When Kate Beckinsale's romantic comedy Serendipity was released in 2001, the movie press was awash with reviews heralding her as "the new Meg Ryan". But as one incisive critic pointed out, the "girl next door" appellation simply didn't do her justice. Much more fitting, he wrote, would be "super-genius next door".
And it is true the actress is nothing if not accomplished. She studied French and Russian literature at Oxford before making her movie debut in Kenneth Branagh's production of Much Ado About Nothing. Landing a leading role opposite Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington would be quite an achievement for an established performer, but for a silver screen newcomer it was nothing short of remarkable.
Born in London on July 26, 1973, Kate is the daughter of the late actor Richard Beckinsale, of Porridge fame, and theatre actress Judy Loe. Her early years were marked by tragedy and personal challenges, with the loss of her father at the age of five and a near-fatal battle with anorexia in her teens.
The aspiring thespian emerged a strong and determined young woman, however, and when her high-profile Shakespearean debut provoked a flood of movie offers, she abandoned her studies to pursue acting full-time. A series of independent films such as Cold Comfort Farm and Shooting Fish followed, along with some well-received theatre productions. There were also some welcome developments in her personal life as, in 1995, she met and fell in love with British actor Michael Sheen, with whom, four years later, she had a daughter, Lily.
Kate's growing reputation as the queen of art house cinema was blown sky-high when she landed the role of Nurse Johnson opposite Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, in the 2001 mega-blockbuster Pearl Harbor. And suddenly Kate found herself within Hollywood's big-budget embrace, her name inevitably attached to the label "English Rose". She wasn't about to become a victim of typecasting, however, and smashed the "rose" mould with the supernatural thriller Underworld. "I'm just glad to be doing a film where I'm not wearing some sort of corset or restrictive girdle," joked the actress.
What she didn't realise was that making the film would prove as pivotal for her personal life as her career. Speculation that she had embarked upon a romance with director Len Wiseman abounded after both she and the first-time filmmaker ended their respective relationships. The rumours were confirmed when the pair announced their engagement in June 2003.
Falling for Len made life somewhat complicated, especially considering that Kate's long-time partner Michael was co-starring in the film. But as the actress points out, falling in love isn't something you can control. "When you know, you really do," she says. "If you meet someone who makes you feel like you'd die if you're not with them, there's not much you can do about that."