By Jeanne Wolf | September 1, 2009 | People
It’s hard to imagine Kate Beckinsale as ugly, but the British actress is messing with her classic beauty in Whiteout, playing a federal marshal who’s horribly disfigured after being attacked by the killer she’s tracking. Kate told me she had no problem with the startling change in her image. “Looking bad in a movie is as much an illusion as looking really great,” she says. “I wish I could say that the movies in which I look really fantastic are truly me, but they aren’t. They’re the best version of me. So in Whiteout you get the worst version.”
Then Beckinsale reveals with a grin that she got a kick out of the whole process of becoming hard to look at. “The makeup people were painting on scars and bruises and giving me really sallow skin, and I enjoyed it,” she says. “If I wanted to just feel pretty all the time I would have been a model, but that’s not my goal. I’m much more tense when I’m supposed to be attractive in a movie. I keep thinking, Oh, God. I hope it’s coming out okay. Do I look all right? So it was nice not to have to worry about it.”
What Kate did worry about was the weather. To re-create Antarctica, where Whiteout takes place, the filmmakers chose a northern Canada location in the dead of winter. “It was minus 58 degrees,” she says. “Before I got there, I was going, I grew up in London, I’ve made a movie in snow and ice in Budapest, so I’ll be fine. But I could not believe how shockingly cold it was.
“Every time you take a breath, it makes you cough because you get a blast of subfreezing air in your throat,” she continues. “My hair would get frozen into points of ice because I was breathing on it. I did get frightened the first day of filming, because the night before they gave us this pamphlet warning of different ways you can die from being in the cold. Of course most people sensibly didn’t read it. But I, of course, sat there like Woody Allen, going, Oh, my God.”
Kate looks great again and isn’t freezing to death in Everybody’s Fine opposite Robert De Niro, which arrives in theaters in December. “I was a little nervous about costarring with a screen legend,” she admits. “Fortunately, I play De Niro’s daughter. Since he’s sort of a Method actor, that’s exactly how he treated me. He plays a father who’s trying to reconnect with his grown-up kids and it’s a very sweet story. Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell play my brother and sister, and we really did feel like a family.
“My own daughter, Lily, played the young me,” she adds with obvious pride. “So the whole thing was a very family affair. Her first scene was with De Niro. He couldn’t have been nicer to her. If anyone’s nice to my daughter, I love them forever.”
But Beckinsale admits she couldn’t help being a stage mom. “When I saw Lily step in front of the camera I just got obsessed and nervous,” she admits. “I was watching on the video monitor, shaking and quivering a bit. But she did great.”
Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt Take on the Nazis
Talk about a change of pace: Quentin Tarantino has gone from gangster and kung-fu movies to his own WWII epic, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Inglourious Basterds, with a cast that includes überstar Brad Pitt, follows the “Semitic squad,” a special unit of Jewish-American soldiers sent behind enemy lines to shake up the German troops.
The former video-store clerk turned Hollywood legend admits that visions of his favorite war movies got him thinking about tackling the genre. “I remember all those films where you see GIs on a mission that mix everything I love to do—action, adventure and comedy,” he says. “The Dirty Dozen was a huge influence. That was the starting-off point, but then I began going my own way, as I always do. In the end, it’s sort of a WWII revenge fantasy. If I were still working in a video store, that’s the section where I’d put it.”
I had to find out what it took for Quentin to snag the Sexiest Man Alive as the lieutenant who leads the “basterds.” “For a long time I’ve thought, One of these days I hope I can write a character that would be terrific for Brad Pitt, and we can have a collaboration that will be like a Babe Ruth home run. So as I was writing the character of the lieutenant, I was like, Okay, this is the one for Brad. But then I started getting fucking nervous. I was like, Shit, if he doesn’t like it, what the fuck am I gonna do? So I sent it to him and then we had a meeting and he was ready to sign on.”
I also got Pitt’s memory of how his name was added to the list of famous faces who’ve acted for Tarantino, from Bruce Willis to De Niro. “Quentin came to visit and we talked about the script, we talked about backstory, and we talked about movies until the wee hours of the night,” he says. “I got up the next morning and saw five empty wine bottles lying on the floor and something that resembled a smoking apparatus. I don’t know what that was about. Apparently I had agreed to do the movie because six weeks later I was in uniform and playing Lt. Aldo Raine. So go figure.”
Then he adds, “Quentin said, ‘We’re going to take it to Cannes next year.’ After reading the script, I knew that was the right place but I didn’t see how he could pull it off. I never thought I’d be on the set so quickly or that in three months the film would be wrapped. All I can say is that it’s a real pleasure working for an auteur. You can see how much Quentin loves movies and he passes on that spirit to everyone around him.”
For his part, Tarantino seems at a loss to define what sets his films apart. “I’ve heard the term ‘Tarantino-esque’ thrown around,” he says, “but I don’t know what that is. If you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re not really that conscious of how you do it.”
Then he adds, “Part of the method to my madness is the idea of getting you to laugh at things that you wouldn’t normally laugh about, and you might even be questioning, Why am I laughing at this? But you’re laughing anyway, so too bad—you’re complicit. When I actually finally see the movie with an audience for the first time and hear their laughs, that’s the last ingredient to make the cake rise. That’s the payoff.”
FROM TOP: Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale
photographs by tony barson/wireimages.com (pitt); jeffrey mayer/wireimages.com (beckinsale); jeff vespa/wireimage.com (barrymore)