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Kate Beckinsale

Petite and pretty, with dark hair, pale skin and flashing eyes, Kate Beckinsale made a strong film debut as the virginal Hero in Kenneth Branagh's sun-dappled adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993). Although she was a screen novice, the actress projected the requisite intelligence and star quality that deemed her one to watch. As the daughter of comic Richard Beckinsale (who died when she was five years old) and actress Judy Loe, it was perhaps inevitable that she would eventually find her way to the limelight. Beckinsale, however, spent a good portion of her teen years struggling with an eating disorder (of which she has spoken frankly in interviews) before she decided to try her hand at acting. After a bit part in the BBC mystery "Devices and Desires" (1991), she landed the pivotal role of the rebellious daughter of a British woman (Judy Davis) involved with the French Resistance during WWII in "One Against the Wind" (CBS, 1991). Once she had become established as an ingenue with "Much Ado About Nothing", Beckinsale carefully crafted a career path that would not find her typecast.
Simultaneous to pursuing her education at Oxford, Beckinsale continued to find challenging roles. In "Royal Deceit/The Prince of Jutland" (1994), which was based on the Danish prince whose life inspired Shakespeare's "Hamlet", she starred opposite Christian Bale. A lighter, more charming side to the actress was displayed in "Marie-Louise, or The Leave" (1995), in which she played a young woman searching for her lover in a crowded train station. Beckinsale delivered a strong turn as the meddlesome orphan taken in by eccentric relatives in the brittle comedy "Cold Comfort Farm" (also 1995). As Flora Poste, she anchored the film and managed to make a busybody character seem charming, and in some ways it was a warm-up for her tackling "Jane Austen's Emma" (BBC/AE, 1996). Although Douglas McGrath's feature version starring Gwyneth Paltrow had opened on American screens first, this version found its partisans who felt it was more faithful to the spirit of Austen.

Capitalizing on the sass and intelligence she had projected in both "Cold Comfort Farm" and "Jane Austen's Emma", Beckinsale shone as an aristocratic med student who falls in with two charming con men (Dan Futterman and Stuart Townsend) in the underrated caper flick "Shooting Fish" (1997). Adopting a flawless American accent, the actress next registered as the bitchy junior publishing executive seeking fun and perhaps Mr. Right in Whit Stillman's "The Last Days of Disco" (1998). The following year, Beckinsale retained the Americanisms to portray a mousy tourist in Thailand who falls for a slick Australian, dragging herself and her traveling companion (Claire Danes) into accusations of drug smuggling in "Brokedown Palace". After time out for motherhood, she returned to the big screen as Nick Nolte's daughter in the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Henry James' "The Golden Bowl" (2000).

The attractive actress finally had a shot at more mainstream success with two high profile leading roles in 2001. Beckinsale was cast opposite John Cusack in the romantic comedy "Serendipity", playing a woman who believed more in fate than love at first sight. In the big-budget epic "Pearl Harbor", she was cast as a US Navy nurse who falls in love with a dashing pilot (Ben Affleck) but when news of his death arrives turns to his best friend (Josh Hartnett) for comfort.

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