She’ll never admit it, but Kate Bosworth is in the middle of a reawakening. You can hear the excitement in her voice, which trembles when she tells me about the movie she just finished shooting in Italy. “I got back yesterday after spending four weeks on this renegade production of a film on the island of Ischia,” she says from her home in Hollywood on a blistering afternoon in late July. “There were only six people in the crew, including myself. We’d mike ourselves at the hotel before going outside to steal shots all over the place. It’s a really interesting position to be in because you have to try to control the chaos while at the same time letting it reign.” Her longtime friend Kat Coiro directed the still-untitled project, which follows Bosworth’s character, a married writer, as she embarks on an affair with a younger man. It might never get a distributor, but that’s exactly the type of chaos Bosworth intends to embrace. “We just wanted to make something of our own.”
To observe her recent performances is to feel like you’re witnessing a defining moment in the 28-year-old actor’s career. Alexander Skarsgård, her boyfriend of two years until their split in July—and her costar in this month’s remake of the Sam Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs—couldn’t agree more. “She’s working really hard at changing her career, steering it in a new direction,” he says. James Marsden, who plays the other male lead in the film and who shared the screen with Bosworth in 2006’s Superman Returns, isn’t so sure. “I don’t necessarily think Kate’s undergoing any sort of reinvention,” he says. “She’s never had a rule book. It doesn’t matter if a film is being directed by Martin Scorsese or a first-time filmmaker, and it doesn’t matter if its budget is $100 million or $500,000—the role is the only thing she cares about.” For her part, Bosworth, whose earlier films have seen her bring to life Sandra Dee in Beyond the Sea and Lois Lane in Superman Returns, insists there’s nothing calculated about the projects she’s chosen. “God, I started this so young—I was 14 when I got my first role,” she says of playing an equestrian opposite Scarlett Johansson in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer. “I barely knew myself back then. I did the best I could to navigate a career while also just growing up, and it wasn’t until three years ago, when I turned 25, that something in me grounded. I wanted to explore. I wanted to be challenged. I started riding emotional roller-coasters I wouldn’t have even lined up for in the past.”
The first of those rides to barrel into theaters is Rod Lurie’s update of Straw Dogs. In it, Bosworth plays a once-successful American television actor named Amy Sumner, a role inhabited by a coquettish Susan George in the 1971 original. Marsden plays her screenwriter husband David, and together they relocate from Los Angeles to her hometown of Blackwater, Louisiana, where the welcome wagon derails almost as soon as they arrive. The film was shot two summers ago in Shreveport, Louisiana, amid what Bosworth describes as “insufferable heat,” which added to the overall intensity of filming the movie’s graphic scenes of extended torture, rape, and murder. “The pavement was practically melting,” she says, her words practically melting at the memory. “It felt dangerous. People there keep rifles in their cars. There’s a dark history to the area, and like any place that’s endured a certain amount of pain, you can feel it all around you.”
Whereas George played Amy, a British sexpot and second-wave feminist, with one-dimensional, braless flirtation, Bosworth knew her interpretation of the character—a struggling, slightly defeated actor who uses her sex appeal as currency—needed more than a nice rack and a Brigitte Bardot pout. “I’m really interested in how we, as women, use our sexuality. But I also believe there’s a fine line between the exploration of misogyny and its glorification, so I wanted to make sure that Amy was also intelligent and interesting—so much more than just David Sumner’s wife.”
That a beautiful actor, especially one whose big break came in the 2002 babes-in-bikinis surfer movie Blue Crush, vehemently condemns Hollywood’s exploitation of women is fraught with complicated irony. When, for example, Bosworth describes the scene in which Skarsgård’s Charlie, an aggressive farmhand and Amy’s high school sweetheart, rapes her, she says, “I told Alex not to worry about me, to just go for it. I said, I need you to lose yourself in this moment. And it was actually violent. He’s a huge guy. When he was ripping off my clothes in front of a room filled with men, even though I knew it was make-believe, it was still incredibly violating and terrifying. The panic you see flooding me in that rape scene is real.” Marsden remembers how tense things became leading up to that moment. “They’d definitely marked it on their calendars,” he says. “Earlier that week, they both kind of dropped off the map. They had vacant expressions on their faces—not in their scenes but socially. You could tell it was looming over them.” And afterward? Laughing, he says, “Afterward it was beers again.”
Even though they filmed the scene well before becoming a real-life couple—at that point she and Skarsgård, along with the rest of the cast, were still getting acquainted over drinks at the Stray Cat, a Shreveport dive they frequented—Bosworth felt comfortable enough in the arms of her on-screen assailant to endure the two days that were required to capture the simulated rape. “Alex is so kind and so dedicated and so incredibly professional,” she says. “He’s got this rare, wonderful control and stillness that you notice in a lot of old movie stars. He looks you in the eye. I feel incredibly lucky to have had that type of man on this movie.”
Another man she credits with helping her to submerge into the deeper recesses of her psyche is first-time director Sam Levinson (son of acclaimed filmmaker Barry), who coached her through an equally grueling performance in Another Happy Day, which also stars Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, and Demi Moore, and is set for a November release. In that film, Bosworth plays Alice, a college student who reunites with her absentee father (Thomas Haden Church) at her brother’s wedding, and is met with cynical derision from her extended family regarding the latticework of straight-razor marks across her arms. Played woodenly, she’d be an unsympathetic cliché, the archetype of a poor little rich girl. “Dude, I know exactly what you mean!” says Bosworth, whose guy’s-gal lexicon every now and again rushes to the surface of her feminine exterior. “To be totally honest with you, I had that same fear. I remember continually telling Sam, I don’t want her to be this whining heap of a wreck. But it goes so beyond her feeling victimized. Watching her is to watch someone struggling with her own survival.”
Bosworth took care not to trivialize Alice’s self-harm. “It’s almost like that type of pain has become hip these days: ‘This is where we’ll introduce the drug addict. And this is where we’ll introduce the cutter!’ The last thing I wanted to do was treat Alice’s disease like it was a trend.” Although she’s never dealt with that particular demon, Bosworth has endured her share of anxiety. “I’ve always been sensitive, and sometimes I don’t know how to handle that sensitivity, but I’m learning to manage it better,” she says. “As an artist, my job is to indulge in emotion. The artistic process is thrilling and joyous, but it can also be extremely painful.”
Most recently, Bosworth capped off her trifecta of harrowing films with Michael Polish’s Big Sur, which recounts Jack Kerouac’s several trips to a cabin on California’s central coast. As Billie, she plays a mother who pines after Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas), the Beat poet who was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road. “Blue Crush was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done, but this one, well, it’s up there in terms of emotional difficulty,” she says. In particular, there’s a scene that has Billie entertaining the idea of killing herself and her child. “The thought of one day killing my own child is so far removed from the intensity of sadness I’ve ever known, but in the moment I became her, and I let go of control and really allowed myself to take off.”
Bosworth is driving through the Hollywood Hills, running a few errands, when she calls me later that afternoon. She’s given some thought to being typecast, a concern we touched on during our earlier conversation. “I feel like I’m always battling people’s perceptions of me, but it’s a losing battle,” she says. “I pick projects because they’re interesting, not to prove anyone wrong.” Oddly, given that she’s often perceived as the all-American girlfriend, Bosworth has rarely played that role, with the exception of her work in Remember the Titans and Win A Date with Tad Hamilton!. What’s more, for every plain vanilla beauty she’s played, Bosworth has tackled a handful of more savory parts, from a porn star’s main squeeze (Wonderland) and a card-counting MIT student (21), to an itinerant sociopath (The Girl in the Park). Aside from her golden locks (which, yes, appear to have been spun by an assembly line of little angels), she doesn’t even look like the girl next door. Her two different-colored eyes—the left is blue and the right is a blue-hazel hybrid—are more reminiscent of David Bowie than Mary Jane.
She insists she’s never much cared what other people think. “I was a real loner in high school, even though people assume I was the head cheerleader,” says Bosworth, an only child who was raised by her retailer father Harold and her homemaker mother Patricia in the affluent town of Cohasset, Massachusetts. “My head was always in books. I felt uncomfortable in cliques. I wasn’t a social butterfly at all.” After graduating from high school she was granted admission to Princeton University, but deferred her acceptance and instead moved, at 18, to Los Angeles. “Talk about anxiety!” she says. “That was a really stressful time for me. I look back now and think, How did I ever do that? I lived there, in a tiny studio apartment, on my own.”
It’s her outsider sensibility (and not, as some might expect, her sample-size frame) that first drew Bosworth, now a go-to muse for design luminaries such as Francisco Costa and Phillip Lim, to the world of fashion. Although she insists she’s not a high-maintenance style hound (“I never wear stilettos during the day”), she’s often photographed in what appears to be an endless series of outfits designed by everyone from Valentino to Alexander Wang. “I’ve always seen fashion as embracing the individual, although yes, I understand that there are parts of the industry that aren’t so welcoming. But look at the Proenza Schouler boys,” she says, referring to the womenswear and accessories label’s co-designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. “They’re so kind and they make such brilliant designs. The Rodarte sisters, too. It may be idealistic, but I like to think that goodness rises to the top.”
If the success of her own accessories line is any indication, Bosworth—who shares Skarsgård’s down-to-earth approachability—is right. It’ll be a year in October since she and Cher Coulter, her close friend and personal stylist, launched http://jmnt.co/nqXwg5” title=”JewelMint”>JewelMint, their successful internet retail venture, which exists under the umbrella of BeachMint, itself owned by MySpace co-founder Josh Berman. Frustrated by their inability to find interesting accessories online, Bosworth and Coulter conceived of a test whereby participants can narrow the scope of their bauble preferences and sign up to receive, based on the results of that quiz—questions involve picking favorites between Chanel and Dior, Kate Moss and Alexa Chung—a monthly design for $29.99. Bosworth, whose father worked at Zegna and Talbot’s before retiring, says her decision to dip her toe rings into the world of fashion was an easy one. “My first Bring Your Daughter to Work Day was spent understanding the difference in quality and texture between various fabrics. I’ve had an appreciation for good workmanship from a young age,” she says. “I had no interest in signing a contract that would force me to curate pieces I found horrendous.”
According to the results of my JewelMint quiz, I “like to play up [my] inner wild child.” Bosworth responds to this news by laughing. “You’d probably like Cher’s favorite pieces then. She’s a London girl and I love her for it, but I like to keep things simple,” she says. “Keeping it simple,” however, means something very different for Kate Bosworth than it does for the average American. With mock-defiance, as if challenging me to prove her wrong, she says, “Oh, really? You’d be surprised by how creative I can get with my sweatpants look.”
KATE LIKES: Joan’s on Third, Los Angeles.
Photography by Andrew MacPherson. Styling by Cher Coulter.