LOS ANGELES -- Director Len Wiseman says his wife, Kate Beckinsale, star of his latest movie, "Total Recall," is awed by the fact that she's known as an action-film star.
Beckinsale can either thank or blame her husband, who is the one who cast her in the action-heavy "Underworld" movies.
And now she has a role that makes her "Underworld" character look like a wallflower. Beckinsale takes over the role played by Sharon Stone in the 1990 film version, portraying a woman of might and mystery at the center of a man's (Colin Farrell) identity crisis.
Despite her growing list of credits, the 39-year-old Beckinsale still can't believe it's the action genre where she's the most recognized.
"When I first started working, I was very aware of the fact that I had been to university where I had studied Russian and French and not acting," Beckinsale says. "And so when I started working, I felt it was quite important to treat myself as kind of an apprentice and do as many different kinds of things that I could."
Her selections ranged from a Anton Chekhov play to a French movie. She had never done a big action movie until "Underworld" came along in 2003, and she initially balked at the idea of auditioning. Beckinsale had concerns that the role might not be right for a person who grew up "as a reading kind of person."
That's why she was amazed when she was offered "Underworld." She handled the role so well that there have been four movies in the series.
"It took off rather more than I realized. I suppose what I hadn't thought through is that those are the kind of movies that are on big billboards and on the sides of buses, so people are more aware of you doing that than the little independent film that you actually feel a little more at home in," Beckinsale says. "So it's a slight schizophrenic feeling to be sitting in an interview, and people say you are mainly known for action movies.
"You go, 'Blimey, that's the stretch.' Even now, and I've played quite a few of these characters, I can't tell you how much I worry about the fighting and how will I be able to do it."
She had those concerns with "Total Recall," too. Beckinsale ends up in many fights with a character played by Jessica Biel. These aren't wrestling matches with some pulled hair and torn clothes. The brutality of their battles equals those had by co-star Colin Farrell.
"These are not fights between two women that happen in some sexy way. They are quite vicious," Beckinsale says. "I think it shows that women have really come a long way in this genre of movie. I know when I put my timid little nose into 'Underworld' to see if I could even do it, I was looking for references."
At that point, there weren't many kick-butt female action film stars other than Sigourney Weaver in "Alien" or Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Beckinsale has seen a lot more stars join her ranks in the genre since then.
She jokes that she'll know women are being treated the same as men in the genre when they no longer have to wear tight pants when they fight.
Beckinsale also has had to deal with some issues related to being directed by her husband.
When it comes to action scenes, for example, Wiseman is far more concerned about the safety of his wife than his wife is.
"She will hit her elbow and say that she's OK, but I will take more time to make sure. With the other actors, I just tell them keep going," Wiseman says.
Then there are the love scenes. "Total Recall" opens with Beckinsale and Farrell in a romantic moment. Wiseman says he's never had a problem with directing his wife in such scenes, but he has one firm rule: When he shouts "cut," the actors better cut immediately.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.