Kathrin Romary Beckinsale (not Beckinsdale, like I always assumed!) was born on 26 July 1973 in Chiswick, England to acting duo Judy Loe & Richard Beckinsale. She made her first television appearance at the age of four, in an episode of This is Your Life dedicated to her father.
When she was just 6, her 31 year old father passed away from a sudden heart attack, which left her family devastated. Richard’s co-star Ronnie Barker said that “He was so loved. He hadn’t done much but he was so loved that there was a universal sort of grief that went on.” When asked to comment on his death years later, Kate Beckinsale said, “It was so sudden. He just went to sleep one night, and didn’t wake up again.” Kate explained that after her Dad’s death, she “started expecting bad things to happen.” Her Mum moved in with director Roy Battersby when Kate was 9, and she ended up beign brought up with his 5 kids. By all accounts she had a great relationship with her step-father.
Kate went to school at the Godolphin and Latymer Schools in West London, and was involved with the theatre from early on. She said that she was a ‘late bloomer’, and that “All of my friends were kissing boys and drinking cider way before me. I found it really depressing that we weren’t making camp fires and everyone was doing grown-up stuff. I loathed being a teenager.” When she was just 15, she had a nervous breakdown and developed anorexia, for which she underwent Freudian psychoanalysis for over four years. “I grew up immersed in film. My family were in the business. I quickly realised that my parents seemed to have much more fun in their work than any of my friends’ parents.” She made her first televised acting appearance in an adaptation of P. D. James’ Devices and Desires, and from then until 1993 she appeared in One Against the Wind, Rachel’s Dream, a 30‑minute Channel 4 short and the pilot of the detective series, Anna Lee.
In 1993, Kate was awarded the role of Hero in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. She filmed the movie in Tuscany, Italy, during a summer holiday from Oxford University. Soon after, she went to the movies’ Cannes Film Festival premiere and was very overwhelmed. “Nobody even told me I could bring a friend! I had Doc Martens boots on, and I think I put the flower from the breakfast tray in my hair.” While still at uni, she made 3 other films: Prince of Jutland, a film based on the Danish legend which inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Uncovered. While studying in Paris, she filmed the French language Marie-Louise Ou La Permission.
While she was at New College in Oxford, Kate read French and Russian literature. Journalist Victoria Coren described Kate as “whip-clever, slightly nuts, and very charming”. While she was at Oxford she was involved with the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and this cemented her love of acting. While studying Languages, she was required to spend her third year studying overseas, and ended up deciding on Paris. Shortly after she decided that it would be best for her to quit University and focus on her acting career, as “It was getting to the point where I wasn’t enjoying either thing enough because both were very high pressure.”
Shortly after leaving Oxford in 1995, Kate starred in Cold Comfort Farm with Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Ian McKellen, Rufus Sewell and Stephen Fry. Beckinsale was originally considered to be too young for the role, but ended up being cast after she wrote a pleading letter to the director. In the same year she appeared in Haunted, and appeared in her first professional stage appearance in The Seagull at Theatre Royal. It was during The Seagull that she met and became smitten with co-star Michael Sheen. “He was the young lion of the theatre. I was all revved up to feel very intimidated. It was my first-ever play and my mother had cut out reviews of him in previous productions. And then he walked in … It was almost like, ‘God, well, I’m finished now. That’s it, then.’… He’s the most outrageously talented person I’ve ever met.” Just look how gloriously 90’s they are together!
It was now that Beckinsale started to get work in the States. She said that it wasn’t “a conscious decision…My boyfriend was in a play on Broadway so that’s why we ended up in New York, and my auditions happened to be for American films.” She starred in The Last Days of Disco with Chloë Sevigny in 1998, and apparently nailed her first try at the American accent. Then in 1999 she appeared opposite Claire Danes in Brokedown Palace. In the same year, she gave birth to daughter Lily in London with Michael Sheen.
In 2001 she featured in her first big Hollywood blockbuster Pearl Harbour, as a nurse torn between two pilots who were played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett. The directer, explosion-king Michael Bay, originally didn’t want her cast, as “I wasn’t sure about her at first…she wore black leather trousers in her screen test and I thought she was a little nasty…it was easy to think of this woman as a slut.” We would have gone troppo if we were described like that! He ended up hiring her be cause he decided that she wasn’t “too beautiful. Women feel disturbed when they see someone’s too pretty.”
He also asked her to loose weight form the role, which Kate said was very upsetting, expecially given her history with anorexia. However, she was happy that she hadn’t copped that sort of criticism at a younger age, as “If I had come on to a movie set at a younger age and someone had said, ‘You’re a bit funny-looking, can you go on a diet?’—I might have jumped off a building. I just didn’t have the confidence to put that into perspective at the time.” When asked about this again in 2011, she said she was “very fond” of Bay.
This is where her career takes a turn into the land of Hollywood action movies. She stared in the 2003 vampire movie Underworld, and it was noted for being very different from her prior acting roles. She said that she was grateful for the change of scenery after appearing in “a bunch of period stuff and then a bunch of romantic comedies. It was quite a challenge for me to play an action heroine and pull off all that training when in real life I can’t catch a ball if it’s coming my way.” Although the film received negative reviews, it quickly became a cult hit. The end of the filming of Underworld saw her relationship with Michael Sheen end too.
In 2004 Beckinsale starred in the action horror film Van Helsing alongside Hugh Jackman. She explains that she was “so surprised” to be in her second action film in two years. “It just seemed like a very good role.” By this stage she had separated from her long-term boyfriend Michael Sheen, and was really grateful of the supportive family the cast became for her. “I really did find that working with people like Stephen and Hugh made it possible to get through what I was going through.”
2004 was a busy year for Beckinsale, as she portrayed the gorgeous Ava Gardner in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Scorsese, despite advice to do otherwise, cast Beckinsale because, “I’ve always liked her. I’ve seen all her work, and I was glad that she agreed to audition.” She also married director Len Wiseman, whom she had met on set of the first Underworld movie, and had convinced him to cast Michael Sheen, but while on set she and Wiseman fell in love. Everyone involved, excluding Wiseman’s then wife, agree that there was no infidelity.
In 2006 she starred in Underworld: Evolution, which was directed by her husband, and also in Click, opposite Adam Sandler and Christopher Walken in Click. She said that what attracted her to the role was the opportunity to play a mother. From 2006 to 2010 she tried to get away from the action roles, instead featuring in dramas such as Snow Angels, Vacancy, Winged Creatures, Nothing but the Truth, Whiteout, Everybody’s Fine, and from 2010 to 2011 decided to take a break from acting to spend time with her daughter.
Beckinsale returned to acting in 2012, appearing in the action thriller Contraband, reprising her role as Selene in the fourth instalment Underworld: Awakening and the sci-fi action remake of Total Recall, which was directed by her then-husband Len Wiseman. In 2016 she was reunited with Stillman and Sevigny from Last Days of Disco on the romcom Love & Friendship, which was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
And in one of the movies we’re most excited for in 2017, Kate will star in Underworld: Blood Wars.She’s looking as fit as ever, and we can’t wait to see her kick some more ass!