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Kate Beckinsale couldn't fire a gun, run or punch before 'Underworld' action stardom: 'It was a disaster'

The action-thriller kicked off a five-movie franchise when it was released in theaters 20 years ago this week.

Getty Images, Everett Collection
Kate Beckinsale admits it wasn't easy path to action stardom. (Getty Images, Everett Collection)

Twenty years after the release of 2003’s Underworld, the death-dealing vampiress Selene remains one of Kate Beckinsale's most famous roles.

It wasn’t an easy, nor particularly smooth, path to action stardom for the now-50-year-old Beckinsale, the British actress told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2016 Role Recall interview (watch below).

“I’d be in America for a while and occasionally going up for parts [like] a cop or somebody tougher, and people would be like, ‘Oh, but she’s sort of Jane Austen-y and she’s very period, and a bit fragile,” Beckinsale said, referencing her early breakout roles in costume dramas like Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Cold Comfort Farm (1995) and Emma (1996). “Oh, I thought, ‘I can’t have that.’

“And then suddenly I got sent this script and I also thought, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I could do that. I’ve never even thought about being that sort of person.”

The role of Selene in the action-thriller written by Danny McBride (not that Danny McBride) and directed by Len Wiseman (whom Beckinsale married in 2004 and divorced in 2019) would require her to play a fearless vampire assassin at the center of a generations-long battle between her ageless breed and the Lycans, an ancient species of werewolf.

Why the reservations?

“It was really frightening because I had never fired a gun before. I ran like a girl. I mean, it was a disaster. I really had to be mentored into that.”

It was a work in progress throughout production. “I remember the stuntmen being super horrified. [They’d say], ‘Throw a few punches.’”

 Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo Entertainment

Beckinsale then mimicked how she punched at the time. It wasn’t pretty. “They were like, ‘Oh my god. This is gonna take a minute.’”

Ultimately it all worked out for Beckinsale.

Released 20 years ago, on Sept. 18, 2003, Underworld became a surprise hit, grossing $95 million worldwide on a budget of $21 million.

The genre movie didn’t fare well with critics (it landed a 31% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) but earned fast fanbase. And no one complained about Beckinsale’s shooting, running or punching.

It even landed Beckinsale Best Actress nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror’s Saturn Awards and the Teen Choice Awards.

It kickstarted a franchise, too, leading to four sequels: Underworld: Evolution (2006), Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), Underworld: Awakening (2012) and Underworld: Blood Wars (2016). Beckinsale appeared only briefly at the end of the prequel Awakening, but reprised her role in the fourth and fifth entry.

Beckinsale has left open the possibility of making a sixth installment.

“I always am [in shape]. But you know you get a little but more anxious if you’ve got a skin-tight suit and got to jump off a building. You step up the cardio a bit,” she told us in 2017. “I hate working out by the way, I hate it. I like sitting down and reading.

“I never felt there’s a sequel coming, ever. So I feel exactly the same as I always do, that Underworld is in the past, I’ve felt that way since [after] the first one. I suppose I still could. I highly doubt I would do another one. I feel like I’ve played that character a lot of times, so I highly doubt I would do that. But again I’ve been saying that since the first one. So, I don’t trust myself.”

Wiseman, meanwhile, has been reportedly developing a TV spin-off since 2017, but it has yet to materialize.