“I just finished wrapping my legs around a lycan’s neck and shooting everyone in the room.”
Sounds like just another typical day on the set of an Underworld movie. Sexy star of the first two films, Kate Beckinsale makes a welcome return to the popular franchise after a six-year absence to head up the fourth installment, Underworld Awakening.
With her jet-black hair worn in a stringy bob and clad in an ornately tooled leather corset and floor-sweeping leather coat teamed with skintight black latex pants and motorcycle boots, Beckinsale as vampire warrior Selene is the ultimate Goth girl.
In the new movie, a naked and vulnerable Selene emerges after barely existing within a coma-like state for fifteen years inside a cryogenic chamber. Once she breaks out of her frozen prison, Selene learns that she has a fourteen-year-old vampire/Lycan hybrid daughter, Eve (India Eisley), and makes it her mission to locate the girl. Selene finds herself in a chaotic world where humans have discovered the existence of both Vampire and Lycan clans and are undertaking an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species. Selene leads the battle against humankind, but faces a formidable force of experimental ‘Hybrids’ – souped-up Vampires infused with Lycan genes and the ability to shapeshift. Early reports indicate that the Lycan-based hybrids are capable of taking on a Wolfman-like form while the Vampire-based ones can adopt a human/bat-like form. Somehow Eve holds the key to help her stop the evil BioCom organisation from creating a race of super Lycans that will exterminate them all.
Michael Ealy, Sandrine Holt, Robert Lawrenson, Stephen Rea, Theo James and Charles Dance all co-star in the new action horror sequel.
Written by series creator Les Wiseman and directed by Swedish filmmaking team Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, Underworld Awakening brings a stunning new dimension to the epic battle between Vampires and Lycans as it is the first film in the franchise to be filmed in 3D, on the compact and portable RED Epic cameras. The new Alien, Spiderman and Hobbit movies are all following suit, but Underworld Awakening will be the first of the movies filmed on the RED Epic cameras to be released, in January 2012.
Commented Mårlind, “The new thing with this film is that it has a wider range of emotions. We have more action, but it is different to the previous films – much more violent, gritty and brutal. There’s a sense of desperation to Selene’s fight.”
Stunning, bloody and action packed, Underworld Awakening boasts some explosive combat sequences and extreme violence. Early footage reveals the 3D filming approach to be a completely immersive one for audiences. At the center of the maelstrom is a capable female killer. A bit like a sexy, breathy and brunette ‘Brigitte Bardot’, Beckinsale has noticeably large and pale hands, which is surprising for such a petite woman. The scorching hot British-born actress wields an icy English composure while she slaughters her enemies and generally kicks ass.
Clarifies Beckinsale, “There’s so much that is familiar, it doesn’t feel like a departure. It just feels bigger and better and that we’re going a bit further with it. But yeah, there’s been a lot more action and I have a lot more bruises on this one.”
Beckinsale’s major acting debut came in 1991 when she appeared in a British TV film about World War II called One Against the Wind. She began attending Oxford University later that year, majoring in French and Russian literature, and it was while she was still studying that she received her big break in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Kate worked in three other films while attending Oxford, mostly British costume dramas, in addition to various stage and radio productions. She began to seek film work in the States during the late 1990s and, after appearing in small-scale dramas The Last Days of Disco (1998) and Brokedown Palace (1999), she had a breakout year in 2001 with starring roles in war epic Pearl Harbor and romantic comedy Serendipity. Appearances in The Aviator (2004) and the mean-spirited Click (2006) followed.
Recalls the actress, “Early in my career I kept going to meetings and the character was a cop, but they’d be saying, ‘Well, she really does period movies and she’s English and she’s fragile.’ I love to do as many different things as possible – I think every actor does – and so I saw the first movie as a way to stop this whiff of crumpets and tea. It really worked – slightly too well, though…” she smiles wryly.
In her conscious move away from stuffy costume dramas, Beckinsale forged a reputation as an tough action star with the first Underworld movie in 2003, followed by Van Helsing (2004), Underworld: Evolution (2006) and Whiteout (2009). She has also opted to work on smaller independent projects such as Snow Angels (2007), Winged Creatures (2008), Nothing but the Truth and Everybody’s Fine (2009). Beckinsale has two other films set for release in 2012: the crime thriller Contraband and sci-fi remake Total Recall.
Raised in London, the actress had an eight-year relationship with Welsh actor Michael Sheen from 1995 until 2003 and they share custody of their daughter, Lily. Beckinsale married Underworld film director American Len Wiseman in 2004 and they currently reside in Los Angeles, California.
The demure actress seems almost irrationally ecstatic by the increase in violence. “I love the fact that she’s doing a lot more fighting in this one. I especially love all the wirework we do – that’s always a thrill. There’s a scene where I am sliding along a corridor on my knee and slitting everybody’s throats and that really hurt me when we were training for it. I’ve still got scars on my ankles from not wearing long enough socks!”
While adjusting to performing stunts and action sequences was a challenge, apparently Beckinsale took to using guns immediately. “It was a weird thing on the first movie. When it first came up, it was during that first period of training where they go, ‘Run!’ and then said, ‘Oh, god. Okay, throw a punch,’ and then ‘Oh, dear…’ I was so relieved when I got a hold of a gun. Suddenly it was like, ‘I found my thing!’ I think it is really only because I have enormous hands. I can’t play the piano or play basketball. It turns out huge hands are quite useful for handling guns.”
The directing duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein adopt a unique approach on set as on a daily basis each takes turns to direct the actors and action while the other observes. Beckinsale enthuses, “It really is quite cool. When I first met with them I thought, ‘I wonder how that is going to work?’ But they have a real system where one of them directs on a Monday and then the other one directs on Tuesday. The one that is not directing is kind of silent and doesn’t say anything. At all. I thought they would never be able to keep that up – it must be really difficult. But they really do. The advantage is that you get somebody who may possibly have been incredibly frustrated the day before and is so desperate to have his turn that he is full of enthusiasm. They are both really nice, as well. Sometimes they talk in Swedish and we can’t understand them. That makes me sad because it is one of the languages that I don’t speak.” She grins as she assures me she’s working on correcting that. “I am learning all the dirty words.”
That skin-tight rubber suit…
How does it feel to be stepping back into the skintight leather and rubber suit? “It feels weirdly like indigestion!” Beckinsale laughs prettily. “Actually, this costume has good memories for me, even though it does make it a bit difficult to have a big lunch. It’s weird. I’ve never played another character multiple times, so it’s a bit daunting to put on the exact same outfit that you wore a decade ago and try not to feel a bit different.”
So how long did it take you to feel comfortable as Selene again? “It was quite quick. There was an odd moment putting on the costume for the first time in the first costume fittings. I had forgotten that special shrieking rubber noise it makes – it was just so familiar. The first training period was incredibly nerve-racking. I was not somebody who was particularly athletic at school. I hadn’t held a gun before, I’d never thrown a punch – I’d never done anything like that. I was so completely out of my comfort zone. I had to go through the training because I was just terrible at everything. I couldn’t run properly or anything. So doing this one now, after having already passed through that barrier is really nice. I still expect myself to mess it up every time. I’m still in the same old mindset. But I am kind of good at it now.”
The corsets don’t give you any grief? “No. I mean – I am used to wearing corsets. When I was first starting out it was either Shakespeare or Chekhov. Everything that I was doing involved corsets. I guess I am just not destined to breathe that deeply.”
This interview first appeared in Filmink Magazine.