Kate Beckinsale's career has lasted over 20 years, and she has no plans for slowing down now. At 44, she's managed to avoid the typecast curse that plagues many female actors during their careers, where they're forced to play the same type of (often cliched) roles over and over again. In her latest role as Johanna in The Only Living Boy in New York, in theaters now, Beckinsale plays a woman who finds herself in a messy love triangle between a father and son. This isn't just a Mrs. Robinson type or a femme fatale, though; as the actor tells Bustle, she makes sure that every part she takes on isn't pigeonholing her into a certain type, but is a nuanced and complicated role.
"It’s as much important to me to surprise myself as it is to surprise other people," Beckinsale says, speaking via phone in August. "I try to keep myself kind of muscular and slightly scared to go to work, and I think a scared actor is often an interesting thing to watch."
Avoiding being typecast has taken a lot of courage from Beckinsale, but her desire to skip cliche began early in her career. Even though her 2001 film Serendipity became an instant rom-com classic, Beckinsale didn't play the elusive love interest, but a fully-fledged character. Later, she'd go on to star in action films like Underworld and Total Recall and period films like The Aviator and Love & Friendship, but, through both luck and determination, still switched up her roles every time.
And awesomely, Beckinsale isn't the only female actor working to resist being typecast. Reese Witherspoon, for instance, told The Hollywood Reporter that after reading a terrible script that her agents had told her was a desirable role, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create her production company, Pacific Standard. Charlize Theron, meanwhile, also created her production company, Denver & Delilah Prods., to have a hand in shaping nuanced roles for herself and other female actors. As for Beckinsale, she worked to shape her character in The Only Living Boy by collaborating with director Marc Webb on the script prior to filming.
"As a female in the situation, I was very protective of [Johanna] not being actually a villain," the actor explains. "We rewrote quite a few scenes, actually... I just think there’s plenty of tropes of those sort of sexually rapacious women who just go a bit nuts doing things, and actually I don’t know very many women who relate to that."
By getting involved, Beckinsale helped create a nuanced role that isn't just some unrealistic femme fatale. And it's something she's certainly going to continue doing, both as an actor and perhaps as someone working behind-the-scenes. Fingers crossed that a production company is in Beckinsale's future, so she can make sure every role she's in is uniquely complex and, as always, scary to play.