Kate Beckinsale: 'Selene kills for love... nothing is more terrifying than a mother who is protecting her young child'
As she steps back into Selene's vampire trademark leathers, actress Kate Beckinsale and director Anna J Foerster tell Jeananne Craig why they couldn't wait to sink their teeth into Underworld: Blood Wars, a movie full of tough women.
The movie world has changed a lot since the first Underworld film came out in 2003, but the action franchise has stayed slightly old-school when it comes to special effects - much to Kate Beckinsale's relief.
"From the very first movie - which was approximately 100 years ago - we always wanted to try and do everything as practically as we possibly could, so there's never really been that much green screen," says the actress, who has reprised her role as vampire Selene for the fifth film, Underworld: Blood Wars.
"I've never really come into contact with a tennis ball; it's always a man dressed in a wolf outfit, which has made it much easier for me."
The vampire-action genre wasn't the most obvious choice for an Oxford-educated English rose, but Beckinsale - who has been picking up awards buzz for her recent performance in the Jane Austen film Love & Friendship - has managed to convince as death dealer Selene, over and over again.
"I really didn't grow up expecting to do this kind of movie at all, but it's pretty cool when you feel like you did it, you got away with it, and you didn't break your leg and die," she confesses.
There's also the draw of playing such a powerful female lead as Selene - who, in Blood Wars, must fend off brutal attacks from a rival werewolf clan, the Lycans, and the vampire faction that has betrayed her.
"I feel really privileged to be one of those few women who gets to do this kind of movie. I think audiences like to see women taking names and kicking ass," says Beckinsale, who has a 17-year-old daughter, Lily, with her ex, Welsh actor Michael Sheen.
This instalment also has a strong woman behind the camera for the first time, Anna J Foerster, whose previous credits include hit TV shows Outlander and Criminal Minds.
The German-born director wanted to hark back to the original Underworld film, directed by Beckinsale's ex-husband, Len Wiseman.
"I really liked the first Underworld because it made a big statement at the time about a look and a world," says the film-maker. "I think it would be a mistake to say, 'Okay, now we do everything differently'. Instead, I decided to take everything I thought was exciting about Underworld and build on top of that with new, unexpected elements."
This time around, Selene faces an emotional struggle as well as a physical one, as she tries to protect her daughter Eve (who is part-vampire, part-Lycan), from the clutches of villainous Lycan leader Marius (played by Game Of Thrones star Tobias Menzies). As ever, Beckinsale's character sports a skin-tight, corseted costume, which, according to the unfailingly glamorous star, is "fairly comfortable". Although, she notes, "it's not something I would want to wear when I'm grocery shopping".
The LA-based actress also wryly admits the role gives her something to do with her "enormous joke hands" - by placing guns in them.
"My outfit might stay the same, but what the character's going through and the world she's moving through has been quite different each time," says the 43-year-old.
"The reason I was interested in Blood Wars is that Selene goes through so much emotional stuff during the movie. That was really appealing to Anna as well.
"Selene's tough and incredibly inventive about killing monsters and all of that, but her motivation has always been love. In Blood Wars, it's the love for her daughter Eve that keeps Selene going.
"Nothing is more terrifying than a mother that is protecting her child," she adds. "I thought that was an interesting angle, so yes, probably the emotional scenes are a little bit more of a comfort zone to me."
Foerster describes the witty, whip-smart Beckinsale as "one of the most intelligent women I've worked with".
"As Selene, Kate's fiercer and more kick-ass and aggressive than ever, but at the same time, you see this vulnerability as her character goes through all this change. I loved working with Kate on these new facets of the character."
Other top UK stars join Beckinsale in the film. Divergent actor Theo James and veteran star Charles Dance reprise their roles as Selene's ally David and his father, Thomas, while former Sherlock actress Lara Pulver joins the cast as ambitious coven leader Semira.
The fact Underworld has made it to a fifth instalment is testament to the film's uniqueness - and, 14 years in, its main star believes it also enjoys a "historical legacy element".
"It's difficult to get a genre movie of this type made, if it's not based on an existing comic book or video game or something like that," Beckinsale observes. "Underworld is original."
Underworld: Blood Wars is at cinemas today