How A Few Hours Of 'Underworld' Dress-Up Unlocked Cosplay's Empowering Secret

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One of the most skilled, fearless heroines over the past decade has to be Underworld's Selene, a werewolf-slaying vampire played by Kate Beckinsale. The first film in the franchise came out in 2003, and the British actor has portrayed the vengeful lycan-killer for almost 15 years since. It's a role that fits her like a glove, and on a recent April morning I stepped into Beckinsale's shoes, literally. To mark the release of the latest film in the franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars, out on Blu-ray and DVD  now, I became Selene — if only for a few hours. And while I anticipated having fun playing dress-up, I didn't realize that I would uncover cosplay's hidden power in the process.

I agreed to the transformation because it sounded like a lot of fun. Kate Beckinsale's makeup artist, Chase Aston, would give me the vampire look (blood-drenched lips included) of the character, and I would also be adorned in a short brown wig, and get to wear the same costumes she wore in the film. Cosplaying during the work day? I jumped at the chance.

Todd Williamson

I've never cosplayed before (unless you count yearly Halloween costumes), and I was a bit nervous to be completely transformed into the fictional character. After all, I'm a journalist and a writer — worlds away from the werewolf huntress that is Selene. (I've never wielded an axe at a tree stump, let alone a blood-hungry lycan).

This new person is a blank slate. She can be whoever I want her to be, and that's an incredibly empowering feeling.

Nevertheless I'm game for whatever the day may hold, and when I arrive at Helm's Daylight Studios in Culver City, the film's press team wastes no time thrusting me into the seat of two hair stylists from The Milton Agency. They quickly pin my waist-length blonde hair to my head, pull a wig-cap over my scalp, and try on two different wigs — trimming the false tendrils of the hairpiece when needed. Once the wig is styled I settle into Aston's chair. The British makeup artist and friend of Beckinsale — "I'm having dinner at her place tonight," he tells me — has flown in from across the pond for the transformation.

According to Aston the key to Beckinsale's undead look is anticipating the blue-grey tint that will be added to the film in post-production. This means using unusual colors and methods, like a matte blush on my lips, instead of traditional lipstick. The blush creates a strange, dry feeling that has me constantly licking my lips, but Aston assures it will look "amazing" in the end. Considering how badass — and truly intense — Beckinsale looks in the film, I trust him entirely.

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By this point I look nothing like myself. I attribute this mostly to the wig, and having never been a brunette, this aspect of the makeover alone is an unfamiliar yet welcome change. With this small adjustment, I can already see why cosplay is an appealing creative outlet. Transforming yourself into someone else, or perhaps a bizarro version of yourself, immediately elicits a sense of confidence. This new person is a blank slate. She can be whoever I want her to be, and that's an incredibly empowering feeling.

But my makeover isn't complete yet. The next step is wardrobe. I choose from a few different suits and land on Beckinsale's most iconic look: black, skin-tight, super-shiny — you know the one. They also hand me a pair of tall combat boots from the film. Though the publicist team hadn't asked me my clothing or shoe sizes before this point, somehow, miraculously, both the suit and shoes fit. Maybe I'm more cut out to be a version of Beckinsale's tough-as-nails werewolf-slayer than I imagined.

Once adorned from head to toe in Underworld garb, the final touch is blood — and lot's of it. Aston plasters fake dirt and blood on my hands, my neck, and across my lips and eyebrow. I'm not sure if the blood dripping from my lips is intended to indicate a blow to the face, or remnants from my latest vampiric meal, but regardless, I'm digging the sinister look. And it's this final touch that makes me feel especially in character. It pushes the look into a new dimension, and I know that by wearing the intimidating suit, the sleek wig, and being covered in the blood of some (albeit fictional) beast sends a clear message: Do not mess with me — I am more than equipped to handle myself in any situation.

It may not be the truth, but all the outward, physical trimmings almost makes me believe it.

And now, thanks to some killer photographs by photographer Todd Williamson, I have proof of this experience — and this empowered state of mind. This costume is my escape into the fantastical, sci-fi world of vampires and werewolves, and badassery if only for a moment. And I owe it all to a few hours of cosplay.

Because Selene is a woman to admire. She's someone who defies the conventionality of her kind and uses her skill set to battle the patriarchy at every turn. Yes, she's gorgeous, and yes, she'd probably be more effective kicking butt in a pair of roomy sweatpants and a pony-tail, but this character's innate power cannot be overlooked. She (usually single-handedly) takes down hoards of male lycans, film after film, and that's no small feat.

Though it took many minutes to scrub the fake dried blood from my fists, I hoped Selene's essence — her fearlessness, her physical capability, and her optimism in the face of her uncertain fate — would stay with me even longer. It sounds cheesy, and it admittedly is, but I have a feeling I'll be glancing at these photographs when I need a boost of confidence (or courage) in the future.

Check out an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip from the film below.

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