Role Recall: Kate Beckinsale Remembers 'Pearl Harbor,' Humble 'Underworld' Beginnings, and More

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

These days Kate Beckinsale is probably better known for werewolf-whooping in the Underworld series than tea-sipping in costume dramas. But her roots are firmly planted in the latter. The 42-year-old London native made her movie debut in the 1993 Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing while on summer break from Oxford before headlining fanciful fare like Cold Comfort Farm (1995) and Emma (1996).

She’s back in costume in her latest project, Love & Friendship, a comedic twist on Jane Austen’s novel Lady Susan that reunites her with her Last Days of Disco director Whit Stillman and costar Chloë Sevigny. Beckinsale plays the widowed Lady Susan Vernon, whose gregarious nature and hunt for a new husband gives the buttoned-up Brits of 1790s rural England something to talk about.

Of course, it won’t be long until she’s back in butt-kicking mode. Beckinsale will reprise her role of the vampire warrior Selene in October’s Underworld: Blood Wars. In our latest episode of Role Recall (watch above), Beckinsale talked about making the jump from proper dramas to bloody actioners, how bad she was at running and punching, and the incredible fact that she was considered unattractive by Michael Bay and company during the making of Pearl Harbor. Some highlights:

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Beckinsale made her big-screen debut alongside Kenneth Branagh, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Keanu Reeves in this crowdpleaser, but it was Emma Thompson who made the biggest impression on the young actress. Thompson invited Beckinsale into the pool for some skinny-dipping, and advised Beckinsale not to shave her armpits because of the film’s Shakespearean setting. “I was like, ‘This is the coolest person I have ever met, I want to be her,’” Beckinsale laughed. “And still do.”

Pearl Harbor (2001)
Michael Bay was reportedly hesitant to cast Beckinsale in this much-hyped romantic war epic. As Beckinsale put it with a dig at the Transformers director, “Because I wasn’t blond and my boobs weren’t bigger than my head, I didn’t make sense to him as an attractive woman. So there was a lot of panic and concern about, 'How on Earth are we going to make her attractive?’ You think you’d take that really personally but I sort of managed not to. It was so extreme I kind of didn’t.”

The Underworld Series (2003-2016)
Beckinsale said she was being turned down for action roles in Hollywood because of her reputation as being “Jane Austen-y, very period, and a bit fragile.” Then Selene came along, forcing the actress to toughen up. “It was really frightening, cause I had never fired a gun before, I ran like a girl,” she said. Her punch (see above) was even worse.

Love & Friendship is now playing in select theaters. Watch the trailer: