'No Strings' Interview
Natalie Portman

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Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
November 19, 2008

Fans know that Kate Beckinsale possesses a freakish trifecta of beauty, brains, and a sense of humor. So when we had the chance to speak with her one-on-one, we took the opportunity to put her unique charms on display by favoring random discussions over generic questions that have been asked ad nauseum. This is a fun, quirky Q&A that exists for the sole purpose of showing everyone that Kate is awesome--you know, just in case there were any readers out there who didn't get the memo.

In this exclusive interview, Kate effortlessly switches between gears without ever missing a beat, talking about university literature assignments one moment, then discussing the prospect of hugging a polar bear the next. From nicknames to toffee, commercials to kangaroos, we breeze through an eclectic mix of subjects with one of our favorite actresses. So, I'm not sure if you're aware of this sort of reputation you have...

KATE: Uh oh!

It's a good one! Often, reporters ask actors different questions, yet receive the same scripted answers. But you're the opposite: reporters can ask you the same question, and you often have different amusing stories.

Well, I think it's boring for everybody otherwise, isn't it?

Exactly. That's why we like you!

Oh, good! Okay! [laughs]

So given this reputation, I wasn't too surprised to learn that you had a passion for writing as a teenager. What prevented you from becoming a professional writer? And is it fair to say you've always been a storyteller?

Yeah. I was Young Writer of the Year twice in England, and I had my prize presented by Ted Hughes, and it was a whole big thing. And then I went to university and I was studying Russian and French, and I was having to read the whole of Stendhal one week, and the whole of Dostoyevsky the same week. And I just kind of couldn't keep it together. I was also, in the holidays, going off and making movies and all that. So it kind of fell by the wayside. And then just as I was starting to think I'm going to write again, I found myself amazingly, shockingly pregnant. And that really put the kibosh on it for me, just having a baby. [laughs] Like, for me, if I'm going to write, I need to be completely, selfishly in a quiet room with no interruptions and on my own schedule. And I have not had that experience since I've been a mother. [laughs]

Those awards were for both poetry and short stories, yes?

Yeah, the first one was poetry, the second one was short stories.

If you were to revisit the material you wrote back then, would it be embarrassing teen angst, or would it hold up?

Some of it holds up. Yeah, some of it definitely does. I'm not embarrassed about it. I'm more likely to be able to read that stuff than I am to watch some of my movies, to be honest with you. [laughs]

In a scene from Nothing But the Truth, an interviewer tries to get your character to cry on camera. Have you ever gotten that situation in real life? And what's with this "leaning in" move that they do? [leans in closer, puts hand under chin, stares intently at Kate]

[laughs] Maybe it's supposed to con you that it's personal. But it's actually not. It's just for good television, that they actually care. I don't know. Maybe that's the body language: "I really like you!" And [actors are] such suckers, we go for it. [laughs] You know, "Oh! Talk about myself a little bit more..." I haven't [experienced that], really. But the thing is, I haven't had a high-profile divorce or caught my husband sleeping with a transsexual prostitute or anything. When that happens, I'm quite sure that I will be crying on every talk show.

...Or maybe just go off on rage-filled rants.

Killing spree! Probably, I'd go for the killing spree. [laughs]

I know you're an animal lover, and if I recall, there was talk of an elephant on one of your Tonight Show appearances. Did you, like...get an elephant?

Elephant? I've never had an elephant. I'd love an elephant, but I've never seen one available to buy in LA...Was I talking about an elephant, or a kangaroo maybe? I did briefly consider buying a kangaroo, because I heard it was legal to have a kangaroo in LA and that you were allowed to walk it on a leash, which appealed to me for a minute. My husband was not into that. They fling poo, as well, apparently.

You should avoid that.

Yeah, I don't fancy that.

You have a rabbit named Bob, don't you?

Not anymore. We had to give him away, because he was in love with my husband and he hated me.

See, that's kind of sad. Now you're just trying to get me to cry in the interview.

Well, there, you see how the tables are turned? [laughs]

What is your favorite black and white animal: panda, penguin, cow, or something else?

I'd say panda. Yeah, definitely a panda. Everybody loves a panda, right? It's the most lovable animal ever, a panda.

They're probably more vicious than they look.

I think they kill you. It's like a polar bear. I would love to hug a polar bear, but it would kill you.

They have a whole disguise thing going on. They've somehow cultivated a great public image.

Mmm-hmm. I know people like that! [laughs]

Your character's appearance in Nothing But the Truth is specifically meant to be non-glamorous. Is there actually some movie magic that goes into that particular look? Like do you have to wear a lot of make-up to pretend that you're not?

A bit. And also, it has to do with the way that you're lit, too. They can increase shadows and lines and stuff by lighting, make you look more hollowed and all that stuff. But I think I genuinely look fairly horrible, I just think it was enhanced. You know, we would put eyebags and dark circles, and...I don't know. You're quite clearly Asian, my grandfather is Asian, and however tired I am, I don't get eyebags. It just doesn't happen. Do you ever get eyebags?

[pauses] You know, I don't know. I haven't ever noticed...

Yeah! If you don't know, you probably don't. And I always feel, like, cheated. If I'm really, really tired, generally, people don't give me nearly enough sympathy, because I don't get really bad eyebags. So those, we did have to paint on. But other than that, no...I think it was authentically just me looking sh*tty. [laughs]

[laughs] Oh, you still looked good in those scenes. I was just wondering if it was as much of a work process in terms of setting up...

It's not as much--it's a lot quicker to rough somebody up than it is to prissy them up. You know, it's easier to smash something up than it is to build something! But I mean, certainly, when I got into prison, we were definitely having to plot the timeline of how much hollowing and eyebags we would sallow as it went along.

You said your grandfather is Asian?

Mmm-hmm. Burmese.

Cool. On a completely unrelated note: You've participated in ads for Diet Coke. When you do a promotional campaign like that, do they give you a bunch of Diet Coke?

No, you don't get any Diet Coke. I did the campaign because I got to work with Michel Gondry, who actually directed the commercial...So I've done two commercials in my life, and one was with Michel Gondry and the other one was with Cameron Crowe. [laughs] So I've had an extremely healthy career with directors in commercials.

How was your experience of trying to get a message across in a creative way in only 30 seconds? Did you offer a lot of input to Michel?

No. None. I was clueless about that Diet Coke commercial. It didn't make sense to me in any way. I didn't understand what the point was. To me, when I read the storyboards, it looked like there was a whole joke about me farting at the end, because all these bubbles came out of the back of my sarong. I thought, "That can't be what Diet Coke is wanting to do!" And then when the commercial came out, it did sort of look like that, but I don't think that was intentional. So I just sort of paid my mortgage, and had fun with Michel Gondry, and just let them deal with the creative side.

If you were throwing a party for friends and had a pinata there, what would you fill it with?

Like what kind of candy? I'm a traditionalist. I wouldn't want to fill it with anything that wasn't candy. Probably toffee.

Okay. I've known people to put things like DVDs in them, so I guess it doesn't always have to be candy...

[says with great concern in her voice] But what if you hit it really hard? You know?

You do run the risk of breaking things...

You do.

And it's much harder to break toffee.

I'm on the fence about pinatas, anyway. I had never seen one in my life until I came over here. And then witnessing all these children beating Pooh Bear to death with a stick totally traumatized me. I mean, I did find that kind of like a brutal custom. [laughs] I was like, "I don't love seeing that!"

Now that you mention it, a gang of kids with a stick...

...with a stick, like beating some cute animal. It did freak me out. I've got used to it now. I'm immune to it now. But at the beginning, it was shocking.

Your past choices for Halloween costumes have received their fair share of attention on the internet. Have you ever gotten to keep wardrobe from Underworld or Van Helsing that you could maybe use?

Yes, but I can't go around dressed up as a character from my own movie. That would be embarrassing and lame. [laughs]

But you'd have the most authentic costume that no one else could top...

I know, but that would also make me look like I was trying to promote a DVD of my movie. Like I would be embarrassed. And also, you know, the whole point of Halloween is to dress up like somebody else, rather than be even more recognizable than you already are by wearing a costume that people associate with you. Do you know what I mean? Like it wouldn't be fun then. But I don't have any Van Helsing [costumes]. I was so happy to see the back of that Van Helsing costume, because those boots were literally almost the death of me, because they took about half an hour to do up. But Underworld, I got to keep that costume. I mean, my husband designed it and directed the movie, and I think made sure there were a few of those around the house. [laughs]

Handicap this matchup: who wins in a fight between Underworld's Selene and Van Helsing's Anna Valerious?

I've got to say Selene. I think Selene definitely would. She's just more of a badass.

Your birthname Kathryn has so many shortened forms: Kate, Kathy, Katie, Kit, Kat, etc. With all of them having their own connotations, what made "Kate" the right one for you?

I was Katie for a very long time! I was Katie till I was about 16. And then I decided that Katie was, you know, not quite sophisticated enough, so I wanted to be Kate. I never really saw myself as a Kathy. Kathy seemed more of a "farmer's wife"y type of name to me. It isn't, but it just felt a bit more country. So I don't know...My mother always really liked the name Kate, so maybe it was that.

Which films can we expect to see you in next?

Winged Creatures, Everybody's Fine, and Whiteout.

We've been waiting for Whiteout for like two years now, haven't we?

I know! They're apparently really, really happy with it. I guess they just have a particular schedule of films that they have to release first.

Was it delayed by reshoots?

I think we did a couple of days of reshoots, but no more than we did on [Nothing But the Truth]. We did a couple of days on this, actually--not reshoots, but additional scenes. But yeah, they seem to be very excited about it.

Between Whiteout and Snow Angels, are you over with this cold weather thing for a while?

And Underworld, which was Budapest. And Van Helsing was Prague! You know, one day I'm going to get a movie in Hawaii that isn't Pearl Harbor. [laughs]

Yeah, you need something on a tropical beach.

Then I can enjoy it. Yeah, exactly.

Thank you so much for your time, it was great talking to you.

It was a pleasure. It was really nice to see you. Thank you.

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