Kate Beckinsale on ‘The Widow’ and dating in a fishbowl: ‘I’m OK being Marmite’

Kate Beckinsale stars in Amazon's new drama "The Widow" as a woman whose life is upended after she discovers that the husband she thought had been killed in a plane crash may be alive.
Kate Beckinsale stars in Amazon’s new drama “The Widow” as a woman whose life is upended after she discovers that the husband she thought had been killed in a plane crash may be alive.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Kate Beckinsale is sitting high above Wilshire Boulevard in a spacious hotel suite, looking movie-star glamorous as she compares herself to a breakfast toast spread that some say has “the consistency of old engine oil.”

“We have this substance in England called Marmite,” the petite British actress says. “It’s a yeast-based vegetable spread that you really, really like or you really, really don’t.”


Beckinsale, who has had leading roles in projects ranging from Jane Austen stories (“Emma” and “Love & Friendship”) to comedies (“The Last Days of Disco”) to vampire epics (the “Underworld” franchise”) continues. “I’m OK with being Marmite. The people who like me really, really like me and would jump in front of trains for me. But if you don’t like me, I don’t care. It really doesn’t affect me.”

Like her or not, plenty of people appear to have strong feelings about Beckinsale these days.

I’ve never dated anybody who comes with their own bag of mischief. It’s all quite shocking, and something to get used to.

— Kate Beckinsale

Much of it has to do with her acting. Her new show, “The Widow,” is now on Amazon Prime, and her layered performance is drawing high praise. The series stars Beckinsale as Georgia Wells, a troubled woman whose life is further upended when she suspects that her husband, who she thought had been killed in a plane crash in Africa, may be alive. When she travels to Africa to find him, she encounters danger and betrayal.

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There’s also a lot of buzz surrounding her off-screen life, especially her blooming romance with tabloid magnet Pete Davidson of “Saturday Night Live.” Fueling much of the attention is their age difference: Beckinsale is two decades older than the 25-year-old Davidson.

The comedian, who started dating Beckinsale just months after his ill-fated engagement to pop singer Ariana Grande, addressed the hoopla on a recent episode of “SNL.” “Apparently, people have a crazy fascination with our age difference,” he said, “but it doesn’t really bother us.”

Photos of the couple’s PDAs at hockey games and film premieres have lighted up gossip websites, and social media users have fired off numerous posts either mocking or defending the May-December romance.

Comedian David Spade weighed in with a comment on a video posting by Beckinsale in which she is cradling a baby cheetah. “You like them young! (Now don’t fight back and roast me just quietly stew and take the hit.)”

Beckinsale has not been shy about responding — or “clapping back” — to the comments. “@Davidspade never gonna happen grandpa,” she shot back at Spade. But a day after the exchange, Beckinsale abruptly deleted all the Instagram posts on her page, which has close to three million followers.

In this interview, conducted less than a week before the deletions, Beckinsale spoke excitedly about her affection for social media, which she said allowed her to showcase herself “unfiltered.” Filled with witty, self-deprecating observations, her now-deleted posts showed her more playful side, along with pictures of her goofing around on sets. In one post, she wore a giant cat head.


Beckinsale also discussed her grueling six-month shoot of “The Widow,” during which she worked in blistering heat. And while she never mentioned Davidson by name, she did address her bewilderment at the attention her dating life has attracted, and its effect on that relationship.

Kate Beckinsale in Los Angeles on March 15.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

What drew you to “The Widow”? It’s a pretty intense role.

Georgia Wells is a really complicated character. I think of her as the unluckiest person in the whole world. She either has everything bad happen to her or nearly bad happen to her. She has a lot of grief and loss; she’s coming into this situation incredibly damaged. Through the journey of having to be brave about things, she ends up at a different spot at the end than she did in the beginning.

Did you feel a connection with her?

I’m pretty fascinated by grief and the different forms of grieving that people take. I feel that almost everyone who has lost someone — especially if they’ve lost someone very suddenly — has this common experience of saying, “I was on the subway and thought I saw my husband or my dad,” and they’re running after this person, and feel like an idiot when it isn’t them.

[For “The Widow,”] I really wanted to know what happened with Georgia. The way it works in TV now is they send you two or three episodes to get your appetite whetted. You have to say yes or no based on that. Then you go to South Africa to find out what’s in the next episode when it’s too late to quit.

It was really a leap of faith. I was a single mom for a really long time. [Beckinsale, who is divorced from “Underworld” director Len Wiseman, has a daughter from a previous relationship with actor Michael Sheen.] Even when my daughter was a teenager, I wanted to be home or within shouting distance. So when she went off to college, I said, “Now, I can take a job in Africa or India, or I can do a play with a longish run.”


What was the most challenging part of the experience?

It was a very emotionally intense role, a grueling six-month shoot in South Africa. People that you’re working with are seeing you sobbing and suffering hours and hours a day, so that’s a quick route to become close to people. It was hard to be that far from home. And it was really hot. I’ve had a few moments when I’m running around, falling over, getting beat up, but I’ve never done when that it’s passing-out-hot, when people are actually worrying about you and the extras.

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There’s some action stuff. Did you want to show you can do more than you did in “Underworld,” which a lot of fans still associate you with?

I haven’t done those movies in five years, but yeah. The thing that’s odd to me is you can do 50 or 55 movies. Four of them are in a rubber suit, and because people dress up like that for Halloween, that slightly skews what people think your skill set is. Actually, the reason I did that movie in the first place is that it wasn’t my skill set. It was Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, those sorts of things. I had a bit of trouble initially when I came to Los Angeles with folks saying, “Well, she’s very delicate and English, and she can’t play a cop, and she a bit too refined.”

All of my career I’ve thought, “I need to do things where I learn more and that I find difficult.” Whether it’s me learning French, or doing an American accent for the first time in “The Last Days of Disco,” or doing an action movie, I’ve always considered this a prolonged apprenticeship to where you’re learning how to do stuff.

In the last few years, you’ve unveiled this wicked sense of humor on your Instagram and social media.

I’ve always had that persona. The thing that’s been odd for me over the years is — I think when you’re standing around in skintight rubber trousers, people automatically assume you don’t have much of a sense of humor. That’s always been an odd schism for me. I just always was me. I did the films I did and then a persona was constructed that didn’t feel at all accurate. I struggled with that for awhile and really didn’t want to become involved in social media.


First of all, I had a flip phone until embarrassingly recently. I also felt that if you want to complain about not having privacy, it seems the height of hypocrisy to say, “Here’s the boiled egg I’m eating for breakfast,” or “This is me in the bathroom.” I had no interest in it, so I never had Twitter; I still have don’t have Facebook.

Then when I did this movie “Love & Friendship,’ the filmmakers said, “This is a small movie, we’re really proud of it, we want people to see it, it would be really great if you promoted it on some sort of social media.” I thought, “Oh, God, I don’t know about that.” So I started tentatively doing it. Aside from the talk show appearances, two or three a year, there was never really an area where I was myself, uncensored.

So you were able to really reveal yourself freely?

If people dislike that persona, I really don’t care. It’s actually accurate. I found it incredibly relieving to go, “Oh, this is what my actual sensibility is like.” And whether people respond positively or negatively to that, that is what it is. And that’s been a largely positive experience. If it became oppressive or upsetting, I would be very happy to let go of it. But so far, it’s been rather a nice thing. A lot of fun.

So I have to ask … there’s been a lot of hubbub about your dating life. Are you surprised by all this attention?

I’m surprised by the interest. I’ve never been in this position before — never dated anybody who comes with their own bag of mischief. It’s all quite shocking, and something to get used to. I think if you liked the person less, you would bow out of it. If that were the main thrust of the relationship, there would be a problem. But it’s not.

Does it have any impact?

I’d rather not have people hiding outside my house. It’s a little old fashioned to have a woman’s personal life [looked at like that]. It’s a little bit tired.

Kate Beckinsale
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)