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‘The Aviator’ Interviews: Kate Beckinsale

Aside from being one of the most strikingly beautiful women you’ll ever be likely to encounter, Kate Beckinsale is so refined and poised in person that it’s hard to reconcile the ferocity with which she hurls ashtrays at Leonardo DiCaprio‘s head in her latest film, director Martin Scorsese‘s The Aviator.

But that’s just because the actress channeled the tempestuous verve of sultry screen legend Ava Gardner, movie star and on-again, off-again paramour of billionaire Howard Hughes (DiCaprio). In real life, she graciously sat down for a Q&A about the film, and even after all these questions, not a single ashtray was hurled.

On her reasons for playing the iconic Ava Gardner:
“I didn’t care about Ava Gardner without Marty and Leo already being attached to [the project], but she had a very unique spirit and I really found that appealing. There was a broad quality to her that I think today we tend to no longer have, because she was a very feisty, fiery, warm, physically feminine, tough person, from what I could gather. And those are all very interesting qualities in a woman.”

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On the mysterious, fiery nature of the Hughes-Gardner romance:
“It could become a little confusing because there is so much material to read about it, and so many different reports. And all of these things say they were romantically involved, except for her. In her autobiography she categorically denies that, so out of actress solidarity I had to kind of go with her story. From what I can gather, he was extremely fun. He had a broadness of vision and a scope, a big-ness, for life and for despair. And I think that she really enjoyed that these grand gestures would happen. She had a wildness: she was attracted to matadors, she was attracted to bullfighting. She lived very much in the heart of that passionate place, and I think that’s what she responded to in him.”

On the pitfalls of playing a real person:
“There are, of course, a certain percentage of people who will be just offended by the fact that you’ve been cast at all, and you don’t evoke her in their hearts as maybe somebody else might. [But] one of the cheering things about all the Internet battling about what a disaster it was that ALL of us were cast is that nobody ever seems to be able to settle on one person who unanimously have been the choice. If it’s a real person, you do feel that there’s a right way to play it. Normally in an artistic endeavor the way to play a part is a more organic thing that comes out as you’re going along-You’re the worthy authority on what’s going on in the character’s emotional life. When it’s a real person, there is actually a blueprint that you have to hit. That does make a difference. Once you’ve done all the research and you’ve immersed yourself in all of that, at some point you actually have to approach it in the same way as you approach anything else, as an open-hearted, creative actress playing a part.”

On finding the key to her character:
“I’m always very attracted to people’s vocal patterns. She had a deeper voice than I have, and that was a challenge to pull that off without sounding like you’re doing a funny voice. She has an American accent, but an American accent that began Southern and then was put through various voice coaching, and she ended up with a rather unique ‘movie star accent’ that doesn’t really come from anywhere. Marty didn’t want her in prosthetic chins and fake eyeballs and God knows what. He didn’t want a Saturday Night Live skit version of Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner. The most important thing was to capture the spirit.”

On the best Ava Gardner film:
“I had to watch Mogambo so many times, because that was really Marty‘s number one favorite for the voice, and that was the age that she was, so that has become almost by attrition my favorite one. Originally my favorite was The Barefoot Contessa, but I do love Mogambo. I think she’s stupendous in Mogambo.”

On Leonardo DiCaprio:
“I remember going and seeing What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and coming out with my boyfriend at the time and saying ‘I hope that’s a real boy and not an actor, because if it’s an actor we’re all screwed. That really raises the bar for everybody in a really terrifying way.’ What I find about him is that he’s not just some kid on a skateboard that the talent fairy dropped fairy dust on. This somebody how is more in control of his talent, and more responsible with his talent, and just a master of his craft than almost anyone I’ve ever worked with. He’s absolutely blossoming with every moment, and just being around him is a real treat as another actor. On top of it, he’s a terrific nice man, and we have a lot of fun. It was a slow start, but once we started hurling ashtrays at each other, we really had a nice time.”

On Old Hollywood glamour vs. today’s red carpet styles:
“One of the things that was so great was that Sandy Powell, the costume designer, was very attentive to detail, down to the pantyhose and the underwear and the girdle and the pointy bra and every single thing that could possibly be authentic is. And I did find that it makes you stand differently. I think the female body is definitely served up in a different way in the 1940s, which definitely helps with a different kind of sexuality. There’s much less skin on show, that’s for sure. You feel kind of a powerful, strong, sexy feeling, and yet also our blueprint for women who wear those kinds of clothes are women who are in their 70s and 80s now. So there’s a mixture of feelings of glossy and glamorous and fat, old and worthless. In the costumes I felt great, but on the weekends I felt like ‘Fat Kate.'”

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On the current culture of celebrity:
“I think the nature of celebrity has changed a lot. I think we’re less impressed by the studio system than [the actors of the Golden Age] were, but we’re in a much more confessional era. We’re in the era of Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey and psychoanalysis and taking pictures of stars’ underwear hanging out of the back of their pants. There was a mystique to a movie star in the 30s and 40s and 50s, and nowadays it’s more of a culture of exposure.”

On speculation that she may become Dr. Kate Beckinsale:
“I’m actually the age that my father was when he died so there’s an element of re-evaluation of things at the moment, and I’m keeping my mind open to all possibilities. I have thought about becoming a doctor. I think if you’re not absolutely lucky enough to work with the Scorsese of this world constantly over and over again, if you’re halfway intelligent then it can be a little bit frustrating. There are whole pockets of your year where your brain isn’t really activated as much as you might like it to be. I’m very much like my six-year-old in that respect: I’ll start behaving badly in my house and having to eat more candy and stuff if I don’t keep my brain ticking… I think 31 is a good age to go ‘What are my options?’ And it may well be that I end up continuing to act, I may do a bit more theater, I may write, I may go back to school. I’m not entirely sure-but I’m not doing any medical training right this second.”

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