As you anticipate the premiere of Underworld: Boodwars, who better for a magazine cover model than gorgeous British actress Kate Beckinsale.
Gracing the cover of a recent Shape Magazine and this magazine, this 43-year-old again will make her money on a genre film, the fifth in the Underworld saga franchise, Blood Wars — and garner her enduring audiences and fans. And she even has another genre thriller coming out, The Disappointments Room, this January on Blu-ray/DVD.
But it’s the recent film-ication of a Regency era that has brought her the criticial praise she deserves. Though she’s done a slew of great films with a who’s who of directors, this London native has yet to be afforded recognition for her serious work. That is, until director Whit Stillman made Love & Friendship, a film in which Beckinsale plays the contradictory and complicated Lady Susan Vernon.
While her character seems to be such a schemer, the married Beckinsale — to Len Weisman, original director of the Underworld Vampire vs Werewolf saga — is much more of a straight shooter in real life with an arch sense of humor. Any conversation with her is a breezy delight.
Wickedly sly, this film provides the perfect vehicle for Beckinsale to do something that would appeal to audiences, especially women, whether they be fans of Jane Austen’s highly mannered 18th-century romantic social melodramas or not. Based on Austen’s short novel “Lady Susan,” (written in the late 1700s but published 50 years after the legendary author’s death), the movie details the recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon’s endlessly manipulative machinations to find herself a new husband, one for her daughter, and to continue her wildly licentious and scandalous affair with a married man.
It first debuted at Sundance 2016, then came out in theaters mid-year; its enduring critical and commercial success has brought on multiple award nominations for Beckinsale — even placing her on an Oscar shortlist for best actress.
While Beckinsale’s character Vernon seems to be such a schemer, the married Beckinsale — to director Len Weisman, originator of the Underworld Vampire vs Werewolf saga — is so much more the straight shooter in real life with an arch sense of humor that any conversation with her is a breezy delight.
And though she’s done a slew of great films with a who’s who of directors, this London native has not yet been afforded the opportunity to shine until this film where she plays such a huge and complicated personality as Lady Susan Vernon.
Q: How did this part in Love & Friendship come about?
KB: I was doing another movie in Bulgaria and was sent the script. Whit Stillman, the director of this film [is someone] I worked with years ago on The Last Days of Disco. He’s such an amazing person. I hadn’t heard from him in a long time but I knew he had done one or two more movies. It was probably 17 years ago that we worked together but he was very cool.
Q: So how had the relationship changed since the first time you worked together? Did you notice changes between The Last Days of Disco and Love & Friendship?
KB: I was expecting to notice more differences about all of us given the 200 years between movies and [that] we ended up in different parts of the world for each film. When I did The Last Days of Disco, I was very much a fish out of water. I had rarely spent any time in America at all. I had never done an American accent in a movie and, you know, it was very specific.
I started following Whit around, listening to how he talked and tried to understand how I fit into their English. But it was different this time. I felt a lot more familiar with Jane Austen and British things, but that’s one of the things that’s wonderful about working with Whit — he’s so unbelievably intelligent, cultured, and brilliant that it was a huge treat. And, I still say, he is always obsessed with people’s backgrounds, though he says he’s not… But he is…
Q: Did you get into the groove for Love & Friendship the way you did for the Last Days of Disco?
KB: I didn’t have to be as mean as I was in The Last Days of Disco and I very much feel that the love and friendship in the title of this movie is very much about how relationships were in the film. It’s very important that at different points in the movie my character feels most herself when she’s actually being completely honest.
Q: These characters are wonderful — she’s so funny and naughty!
KB: Yeah, I like naughty women.
Q: You play a seductress — was that hard?
KB: I think if I wanted to flex that muscle — and I could not say that I have, or will — [this is the part for it] but it’s always good to keep yourself toned.
Q: What does love and friendship mean to you?
KB: It’s what makes the world go round isn’t it? All my best girlfriends are from either elementary school or middle school so I’m genuinely texting people like 45 times a day…
Q: Were there real challenges in getting that 18th century dialogue right — dialogue which is amazing with the elaborate language from the period… Getting the dialogue and timing right must have been so much more difficult than doing a contemporary film. Were there special things you had to wrap your mind around?
KB: Whit’s takes were very long. In terms of other movies, they’re much shorter. With Whit you weren’t sure at the beginning that he wanted to do them in bits. I kept saying to him, “Can I have a final draft of the script a few weeks before we start shooting because I want to make sure I show up like how you do when you’re doing a play and you know your lines first,” But he doesn’t really work like that so it was a bit of a mental challenge.
The other thing that’s great about Whit is not only that he’s a brilliant writer but he’s very “in the moment.” So all of a sudden on a certain Tuesday he decides to put the speech like this he’ll decide he wants this part like this and this bit there so that it would make sitting in hair and makeup a little terrifying.
You look like you’ve just been exhumed and you have these extra changes from Whit. So that was quite nerve-wracking because you’ll never be ahead of the game [with him]; I won’t get Alzheimer’s because my brain was constantly on the alert.
Q: You did Emma in 1996 the performance you gave for the BBC production was great, but how did your relationships change with Austen’s heroines in doing this; did you approach Jane Austen differently for this film?
KB: To be honest, I did a similar background research and all that before. I remember when I was doing the BBC one I was being sent to a dialect coach and was kind of taken aback like, “I’m English — why am I getting sent to a dialect coach…?” But it was really helpful because it irons out every kind of little modern nuance and the London thing that I had. So I did go back and see the same exact [coach]. It was a bit of a reunion actually…
Q: You’ve done so many different kind of films, so many genres, but in the ’90s weren’t you were a bit worried about doing too many period films? People said, “Well she smells like crumpets…”
KB: I think people like the combination, but because I’ve done so many period films before that I’d go into meetings with people and they’d say, ”She’s just very British, sort of fragile and dainty.” And I said, “Well, I have to do something that changes that.” And then the thing that I did that changed and it changed super hard so that people thought I couldn’t do this…
Q: What was it like to shoot on location in Ireland?
KB: I’ve never been to Dublin before and it was beautiful, amazing, and it was wonderful because obviously it was a period of procreates and the crew was very experienced in these movies and the experts. All that was great. It was quite interesting weather to be having lots of stories in the gardens. Like we said I think that was kind of a surprise but it was really changeable it would go from a semi-tornado to snow to hailing in about 20 minutes. I had quite a difficult hat so that that sort of stuff was aggravating — especially with me chasing after it.
The other thing that was so wonderful and great [in Ireland] was that every person I came into contact with had a story about Bono, like a personal story about him. Clearly he is very busy making breakfast for people; it made me want to have a cup of tea [with him] and people in England are like, “Why hasn’t he got anything done since he’s with the people of Dublin [laughs].”
Q: Was the production of it all with the costumes — and that purple dress in particular — fun. Or did you find waking up everyday to get dressed up, that you had to be a little terrifying — and terrified.
KB: The idea of it is very fun. It was quite exciting. Before I got to Ireland and because [the film] had a very small budget I wasn’t expecting to have [many costumes]. But all of the costumes for Chloe and I were made from scratch. I was thinking we were going to be borrowing things from other movies and stuff, but we didn’t.
Because our characters change clothes so much, you’d sort of have a Christmas present every other day and it was this completely crazy outfit — not a relaxing thing to wear and it was really cold in Dublin — so we all had thermal underwear on down to our knees.
That was first level and then there’s the corset and the thing you put under the corset. Then the corset, then what goes over the corset the petty coat, and another winter coat, and the hat, gloves, scarves and by that point you can barely move. But just to get out of your trailer and down the three steps is quite a big thing to try and do but luckily there wasn’t much jumping off of buildings [in this film at least]. Especially if we are going to talk this much as Lady Susan does. I mean I started to get dizzy at the end of the 5th or 6th take — just from all her talking.
Makeup was very quick because Whit didn’t really want us having any makeup which was a bit frightening. It was a bit horrifying because it was [done] very early in the morning so you arrived to scare yourself. But the thing that took the longest time was not the wigs because styling those were quite quick, but the dressing which was quite protracted because you had to have help with the corset.
Q: Were there any favorite moments or scenes that you shot and what would that be?
KB: I couldn’t manage to go to dance rehearsals that other people were going to because I was always working. Whit was very nice but I nearly ruined that dance scene just from laughing — it was a very funny day. I did enjoy it I just wasn’t very well prepared for it.
And there moments when actor Tom Bennett — who plays this very foppish character whose verbal stumblings [are hilarious] — was really terrific and charming.
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