Kate Beckinsale lives in Los Angeles now, where she makes movies like the recently released Click. But she can never resist the urge to go back to London. Photograph by James White.
She was attending Oxford University, studying Russian and French, but Kate Beckinsale was always going to be an actress. Her parents were both actors. Her father, the late Richard Beckinsale, was a comic; her mother, Judy Loe, is a stage and television actress. Beckinsale had grown up around actors - her godparents were actors - and she never doubted that she, too, would join the family trade. But she went to Oxford anyway. "I was going to probably spend a lot of time around actors for the rest of my life, and I thought that going to university would be interesting, to be around people who were passionate about other things like, you know, biophysics or that sort of thing," she says.
In 1993, after some early work on stage and television, she got a call from Kenneth Branagh, who would cast her in her first major film, Much Ado about Nothing. So she was off to London and her preordained destiny as an actress. After breakthrough roles in Pearl Harbor, Underworld, and as Ava Gardner opposite Leonardo DiCaprio's Howard Hughes in The Aviator, Beckinsale is a star. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Len Wiseman, who directed her in Underworld and its sequel, Underworld: Evolution, and her daughter, Lily Mo. Her most recent role, in Click, is as the beautiful wife of an architect (played by Adam Sandler) who discovers a television remote control that allows him to run the universe. But when London calls Beckinsale back to her roots - and it calls frequently - here's where the city sends her.
Tell me about your background in London.
I grew up in West London and went to school in Hammersmith, which is sort of a little garden near Kensington. I took the subway every day and went to school, and that's pretty much where I grew up. I'm completely a fish out of water in L.A. I don't really know how to handle the fact that it's sunny all the time. And I can't drive. The taxis in England are like commanders. They know where everything is. They have to pass a test. They take up to four years to study every single street and restaurant and everything in London. And you can just sort of hurl yourself drunkenly in the back of a cab and say the address, and you don't even have to know where it is, but they all know. So that was a bit of a culture shock going to L.A. Because the cab drivers don't know where anything is at all.
Where do you go immediately upon returning to London?
I tend to go straight to my mother's house. She still lives in Chiswick, where I lived. I guess you'd say it's a suburb, but it's got lots going on. Every kind of restaurant and bar and, you know, you can get a really good blowout there if you want to …
You know, you get your hair blow-dried. And Chiswick also has an extraordinary chocolate shop. There's this guy who sits there and makes chocolates in his own tiny little shop. They're like narcotic-based mounds of chocolate. It's called Theobroma Cacao. It's on Turnham Green Terrace. He's just this one guy, and he makes killer hot chocolate out of actual chocolate in this little sack of broken-up chocolate. It's not a powder or anything like that. But it's evil. And my daughter goes in there and her eyes cross. I mean, my eyes cross, too, I have to say. She's only six, so she just inhales the smell.
Where's a favorite place in London?
One of my favorite things about London is Marks & Spencer. It's a chain of stores you can really find anywhere in London. And they have the best food. So if you happen to be a lousy cook, you can walk in there and buy amazing food that you throw in the oven or throw in the microwave. The produce is amazing, and, you know, all the beans have been kind of trimmed. And it also happens to, bizarrely, sell really great underwear. One of my favorite underwear shops in London is Agent Provocateur, which I think you have here in the U.S., and which is extremely risqué and very sexy. Marks & Spencer is a bit more serviceable. It's more for every day. I think I've probably got underwear that I bought at Marks & Spencer when I was a teenager that is still pretty. You can wash it a lot.