paparazzi who follow Beckinsale wherever she goes. She has no idea why (‘it’s not like I’m having an affair or anything’), and spends much of every day trying to hide from them. It is their presence that ensures that when she does socialise with the likes of Victoria, she does so behind closed doors, usually bringing along her speciality – homemade chocolate brownies – to the party. ‘As long as you can sit in somebody’s kitchen with your mates, laughing or crying, that’s all that’s important, I’ve realised. All I’m in pursuit of here is a normal life.’

Kate strives to maintain normality both in her friendships and her marriage. She has already gone through one painful relationship break-up and doesn’t intend to again. She and Len may already have the odds stacked against them by simple dint of their profession, but she refuses to let it get in the way.

‘When Len directs a film, he can be gone for two years, and I just don’t want to endure that,’ she says. ‘So I either take time off to be with him while he works, or else act in one of his films.’

Even if that film is Underworld: Evolution, the largely unnecessary sequel they collaborated on in 2006?

‘Even that, yes,’ she smiles, shrugging. ‘Look, I’m sure it would be nice to be in the position where I could choose only those roles that were the most artistically fulfilling, but I don’t have that kind of career. I’m not complaining, though. I get to do good films, and I’ve not felt desperate enough yet to offer anyone a blow job for a part. I hope it stays that way.’

So with LA as home for the foreseeable future, Kate spends hours in front of YouTube with daughter Lily, showing her all her favourite British ads of yesteryear (PG Tips, Shake ’n’ Vac, R White’s Lemonade) in order, she jokes, ‘to teach her about proper culture, and to make her realise there is a wider world outside all this’.

Lily recently made her big-screen debut alongside Kate in Everybody’s Fine, playing Kate’s character as a child. Although Kate was reluctant to let her audition, perhaps fearing that she might turn into a movie brat overnight, she needn’t have worried.

‘She told me that she enjoyed the experience, but would rather become a writer instead. She’s currently writing seven novels. Quite a girl, my Lily.’ The same can be said for her mother, a woman who just wants to keep things real in a city that so plainly isn’t.

‘In our back garden here,’ she says, ‘there’s this scary-looking possum that sits by the pond doing something that resembles tai chi. It completely freaks me out. Life could get very surreal here if I let it. I’m doing my best not to.’




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