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Nothing But the Truth’s Kate Beckinsale on Going to Prison and Not Playing Judith Miller

Susan Mikula’s sic transit 05 (2008).

It’s not just the phone connection for our interview — Kate Beckinsale speaks quite softly, perhaps a result of her proper London upbringing and study of literature at Oxford University. No matter. Beckinsale has two big-stick 2008 performances, the first in David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels, from earlier in the year, and the second in writer-director Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth, in which she plays a reporter whose life begins to fray after she’s imprisoned for refusing to reveal a source in a story about a drummed-up case for war. Beckinsale spoke with Vulture about her new film and how Lurie is like Martin Scorsese.

You shot part of Nothing But the Truth at a functioning prison — was that a jarring experience?
I actually didn’t think twice about it, and I had been constantly warned to prepare myself, that you’re really going to feel different. It is very upsetting to see people who are incarcerated. Whether you know what they’ve done or not, or think they deserve to be there, it’s still very difficult to see a human being who’s suffering like that. It’s just a depressing place to be; there’s no light, there’s no fresh air, it’s a tough place.

Since this is fiction, to what lengths did Lurie go to convince you that you weren’t playing Judith Miller?
[Laughs] Well, when he called me about reading the script, he went to great pains right from the get-go to say that it wasn’t her. Even though I think clearly that’s the basis of the idea, it’s no more than that. I never at any point thought I was playing her. I was just playing somebody who had a similar experience.

And yet you did have lunch with her, did you not?
I did, along with [constitutional-law professor] Floyd Abrams, who worked with her, and was very much our legal adviser on the movie. It was set up on many levels, I think — first, just so that she was aware that we weren’t stealing her lawyer and using all this information to defame her! But also it was very important to me to talk to someone who had the experience of being in prison — from the perspective of someone who hadn’t committed one of those textbook sort of crimes for which you might expect to go to prison.

Lurie tends to write a lot of meaty monologues and dialogue exchanges for actors — is his direction precise or more impressionistic?
I think in the same way that Martin Scorsese feels that the most important part is casting, and then he’s extraordinary about just handing it over to his actors — Rod is very similar in that way. He’s so into the writing and preparation, rewriting and tweaking. He’s not verbose; he doesn’t go on and on. He’s very clear about what he wants, but he’s also very open to being surprised, which I think is a really important quality in a good director.

You share screen time with Robert De Niro in Kirk Jones’s upcoming Everybody’s Fine, right?
I do, and it was wonderful. Me and Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore play his children. His wife, our mother, has recently died, and he comes to realize that she had been his conduit to the children. He’s allowed that to happen, and he doesn’t have the close relationships that he wishes that he had, so he decides to go around the country visiting his children, during which he discovers that there’s a lot of things he doesn’t know about them. I think that’s coming out toward the end of next year.

Is there anything else on the horizon, involving skintight black leather or otherwise?
Underworld was really special. I do generally find the idea of playing the same character less exciting than doing something else, but I wouldn’t rule it out altogether. I’ve got a little bit of time off now, though. I’m spending some time at home and maybe trying to get back into writing a bit. Maybe ultimately a screenplay would be a good idea, but initially it’s just stuff for me.

Nothing But the Truth’s Kate Beckinsale on Going to Prison and Not Playing Judith Miller