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LOS ANGELES -- OK, Kate Beckinsale, just how cold was it shooting Whiteout in northern Manitoba?

It sounds like a joke set-up, but Beckinsale's response is more like a kick in the stomach than a punchline.

"We were all worried we were going to die of hypothermia every other second," says Beckinsale, who plays U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, in the film -- based on the Oni Press series by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber and opening on Friday.

And while visual effects were employed to create the barren qualities of Antarctica, it was still seriously cold making parts of the film on the frozen lakebed in Canada.

"When we arrived," Beckinsale recalls, "they put sort of a telephone directory under our hotel room doors the night before we started shooting saying, 'These are all the different ways it is possible to die here of being too cold or being too hot if you keep your clothes on too long if you go inside' ... (now sarcastically) or if you've ever had an alcoholic drink or if you breathe in a westerly direction, you're gonna die. So we all panicked."

The anxiety is long gone as Beckinsale promotes the film, leading to more humorous anecdotes, such as "taking off and putting on 15 layers of clothes about 70 times a day."

"Walking out the first time, all the men had beards full of ice, that I thought was makeup department tests, but it wasn't. It was real," Beckinsale says. "And my hair froze into a point, just from breathing on it. I thought, 'Well, I'm from England and I can handle the cold,' but I've never dealt with anything like that."

Beckinsale has proven she can handle a lot, such as carrying an action film with the Underworld franchise. Carrie Stetko is an entirely different type of a character, though.

In Whiteout, Carrie becomes embroiled into the first homicide in the history of Antarctica as the only law enforcement available.

³Whiteout is every inch a thriller, but itıs character driven. Itıs very much Carrie Stetko's story interwoven with the action, like two mysteries unfolding simultaneously," says producer Joel Silver. "She's smart, she's tough, and it's a toughness thatıs not just physical but a fundamental part of her personality. She commands respect in a predominantly male domain. But sheıs also carrying a burden from her past that could complicate the work she needs to do. I have always appreciated strong female protagonists, and particularly in these kinds of stories. Kate really does a phenomenal job with the character."

"What I found intriguing about the story and about Carrie Stetko is how human and flawed she is," Beckinsale says. "Because you donıt know her backstory, you donıt know what she is capable of until you see events unfold. How damaged is she? Are her instincts still good and will they carry her through or will they fail her again?"

Beckinsale says the role's physical demands might have been tougher than the Underworld films, but, because of her experience, she was up for even the trickier elements of Whiteout.

"Once you've entered the realm of action movies, there's nothing like the first time," she says. "It was definitely manageable."

And more grounded, too.

"She makes you believe that she will use her gun and her fists and anything else that is available to her when she has to," Beckinsale notes. "The action is based in reality and I think that will make it more intense for audiences because they might imagine what they would do in the same situation.

"Stetko is not some fearless, invincible being with superpowers, scaling walls and fighting off 14 attackers simultaneously; it's not that kind of movie. She's often taken by surprise and reacts on a gut level."

As for returning to the Underworld franchise, Beckinsale says she considers reports of a fourth film as "a rumor."

"It was always conceived as a trilogy, which I was never going to be in the third one," she says. "I think if they came up with an amazing script, or whatever, I wouldn't be adverse to it. But it's not already planned."

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