The petite, pale Kate Beckinsale has been giving vampires a lot of thought these days, seeing as how she's playing one in Underworld (which opened Friday) - and a vampire's victim in the soon-to-be-releasedVan Helsing.
"Vampire tales have always been about sex," Beckinsale says. "And vampires are very sexy. That whole love and lust and the illicit kiss on the neck cursing you, and giving you eternal life.
"You kiss somebody, OK bite somebody, and you transform them, like having sex with someone and having that transform you into a pregnant lady."
She didn't plan on doing two bloodsucking films. But when the chance to play an action heroine came along, "I couldn't resist. I wanted to do one that was a little camp. I mean, come on. My costume in Underworld? It's a condom with sleeves."
Beckinsale, 30, has been at home in costume pieces such as TV's Emma or the comedy Cold Comfort Farm. She's done well in modern dress comedies like Serendipity. But she's determined to broaden her range, her appeal.
"I get offered action films all the time," she says, noting her work in Pearl Harbor. "But you're always offered `the girl's part.' I wanted to be the one with the guns."
Even though she knows nothing about them?
"Even though English girls never touch guns, really," she says, laughing. "But the secret is, I have these huge hands."
"They didn't have to make special guns for me. I think I look right with one in my hand. One in each hand. At least in this film."
Beckinsale stars as Selene, a leather-sheathed vampire engaged in an ages-old war with werewolves. In Underworld, she drives the cool cars, wears the cool costumes and wields the cool guns. It's a modest-budget film that didn't have a lot of money for special effects or rehearsal.
Beckinsale is plainspoken in the extreme. More than one reporter has heard her "I don't wear knickers" speech. She's talked about her teen-aged anorexia (she's much healthier looking in person), ending her relationship with her Underworld co-star Micheal Sheen - they have a child together - and taking up with Underworld director Len Wiseman after the film was finished.
"Ask me anything," is her favorite dare.
Which made her a surprising but somehow spot-on choice to play the blunt, no-nonsense beauty Ava Gardner in Martin Scorsese's new film about Howard Hughes, The Aviator. Gardner and Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) had a stormy 20-year affair, beginning in the 1940s.
"She had to enjoy that he'd send a jet for her and she could dash off to St. Tropez to shop," Beckinsale says. "She'd say, `Oh, I'd like some orange ice cream,' and even though it was impossible to come by at the time, during the war, gallons of it would end up at her house."
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.