NEW YORK, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- After studying French and Russian literature at Oxford University's New College and performing in "literary" films like Merchant and Ivory's "The Golden Bowl" and Kenneth Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing," Kate Beckinsale says she had a blast vamping it up as a sexy action hero in the hit flick, "Underworld."
"What's kind of great is you're European and you go to Oxford and (experience) angst and despair and then you get to like 28 and 30 and you just go, 'I'm just going to be a Barbie because I can,'" the 30-year-old British beauty told reporters in New York recently. "It's much worse to do it the other way around because then everyone thinks you're stupid. If you get through all that and then you just get to go be a Barbie, I think that's kind of rather post-modern feminist and great."
In her latest film, Beckinsale plays a warrior leading an army of vampires against their sworn enemies -- the lycans, an ancient form of werewolves.
Asked if she ever imagined herself clad in leather and battling evil in a high-octane action movie like "Underworld," Beckinsale -- the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Lily -- admitted she is a huge fan of the genre and has long harbored the fantasy of becoming an action star.
"Yeah, always," she said -- although she emphasized that she never entertained the idea of playing a sidekicky Bond girl in one of the popular 007 superspy movies.
"I would love to have done an action movie years ago, but usually you just want to play the boy's part," said Beckinsale. "The girls in action movies are usually on the plane making a phone call. I didn't want to be that in 'Die Hard,' I wanted to be blowing up the elevator shaft. You never get to do that."
Although she enjoyed the fantastic mythology and otherworldly setting of her new film, Beckinsale said she did not feel compelled to rent out Blockbuster's complete inventory of horror and sci-fi movies to prepare for her role -- partly because she's not a huge scary movie fan and partly because the genres traditionally lack strong female characters.
"I'm not a big horror film fan," the "Pearl Harbor" actress confessed, adding that she has rented and watched dozens of action movies since her daughter was born, and she doesn't go out much.
"I love action movies," she said. "I get excited if I haven't watched 'Alien' in a couple of years because then I get to watch it again. I really am kind of a nerd like that with those movies."
Beckinsale said she didn't think there had been any "really good serious female action movie" since "Alien" and "La Femme Nikita," although she said the "X-Men" blockbusters feature interesting, butt-kicking female characters. But she pointed out that those films are ensemble pieces where the women are part of supernatural, crime-fighting teams -- not heroines at the heart of the story.
"(The women in those films are) not really the leads in it," she said. "It's not just her driving the entire movie. I just kind of felt like, 'Wow, there's not been one for a long time, and when there is, they tend to be kind of winking about it.'"
Beckinsale said she did her best to eliminate gratuitous sex and nudity from "Underworld" and worked hard to portray her character as a sexy heroine, not a sexpot airhead.
"I find the latex suit and the very shiny bottom takes care of a lot of things," she said. "I think there was an issue with the scene where she got in the shower, which I nixed very early on. I just feel like in 'Die Hard,' you don't get that kind of shot of Bruce Willis."
That said, the actress noted she is less opposed to nudity in film than she was when she was younger and everyone was eager for her to strip for the camera.
"I think the older you get, and the less people probably want you to do it, you're like 'Come on ... you don't want to see them?'" Beckinsale said.
Recently voted England's most beautiful woman, Beckinsale insisted she doesn't let the hype go to her head.
"That was about the worst thing that could have happened to me," she lamented. "Number one, I wasn't an attractive child, and I still think, if you make it to 14-years-old without actually being cute, that's how you feel the rest of your life. You know what I mean? If you were a funky-looking kid."
So, that title doesn't do anything for one's confidence?
"No," said the woman who swears her beauty regimen includes nothing more than washing her face and going to bed, and working out at gym "only when I have to."
"If somebody says, 'Wow, you're so attractive,' I think, 'Ha, fooled you.' You know? Still not comfortable with that," she revealed. "And also I had four brothers. So, Most Beautiful Woman in England was a really tough one for me. Because I was teased .... It was all kind of: 'Okay. Make us a cup of tea. Or are you too beautiful?' You know? It was horrible. I suffered with it."