Kate Beckinsale’s latest role – not as Judith Miller’s screen doppelganger but rather as a journalist/mom who happens to find herself in Miller’s lose-lose situation – follows Oscar-worthy work in the tiny indie Snow Angels, marking a departure from the blockbusters for which the actress is best known. To play Nothing But the Truth’s Rachel Armstrong, a journalist who outs fellow soccer mom Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) as a CIA agent and is thrown in jail when she insists upon protecting her source, Beckinsale shadowed journalists and spent time filming in a real prison, which, according to writer/director Rod Lurie, wasn’t easy. “When Kate Beckinsale walks into a prison, there’s a lot of hooting and hollering,” Lurie said, “She was a very good sport.” For Beckinsale, though, the biggest challenge was playing a career woman who puts her job before her child.
Jenny Halper: Did you see Rachel Armstrong as a heroine?
Kate Beckinsale: I didn’t really. I don’t think she would choose what happening to her, but because of her own moral conscience, and her beliefs and the promises she’s made to herself and to her source, she finds herself becoming – against her will, maybe – an unlikely heroine. She’d definitely a flawed character. I don’t see her as being a crusader, just someone who tries to do the best they can, with their facts and in their job. The movie tries to ask a question rather than force you to answer it.
JH: If you thought it was a message movie, would you have taken the role?
KB: Probably not. I don’t find it very interesting to do a film that takes an idea and tries to jam it down your throat. I’d rather see a good documentary. I think it can be manipulative – especially in a dramatic film – to attach yourself to propaganda. I found the character very interesting and involving and the fact that she was a human being who makes mistakes and doesn’t necessarily make all the right decisions I thought was very interesting to play. I was so taken with the character and the characters’ struggle and the whole notion of trying to balance protecting her source and the effect it’s having on her family, I was so caught up in the drama of that that I didn’t even see it as a message movie. Maybe that’s absolutely naïve of me.
JH: Have you seen documentaries that have influenced films you decided to work on?
KB: Not really. I tend to not really choose projects in that sense. I think it’s interesting to play characters that represent the opposite of your beliefs sometimes. The last documentary I watched was Air Guitar Nation which didn’t influence me with this – although I enjoyed it.
JH: There has been a shift in the roles you’ve been playing over the past few years, from more mainstream movies to smaller projects.
KB: It’s entirely because my daughter is now not two years old. My career has completely reflected what I’ve been doing with her. Before I was the only one who was financially responsible for my child. Sometimes factors that influenced the jobs I’d do were the location they were shooting, were they near a pre-school? It’s a whole person’s choice rather than just a career choice. Now my daughter is almost ten and much more independent and I have a dad in the house who contributes, and I’m able to make decisions simply for myself, knowing that if I’m away from her for two days everything won’t collapse and she’ll be absolutely fine. I had to wait that one out.
JH: Were there valuable things you learned on money jobs that you didn’t expect?
KB: All of them. Even the ones where I wished I hadn’t taken during the shoot have taught me something- that’s one of the things that’s a real privilege about the job I do. Every single job I’ve done has advanced me in some way, not necessarily career wise but personally, even in making an important friend or learning a new skill. I don’t absolutely regret anything. And I haven’t had an ideal job that turned out to be a bad situation. (Nothing But the Truth) was a very charmed job altogether. Just one of those rare ones where the whole cast, the director, everything, was really aligned and it just advanced your work to a wonderful place. I worked really hard for it.
JH: Most of the great directors of our time are getting older, and there aren’t many younger Scorseses or Eastwoods or Redfords who are making original films outside of the studio system. Rod’s fantastic. Who else do you think can carry that torch?
KB: In terms of who I’ve worked with recently, I think David Gordon Green is a really interesting director. He did a movie I was in called Snow Angels – interesting, intelligent, complicated. He’s fascinated with doing different things. He’s definitely someone to watch.
JH: I read that you shadowed female journalists in a newsroom.
KB: I really wanted to have a sense of what my character’s daily life was. I knew had a great resource in Rod, who knew that territory very well, but I really wanted to know what it was like getting up in the morning, what the building was like, what their meetings were like, what the cafeteria was like. I wanted to see them making press calls, interviewing people. And silly things, like what they’re wearing to work, to get a sense of their whole world.
JH: The character you play is not Judith Miller, or a fictitious version of her.
KB: She’s not. And I knew that once I started reading the headlines, and watching her interviews. I think unfortunately audiences are ready to – and desperate – to vilify her, and it’s important that they knew it couldn’t be farther from her other than she’s doing a good job and protecting her source. The story she’s revealing, who she is, nothing is the same. You know, in a funny way, (Judith Miller) is irrelevant.
JH: Some of the choices you made were really wonderful – like the moment when Rachel takes her earrings out in the prison, and when she’s talking to her son on the phone.
KB: What I really like about Rod is that he’s so free. He wrote a great character and a great script, but he was open to the actors doing research and suggesting things while we were shooting. I did feel that I had this canvas and I was allowed to paint all the colors that I wanted to.
JH: Was there an aspect of Rachel that you worried wouldn’t come through?
KB: I felt that the central tragedy of the movie for my character is how long she’s separated from her son. That’s what I was concerned about when I started to think about the character. She’s a woman who is career first, child second, husband third. For me my child is first and husband and career fight it out a bit. I remember having written down with some notes on a piece of paper…”career first, what do you mean, career first?” And I’m not saying (Rachel) doesn’t love her son, she adores her son, but at the beginning of the movie, she’s obsessed with what she’s doing career-wise. I didn’t want it to be less of a tragedy when she’s separated from him.
JH: I thought that came through.
KB: But there aren’t many scenes that establish their relationship. I thought maybe that wasn’t going to read, how big of a deal it was, and that’s what I was concerned about…to make those scenes as specific and as real as possible between my son and I because we only really have a couple of those before the separation. I do feel that actually works, at the end of the story when my character does admit that she’s made a mistake to her son I think it’s moving and feels very real.
JH: Did you spent time in jail before filming?
KB: We visited a few times and met with people who worked there. They weren’t all that comfortable with us hanging out in a jail any longer than necessary, they were fairly worried about diseases. But given the nature of the story, it was so helpful to be in a real place rather than a studio lot. We shot all the prison stuff in one go.
JH: One of my favorite moments in the movie is when your lawyer (played by Alan Alda), says that great people are defined by their principles. Is there a principle you’d say defines you?
KB: It’s very old fashioned. I very much believe in “do as you would be done by.” I don’t think enough people live like that.
“Nothing But the Truth” opens in New York and LA on December 19th.