Kate Beckinsale tells us how feces played a role in her latest onscreen drama
This month, Kate Beckinsale returns to the big screen in an adaptation of Stewart O'Nan's novel Snow Angels. The film was directed by Pineapple Express' autuer David Gordon Green and stars Beckinsale as a recently separated mother that suddenly finds her life spiraling out of control. When her husband, played by the extraordinary Sam Rockwell, attempts to reconcile their marriage, the couple's eight year old daughter goes missing.
The role was an emotionally demanding one that Beckinsale welcomed with open arms. Here, she discusses the task of bringing her character Annie to the screen. This is our conversation, feces and all:
Was this a challenge to take this role? It seems like a very emotionally demanding job?
Kate Beckinsale: That is what you are hoping for as an actor. I thought she was very complex and very real. Flawed. The hardest thing for me was yelling at someone else's child. I found that to be really difficult. In terms of emotion, that is what you want as an actor. When you have someone Like David Gordon Green who is so into you personalizing it, and making it your own, it is just great. It doesn't feel difficult. I have found it way more difficult to shoot something that isn't there. That is harder. This is easy.
What did you draw on for some of those heavier scenes?
Kate Beckinsale: It is a very personal film. I feel weird because it was two years ago when we made it. And it was a film that, at the time, really reached into my life. I think David had such a great sense of trust on the set. By the end, Sam and I really felt like we had this whole history together. Some of those scenes are moments you live for as an actor. You only experience them a few times during your whole career. You've suddenly transcended all of the preparation that you have done, and all of those things that you are drawing on. It is happening right now. And you don't know how it is going to go. There was one scene towards the end where I thought Sam and I might actually kill each other. You have to go there. This is in a great spirit. I worship Sam as a friend. But we did go to that risky place where things turned unpredictable. I removed myself from the actor I am, and I was sort of hovering up above it, saying, "Oh, my God! This is so great. It works". But this film has a lot of my life in it. It has a lot of the things that upset me. It has a lot of pain from my relationships in it. I haven't seen it with an audience. I will tomorrow, I guess. That is going to feel really weird. This particular film at this particular time in my life makes me feel like I have my knickers down in front of everybody. I feel rather exposed.
What is the best part of playing a mother on screen?
Kate Beckinsale: Well? I finally know what I am doing. This is what I have been training for, for nine years. It is great for me. I think there is a big difference between playing a mother when you are not one yet. And playing one after. It is night and day as far as I am concern. I find acting with children a little bit more difficult than before. Now I just imagine someone yelling at my child. I would want to kick their ass if someone was yelling at my child like I yell at this girl in the film. So, I was very nervous around the mother. I kept thinking she was going to attack me. In the end, it was a weird situation. It was that classically abusive situation, where you tell the kid, "I want to bond with you, and take a stroll with you, and be your friend." Then all of a sudden, you are yelling. And she is upset. I have to tell her after the scene is over, "I didn't really mean it. Come back and play again." I was like a horrible abusive person. I had a really hard time with that. The mother seemed to be perfectly okay with it. I was in Hell. The kid was ultimately really okay. Even though I felt bad.
Some directors don't want their actors reading the source material. Did you read the book beforehand?
Kate Beckinsale: Yes, and then I sent David a ninety-page email saying, "These are the things I want to change." Then I realized everyone else had done that too. I realized why they don't want you to do that. The director's job is to have the bird's eye view. My job is to completely specialize this character. I have to be selfish about her, though. But it was great. Even when we couldn't settle on something, and put some of that great stuff back in, we definitely kept the flavor. I was also able to develop my own back-story, which made it a very personal character for me. I think that is why it ended up being this amazing moment at the end. Sam and I were able to pull from this whole horrendous marriage that we invented. Its one that I am still living (laughs).
You have worn some pretty constrictive outfits in films like Underworld. In this film you are mostly in sweats. How does that change of wardrobe affect your performance?
Kate Beckinsale: I had so much gas in this movie, because it's the first time I am not wearing a corset. I prayed for a movie where I could wear sweat pants. And I finally got it. I think they were David Gordon Green's sweatpants. I think I wore nothing but his clothes in the movie. It was good, because I didn't have to be thinking in an external way. With a comic book type of movie, it is the kiss f death if you are having all of these emotions, and you now what you are supposed to be doing, but you can't move your neck. It doesn't work. You get this note from the director that you have to keep your neck down the entire time. And that is the kiss of death for an actor. That is what gives you freedom. Where can you put your arms when you are in a latex suit? You can't put them in your pockets. That whole thing was very difficult. It came as a very exciting exercise for me, because it's not how I got started in this business. It is really a whole different thing. This here felt like a return home. I liked going this way.
What would you have done had you been in your character's position?
Kate Beckinsale: I don't even want to think of myself in those terms. I don't want to think about what it would be like to be put in that position. I can absolutely see someone that has gone through this, like Annie, and in a weird way it comes as a means of restoring the balance. She failed her daughter, and now she can put the universe back in order by killing herself. That comes in a warped way. It is so much of that moment. If you had of asked her that morning, "Do you feel you deserve to die?" She would have said, Yes. I think she and Sam's character are in a particular moment. And the emotion comes out of that moment. That's what it felt like. This personal sort of madness came together. That is what happened.
Michael Gordon Green, your director, likes to have his actors improve. Seeing as how this was a drama, were you allowed to improvise on this set?
Kate Beckinsale: We had some whole scenes that were absolutely as written. Then we would have a scene were there was nothing recognizable left. It worked like that. David would often come up between takes and give us an idea. And we would run with it. Yeah.
What did you do during your off time in Nova Scotia while shooting?
Kate Beckinsale: There was a natural history museum in Nova Scotia, and they have a drawer full of poo. It is different types of animals' poo. The thing you are supposed to do is match what looks like your own poo. I thought that was genius. I was obsessed with this place. My daughter and me would constantly go there. I think I was a ferret. That was so exciting to me. And someone stole my coat at this place. I had to walk back in the freezing cold. But, that was nowhere near as cold as Manitoba, minus fifty-eight. That is where I shot the movie "White Out". That isn't even cold any more. They give you this giant telephone book the night before you start shooting, and it is full of the ways you can die from the cold. And it is terrifying. It says things like, "If you have ever had an alcoholic drink in your life, you will probably die." Or, "If you are able to speak two languages, you are definitely going to die." The thing that is, if you go out in your eight coats, and then you come back in and you don't take seven coats off, you are more likely to die. It is about constantly taking your clothes off and on. I went out to the set and saw the director. They all had icicle in their beards like the make-up department put them there. But they didn't. My hair was frozen into two white horns. It was unbelievable. Absolutely incredible. I love Nova Scotia. They had great fish and chips there. I don't remember the name of the pub. There was also this really neat graveyard that we used to walk around. That was cool. There really was a load to do. I have found that when you go to cold places, there is so much more to do. They have to have actual buildings with things in them. Where as here, you just have the beach.
Snow Angels opens this week, March 7th, 2008.