Kenneth Branagh has populated his vigorous adaptation of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" with a trans-Atlantic cast of Oscar-winners and big-screen icons: There's Emma Thompson, of course, who plays Beatrice opposite husband Branagh's Benedick; there's Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon; there's Batman, Michael Keaton, in the Monty Pythonesque role of Constable Dogberry, and there are a couple of young Americans -- Keanu Reeves as Don John and Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio -- to lure the "Bill and Ted/Dead Poets Society" crowd.
And then there's Kate Beckinsale, an unknown 19-year-old Brit, in the pivotal role of Hero, Leonato's daughter and object of Claudio's affection.
"I've been asked if I found it intimidating, working with all these people that I've admired for so long," says the actress by phone from London. "But I had just finished doing a television film in England the day I was flying out to Italy for "Much Ado," so really it was more a question of 'Am I going to get there in one piece?' and 'Have I got everything I need with me?' I didn't have a chance to worry about feeling intimidated."
"Much Ado" is a bawdy, sun-drenched version of Shakespeare's romantic lark, and Ms. Beckinsale reports that making the film -- in the farm country of Tuscany -- was every bit as much fun as it appears.
"I hate to say it but, yes, it was. It felt like the most wonderful holiday with your best friends. We were all in beautiful villas out there, and we had a good, long rehearsal period, and we ran the play at the end of it, and we felt very much a company."
Ms. Beckinsale, who is midway through Oxford, where she is studying Russian and French, has been shooting Gabriel Axel's "Prince of Jutland" since April.
A $7 million production based on the "real" Hamlet -- the Danish prince who inspired Shakespeare's drama -- "Jutland" is nearing its end in and around Copenhagen. Ms. Beckinsale plays Ophelia opposite Gabriel Byrne's brooding royal; Helen Mirren and Christian Bale co-star. Mr. Axel, who directed the Oscar-winning "Babette's Feast," makes his English-language debut with "Prince.
Ms. Beckinsale will next work in a decidedly non-Shakespearean mode: a contemporary drama from director Jim McBride.