Kate Beckinsale never imagined she'd make a plausible action star until she donned a skintight leather catsuit to play a vampire warrior in 2003's Underworld. ''The idea of me even holding a gun seemed ludicrous,'' she says. This month the 38-year-old Brit returns to the role of Selene in the series' fourth installment, Underworld Awakening, opening Jan. 20. It's one of three movies Beckinsale has in 2012, along with the gritty crime thriller Contraband (opening Jan. 13) and this summer's remake of the 1990 sci-fi film Total Recall, directed by her husband, Len Wiseman. There, she'll take on the villain role originally played by Sharon Stone. Though she's been making movies for two decades, there's still an air of mystery to Beckinsale. For starters, she says, ''a lot of people think I'm American.'' Here are some other things you may not know about her.
Before she starred in Underworld, she didn't even know how to make a fist.
''I remember the look of horror on the stunt coordinator's face when I turned up,'' says Beckinsale, who studied French and Russian literature at Oxford. ''I really lived in my head at that point and was very academic, and I was just about managing to walk. They said, 'Just throw a couple of punches,' and I did it with my thumb tucked in which you're not supposed to do because you'd break your thumb immediately.''
Her husband and her ex-boyfriend actor Michael Sheen, who's the father of her 12-year-old daughter, Lily get along quite well.
''The popular notion of how Michael and I broke up that we were on [the first Underworld] and I ran off with the director [Wiseman] is just not true. If that were the case, I think it would be very difficult and peculiar to have an okay situation. But everybody involved has felt that the priority is Lily and wanting to get to a good place for her. And everyone is nice. So it's not bad.''
The London native has lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade and still doesn't know how to drive.
''I'm basically trapped in my house unless someone takes pity on me,'' says Beckinsale, who has no plans to try to get a license. ''I don't want to get into it because I know there's going to be a few [failed] tries.''
Around 2004 she had a ''moment of crisis'' and considered dropping acting to go to medical school.
''I've got this amazing doctor in England who's a Renaissance man he keeps bees on his balcony, he rides his motorbike through France, and he's just one of the coolest people on the planet. I went to see him and I said, 'I wish I'd been a doctor like you.' And he said, 'You absolutely could!' Then I went off to do the Aviator press junket and had a moment of thinking, 'I'd quite fancy that.' But I'm not a fan of effluvia and vomit vomit in particular. Though I'm sure there are lots of doctors who don't love vomit.''