Now she's taking on the role of sultry screen legend Ava Gardner, who tries to tame billionaire ladies' man Howard Hughes in "The Aviator."
"She was this very passionate, fiery, feisty woman, and she just had a lot of warmth and a lot of strength at the same time - a lot to play," Beckinsale tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm about the legendary screen goddess. "She was like one of the guys."
The story goes that it was Clark Gable who said, 'Oh, Ava Gardner's a great guy who can drink with the boys and curse with a sailor's mouth but who happens to be trapped inside the body of the world's most beautiful woman.'"
For the role, Beckinsale had to gain 20 pounds, something she did easily by consuming mainly chocolates. "It was quite fun," she says. "It was a shame to lose it, really."
She also had to acquire Gardner's distinctive voice. "I rented a bunch of movies of her," Beckinsale explains, "I locked myself in a small padded cell with that and the description. It was great. I love all that stuff - that's the fun part of my job."
In almost every scene, her character is described as the most beautiful woman in the world, something Beckinsale found a bit intimidating.
"It does give you a lump in the throat," Beckinsale says. But, she points out, the most intimidating and rewarding part of the whole process was, actually, her audition before Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.
"It was one of the auditions I most dreaded because you think you don't want to be in front of people that you admire and think are really talented. It turned out to be one of the auditions I enjoyed most of my life. It was fun work, and after a while, I forgot about the audition side of it, and we had fun in the scenes."
According to the film's production notes, "The Aviator" explores not only the achievements, but the emotional life of , including his love affairs with Yankee-bred leading lady Katharine Hepburn ( ) and the luminous screen beauty Ava Gardner; as well as Hughes' fierce competition with Pan American's visionary head Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin); his lifelong relationship with his right-hand man Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly); his public battles with Sen. Owen Brewster (Alan Alda); and the devastating airplane crash and phobias that led him to ultimately withdraw from the world.
About Kate Beckinsale
- Born in London, England on July 26, 1973 to comic Richard Beckinsale (who died when she was 5 years old) and actress Judy Loe.
- In 1991, after a bit part in the BBC mystery "Devices and Desires," landed the pivotal role of the rebellious daughter of a British woman (Judy Davis) involved with the French Resistance during WWII in "One Against the Wind."
- In 1993, made her film debut as the virginal Hero in Kenneth Branagh's sun-dappled adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing."
- In 1994, starred opposite Christian Bale in "Royal Deceit/The Prince of Jutland," which was based on the Danish prince whose life inspired Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The following year, was a young woman searching for her lover in a crowded train station in "Marie-Louise, or The Leave," as well as a meddlesome orphan taken in by eccentric relatives in the brittle comedy "Cold Comfort Farm."
- In 1997, portrayed an aristocratic med student who falls in with two charming con men (Dan Futterman and Stuart Townsend) in the underrated caper flick "Shooting Fish."
- In 1998, adopting a flawless American accent, was seen as junior publishing executive seeking fun and, perhaps, Mr. Right in Whit Stillman's "The Last Days of Disco." And opposite Claire Danes, performed in "Brokedown Palace."
- In 2000, returned to the big screen, after a time out for motherhood, as Nick Nolte's daughter in the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Henry James' "The Golden Bowl."
- In 2001, was cast as a U.S. Navy nurse in the big-budget epic "Pearl Harbor." Also played a woman who believes more in fate than love at first sight in the romantic comedy "Serendipity," opposite John Cusack.
- In 2003, played the vampire Selene, her highest profile role to date, in "Underworld." Followed that with another action-packed supernatural thriller, teaming with Hugh Jackman for "Van Helsing" (2004).
- Also in 2004, married "Underworld" director, Len Wiseman on May 9. Has a daughter with Michael Sheen named Lily Sheen; born on Jan. 31, 1999.