UNDERWORLD directed by Len Wiseman, written by Danny McBride, Wiseman and Kevin Grevioux, produced by Gary Lucchese, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Wright, with Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Shane Brolly and Michael Sheen. 121 minutes. A Screen Gems release. Opens Friday (September 19). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page XX. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
underworld's not a situation in which you'd expect to find the demure English star of such TV productions as Cold Comfort Farm and Emma and the Merchant-Ivory film adaptation of Henry James's The Golden Bowl. Kate Beckinsale's all strapped up in latex and leather, a gun in each hand, hunting werewolves. Did I mention that she plays a vampire? Which is why she wanted the role in the first place.
"Nobody ever offers me roles like this," she says during her a junket piggybacked onto the recent Toronto International Film Festival. "I've never fired a gun in a movie before.
"Also, because it was fairly low-budget for this kind of film (yes, we've reached a point where $30 million can be considered a small budget), we weren't shooting a lot of blue screen, and I could do some of my own stunts."
These included being strung up on wires and leaping off buildings.
"Well, I didn't do the big jumps. If the stunt crew looks nervous about a stunt, I feel I really shouldn't even try it."
In the film, in chalk-white makeup and black hair, she resembles Neve Campbell in a kick-ass moment. She looks even less like herself, though, when she's ushered into the interview room slathered in slightly garish TV makeup.
Her hair is styled very dramatically for her role as movie legend Ava Gardner in Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes biography, Aviator, currently filming in Montreal.
Underworld is a vampires vs. werewolves movie, shot in Budapest and heavily influenced by the look and style of both The Matrix and the Blade films. It uses a basic palette of black, white and four-day-old-bruise blue.
Beckinsale plays Selene (the name gives us a cross-reference for that great full moon on the film poster), a vampire warrior who discovers that all is not as it seems in the thousand-year war between the species of the night.
"It's a fun movie. It was very cold when we shot it, but I suppose the costume would have been unbearable if it hadn't been. You don't want to wear that much latex if it's hot.
"I had my daughter Lily on the set, and I think she found it confusing. 'Why is Daddy trying to kill Mummy?'" (Lily's father, Michael Sheen, plays the leader of the werewolves.)
"But now she tells everyone that she wants to be a movie star. They say, 'Like Mummy?' and she says, 'No, a movie star.'
"I think she wants a pool."