After watching this excerpt from The Graham Norton Show, I realized that Kate Beckinsale, 42, has suddenly caught on by tapping into something a bit louche in herself. Part of this has to do with Beckinsale having nailed the part of Lady Susan Vernon, a blase, irreverent seductress, in Whit Stillman‘s Love and Friendship, but it’s mainly due to a suspicion that she’s somehow become Vernon or, you know, merged personalities. I’ve been reading for years that Beckinsale, a mother of a youngish daughter, is a bit eccentric and levitational but in the Norton clip she seems more than a bit perverse. A woman who thinks nothing of slipping a bar of chocolate between her sleeping boyfriend’s butt cheeks…okay!.

Beckinsale has been plugging away since the mid ’90s as an intriguing actress who’d never quite lit the big fuse. Sometimes it takes a while for an actor/actress to get lucky and turn the key just so and realize, “Ah, yes…that’s me, that’s my brand.”

Vernon has become Beckinsale’s all-defining role. Image-wise she and Vernon are suddenly a “team” in the same way that Bette Davis (also 42 at the time) and Margo Channing had seemingly blended into one person after the release of Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s All About Eve (’50). Before Love and Friendship Beckinsale’s best performance ever had been as a besieged journalist in Rod Lurie‘s Nothing But The Truth (’08). Before that her most admired turn had been in Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco (’98). I don’t blame KB entirely for acting in five of those awful Underworld movies (she held her nose and pocketed the paycheck so she could cover her daughter’s college tuition) but it’s water under the bridge now. From here on Beckinsale is, for me, Lady Susan chocolate bar ass-crack Vernon.

Update: I wrote earlier that as of 3.27 Love and Friendship had earned a $1,657,187. The film, however, expanded this weekend to 493 screens and has grossed an estimated $2,496,000. The weekend’s estimated per-screen average is $5062, with an estimated cume of $3,489,548 after 17 days of release.