But the Oxford-educated actress has some serious acting chops, too, which she flexes in her indie drama 'Snow Angels.'
Beckinsale chatted candidly (much to her publicist's chagrin) with us about her dream TV cameo, nude scenes and what she'd rather eat than sushi.
This is one of several dramas that you have coming out this year. Are you having action/sci-fi withdrawal?
No, the action/sci-fi thing was such a different speed for me. It was definitely not something that I ever anticipated doing. And one of the reasons I did 'Underworld' was because ... It was very hard for me to be seen for a role that had any kind of edge. I think it was a little [that] the Shakespeare, the period dramas that I'd done, made people think well, she's not very tough. So I sort of did it really as an experiment for myself to see if I could do it, and then that kind of took off a bit more than I thought. [laughs] And I do enjoy it, but I find it more difficult, a little bit more frustrating [than drama].
I really enjoyed my scenes with Sam Rockwell. I thought he was such a good actor for so long anyway, and we just got on great and felt very similar about our parts in the movie and our relationship, and it was just a brilliant acting experience. I had a great time with him.
Was it hard doing the scenes where you had to yell at the little girl [Grace Hudson] who plays your daughter?
Awful. That was so hard for me. She was so young, as well; I was never sure whether she really knew what was happening. I was tortured. I was in tears, too, at the end of it. The mother was perfectly unruffled and fine, but I kept thinking, my gosh, I would never put my daughter in a movie like this. After I yelled at her, we had a couple days where she definitely looked at me funny, not quite sure what I was going to do next.
'Snow Angels' is pretty dark. What did people do to loosen things up?
[Director David Gordon Green] picked actors who had a good sense of humor and some lightness of spirit ... Obviously in the really big emotional scenes you don't suddenly jump up and make a joke immediately afterward, but there was just a general supportive, goofy vibe, everybody making fun of each other a lot.
You have an American accent in this film. Why are British actors so much better at American accents than American actors are at British accents?
I don't know, there are some American actors that do [it well]. I thought Anne Hathaway did a fantastic British accent in ['Becoming Jane']. But on the whole, I think we have to do it more, and we hear it more growing up. I know that I came to America and I could perfectly understand everything everybody was saying, because we grew up on 'Knight Rider' and 'The A-Team' just as much. My husband [director Len Wiseman] came to England and was completely baffled. He couldn't understand a word anybody was saying. Your country is bigger and has more television that crosses over.
You recently told an interviewer that you'd rather eat a vagina than sushi. When stuff that you say makes headlines, what's your reaction or the reaction of your publicity team?
I have to say, sushi freaks me out more than almost anything. At least a vagina would be warm. [laughs] My publicist has literally turned a funny color and is going to go have a lie-down. He's throwing up now, as well. I find a lot of things kind of funny and I often say what's on my mind, and then get nine texts from all my friends going, "What's the matter with you?" But I haven't ever made a big attempt to have any particular image. And I don't really worry about it. If it's funny, I don't care.
What would be next on your list below sushi as far as things that freak you out?
I have more pet peeves than anybody: people talking in the movie theater, people eating in the movie theater loudly, people being rude, people making noise when you're supposed to be asleep, like drilling noises outside. I could be here all day.
How do you feel about nude scenes?
My mom [Judy Loe] was an actress, and she did a nude scene on television when I was about 9 or 10, and the crisis I had when everyone came to school the next day and told me they'd seen my mother naked just makes me kind of, you know ... I'm not in a big rush to do that to my child. She's embarrassed enough that I'm an actress at all, without me being naked as well.
Looking back on your career, is there a part you wish you could've gotten?
I remember very much liking the Kate Winslet part in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.' It's a wonderful part. I met [director Michel Gondry] for it, but he said I was too thin. I think originally in the script it was a big story point that she was heavy, and then it became not that, because Kate Winslet is also not heavy, either. But I think she did a fantastic job, and I personally thought she should've won the Academy Award for that. I thought she was amazing.
If you could do a cameo on a TV show, which show would it be?
I don't really watch all that much television, I have to say, because I'm so intimidated by how many channels there are. I really cannot find my way back to anything. But I'm compulsively addicted to '24.' I love that show. The first two seasons were the most exciting because I've never come across anything like that. But just hearing the music of it makes me feel so confident ... [Maybe] I can be the head of CTU.
Most things aren't, actually. Most of the really interesting things aren't true. I was just recently asked about the fact that I'm on this bead diet, which I thought meant eating beads, but it doesn't. It's to do with wearing beads, or something. I don't even know what it is.
Are you going to Comic-Con this year?
No, I went last year, for the movie that I did ['Whiteout'] that would be applicable to Comic-Con. So I may not have that pleasure this year. It's amazing. Now I'm kind of used to it, because I've been a few times, and now people dress up as me occasionally, in that 'Underworld' costume. It's really strange. But it's fascinating. I just find it miraculous that someone would walk around like that.
Given that you don't drive, how do you get around L.A.?
Favors. I don't have a driver -- I do have my husband, and I have a bunch of friends, and I have an assistant, and that's it, really. And if I really need to go somewhere I could book a car, I guess. Yeah, it's becoming less and less cute with every passing year. The more kept I get, the less cute it is.
Are there any movies you're looking forward to seeing this year?
I always see all the kids' movies first ... the new 'Harry Potter' I'm very excited about, but my husband [director Len Wiseman] is extremely excited about 'Indiana Jones.' I know we'll be going to see that. My husband really does like to line up on the first day with all the other geeky fans.
I read a long time ago that you said you would be interested in playing Wonder Woman. If that movie ever got made, would you still be interested?
I never said that. I once went out trick-or-treating with my daughter dressed as Wonder Woman and that's how that all started. Not right now. Like I said, I've embarrassed my daughter plenty. I might make do with the Underoos for now.