Kate Beckinsale is downright mischievous: She is known on the internet for her viral Instagram pranks, often with a cat named Clive, and her Instagram video of her sounding off a random horn to startle a friend. But she’s also one of the most versatile actors around. Beckinsale has wooed audiences around the world through a plethora of different characters in her films. From her portrayal of romanticized heroine Nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson in “Pearl Harbor,” to charming Ava Gardner in “The Aviator,” to manipulative and witty Lady Susan Vernon in “Love & Friendship,” not to mention the vampire named Selene in five “Underworld” movies, Beckinsale has proven that she can cast a wide net.
It’s no accident she has this character range. The 44-year-old Brit grew up around the craft; both her mother, Judy Loe, and father, Richard Beckinsale, were professional actors. Growing up in London, Beckinsale spent a lot of time watching the complexities of Elizabethan theater. At Oxford University, she was cast by a young Tom Hooper (director of “The King’s Speech”) in Arthur Miller’s “A View From The Bridge.” During a summer break from Oxford in 1993, she landed a major role in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaption of the Shakespeare comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” alongside acting giants Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington and Michael Keaton.
She eventually made the move to America, where her performance in “Pearl Harbor” with Ben Affleck introduced her to an international audience; the film grossed over $449 million worldwide. That lead to her starring in a number of films like “Serendipity”(2001), “Van Helsing”(2004), “Click” (2006) as well as the aforementioned films.
This month, “The Only Living Boy in New York” opens, in which Beckinsale appears opposite Pierce Brosnan. In the movie, which was filmed on location in New York City, she plays a brazen seductress in the middle of a love triangle between a married man and his son. Beckinsale currently lives in Los Angeles with her 18-year-old daughter, Lily Mo, whom she had with her former partner, actor Michael Sheen.
What interested you about “The Only Living Boy in New York”?
Well, it’s a script that had been floating around Hollywood for a while. I’d been aware of it, and thought that it was this really lovely, sort of gentle, lyrical story about people who are struggling a lot. And I love stories like that—it felt very precious. I don’t think there have been that many movies that have been made about these little stories. And so I heard that they were finally making it, and I ended up Skyping with Marc Webb [the movie’s director], whom I’m a huge fan of anyway. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I’m even more of a fan.
What do you like most about New York City?
I’ve lived in New York a couple of times in my life. The first time I lived there, I made some of the closest friends I have. I’m sure everyone feels like this when they live in New York for the first time, especially when they are young, but I sort of found out who I was and what I liked. I was around 21, and that’s the time in your life were you are finding that stuff out.
I think New York really helps with that. Because everything feels possible there. Even when you don’t have much money, you can still have a great time. I love that! And then I moved back there again, when my daughter was about nine months old or so. She took her first steps and said her first words in New York, so I’ve always felt really connected to the city.
And with New York, just like it is in London, you can stroll out of your home, and not too far away, wherever you live, you can find amazing theater and art. And I also found that people are really funny—they have a great sense of humor in NYC. Even though I am English, it sort of feels like home when I’m there: If any place in America feels familiar to me, and reminds me of life in England, it would be New York.
What is one of your all-time favorite Broadway shows?
My daughter and I were obsessed with “Hamilton” to a point of it becoming an issue. Like we went to see it so many times—we would go into the theater and sit down, and start sobbing about four songs in: We were just so blown away by Lin-Manuel Miranda [“Hamilton” composer and original star].
What are your favorite things to do in New York?
I love walking around Central Park. But I also love the fact that in New York you can wander and sort of discover things, and feel proprietary about the things you find, the shops and such. I have found fantastic stores that have costumes, and really great bookshops. It is so sad to see, though, that the amount of bookstores are dwindling.
What new project do you have in the works?
Well, I took off for a while [after filming “The Only Living Boy in New York”] because my daughter was graduating high school and moving on, and I wanted to be here for this last magical bit, her still living at home, but more as an adult. So, that’s coming to an end pretty soon. She’s going to be going off to college. And really, I’ve just been kind of savoring the last little bits of watching this fantastic chemical process happen—seeing her become a grown-up. Being her mother is definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
What medium do you prefer the most, film or live theater?
Gosh, I really don’t know. I grew up going to theater a lot: That’s what we did as a family, and so I always loved Shakespeare and a lot of other great classic playwrights, among other things. And I really do love working in the theater.
I haven’t done a play since I had my daughter, which is now, you know about 200 years ago [laughs]. I’m dying to go back to doing live theater. That’s one of the things that’s quite exciting about Lily going off and doing her own thing. All that is now open to me again.
I do think for actors it’s just fantastic to have a relationship with your audience. There’s a kind of a synergy [with live theater] that is not replaceable, and it’s different from when you’re going to a screening of a movie that you’ve done. There’s something so extraordinary about it, being on the stage: It’s a one-off moment. You know that anything possible could go wrong—or, that night, it could be the best acting you’ve ever done.