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Kate Beckinsale follows in the footsteps of Esquire beauties Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, Jessica Biel, and Halle Berry

By Tom Chiarella, Esquire

She wants to meet in one of those places where women meet other women for lunch, to talk forever, to eat salads and split entrées, where the sweaters are stretchy, the jewelry outsized, the purses massive and sexless, where fruity tea is served in ceramic pots. From the bench across the street, I can see this much. In the hour before we meet, 23 women and nary a man cross the threshold.

Then up the sidewalk here she comes, the acrobatic, rubber-suited ass-kicking vampire of the Underworld movies, the corseted vampire hunter of the underappreciated action lark Van Helsing, the willowy, repressed Ph.D. candidate of the widely overlooked Laurel Canyon. (Click here to watch an exclusive video of Kate Beckinsale!) She's got her shoulder into the shank of the wind, elbows clamped around a head-to-calf sweater, a big black purse netted to her side, and face covered by the thick black gusts of her own hair. (Browse Esquire's hot gallery of Kate Beckinsale here!) She knows the friendly, undersexed dress code, the mousy habit of this kind of establishment.

After she's delivered her grrrl hugs to the management, I introduce myself. In the dark portico, she looks a little moonless, unilluminated behind the sunglasses. But in the solarium on the second floor, when we're left alone behind French doors, she drops the sweater from her shoulders with a shrug. She's wearing hot pants, a trim white blouse over a tank top, black boots with heels. If there is a difference between femininity and sexiness, this may be it. She is sexy, boot to temple. The wrought-iron furniture? Feminine in every curlicue.

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"F---, it's hot in here," is the first thing she says, jangling me out of the ungovernable vibe of the room. There's a tiny window behind me that opens onto some indefinite interior space that somehow provides a little breeze, and I crack it. "Oh, better," she says. "It's very windy out there today. It's a bit Wizard of Oz or something."

On her finger: skull ring. Huge. This rose-gold skull staring from the crook of her knuckle. Biggest ring I've ever seen. Pearls in the eyeholes and everything. Cool. And definitely not sexless.

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"Is this all right?" she says. She means the room. It is, I tell her, though I admit I had my doubts from across the street, when it looked as if we were meeting in the estrogen lounge. Kate laughs. A big, rooted, unstagey laugh. Not loud. Ample. Bigger than the room, not as big as the ring. "Were you worried that there would be a G-spot orgasm class in the corner?"

She eases herself behind the table, sits as if she's falling. Then she snorts, taking a glance at my pad when I lay it on the table. I tell her I'm happy to show it to her. There's a question about her American accent, which I first heard 11 years ago in The Last Days of Disco. And a quote from a guy on the plane who watched her most recent movie with me on the flight over. It's a little drama called Nothing But the Truth, in which Kate plays a journalist jailed for not revealing her sources — a dainty reporter/soccer mom who transforms into a hard-ass prison convict. You never heard of it, neither had he, neither had I, because a last-minute bankruptcy last December sent it into the pit of straight-to-DVD despair rather than onto the Oscar short list. The guy on the plane loved it. We both did. I wrote down what he said. "Who knew the woman would have all the balls," the quote reads, "in the best movie you never heard of?"

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After that, I have a question about all the fighting she does in movies — does it feel good to punch a man? — followed by a list of the things that make a woman sexy, doodled as I sat on a bench across the street, which is really just a description of my girlfriend. Like this: I like a woman who smokes, drinks shots, eats meat, plays a little tennis, thinks she can speak French, and so on. There were other pages, other questions, below that.

I read to her a bit of my list, and she checks herself off with a laugh. "I do eat meat, I don't smoke, I don't really drink, I do sing," she says. "I don't sing well, however." She seems to think this disqualifies her. She goes on: "Given that I can't sing like Freddie Mercury, obviously I'm not going to pursue it as a career. What would be the point?" Freddie Mercury? I admit to holding a fairly unadulterated, semi-sexual affection for the '70s icon, the mystic Indian rock-balladeer, lead singer of Queen. Kate is the first person I've known since Andi Koller, my girlfriend the summer after senior year at good old McQuaid Jesuit High School, to share with me the opinion that Freddie Mercury may be the gold-standard pop-singing voice. F--- Michael Jackson, we had said back then. But this is the effect of this restaurant — the twist of wicker, the paroxysm of houseplants — making me act strangely like a girl, while Kate Beckinsale acts like she's got a set. Maybe we're both overcompensating — she's talking to the guy from the magazine that named her the Sexiest Woman Alive, and I'm trying to look natural eating a frisée salad. Freddie Mercury. Christ.

Read Esquire's full interview with 2009's Sexiest Woman alive right here!


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