Dressed in jeans and a vest-top, hair bleached ash-blonde and pulled back in a ponytail, Kate Winslet sits in hubby Sam Mendes’ office in downtown Manhattan, confidently fixing us with cloudy grey-green eyes and tapping at her cigarette.
She’s here to talk about her career, but also to discuss the two roles that, judging by her current awards/noms tally, should finally see her win that much-nommed Oscar...
You’re renowned as a fearless actress but playing Hannah in The Reader is bold, even for you…
I knew I was going to have to raise my game. So I did something really mad. I rented a room, literally. If I’m in the house I’m washing up or tidying – I just can’t get myself out of it. So I had to isolate myself from 9 ’til 3 every day, to think, plan and read.
What were your instincts about the character of Hannah?
They were very different to other people’s. I realised I had to let it be OK for some people not to like her; I had to let it be OK for some people to want to see this woman locked up and the key thrown away.
And while it wasn’t my job to have people sympathise with her, it was absolutely my job to give people the option to understand her.
Did I understand her? Yes, I did. And I did sympathise with her – which is morally compromising to feel that way. But to say I sympathise with her does not mean I sympathise with SS guards. Absolutely fucking not.
Did you research the Holocaust?
I saw things that I cannot un-see, ever. There are images that will haunt me for life, that have left a fingerprint on my soul.
Which puts things in perspective, if and when the tabloids inevitably latch onto the ‘Kate sleeps with a 15-year-old boy’ story…
David’s not a kid. He was 18 [during filming] and he’s very much a young man. I didn’t feel he was a teenager or a child. It wasn’t a problem or difficult, no more than those scenes ever are for any actor.
The harder stuff was the very subtle emotional scenes between our characters, conveying that level of depth and the purity within the relationship. The love they share is extremely genuine.[page-break]
Talking of which… how was it working with Sam on Revolutionary Road?
It was really, really amazing. Honestly! I would sometimes look at him with other actors and think, “God, that is so clever”. He was quietly getting them to tap into something they weren’t planning on doing.
He would do it with me as well. He’d turn us all inside out. April feels so trapped. It’s painful to watch…
With April, her interior world is so much bigger and so much deeper than her exterior world, and of course the great tragedy of it is the parameters of her life never allow her to indulge in her deepest emotions.
That was the thing about April Wheeler that touched me so deeply. And I’m so different to her: I’m a happy, positive person, and if something isn’t working I don’t sit around and go [adopts plaintive tone], “Oh, maybe...” I just go, “Right, fuck it…” and I change things, sort it out.
Wasn’t there a worry in you and Sam taking on this material together? Examining a marriage in such unforgiving detail?
I think it was great for us because you can never know enough about the person you’re married to. Honesty is everything in a marriage, and we’ve always had that.
It didn’t have any negative impact on us as a couple. On a very basic level, it was just amazing to have so much time together. We got to see each other every day for three months! And it’s kind of sexy, too, to see each other really stepping up to the plate, being good at what we do.[page-break]
Do you accept the accolades though? Do you ever sit back and just say, “Yeah, I’m fucking good at my job”?
I am… Wait, I have to answer this carefully. [Long pause] I am proud of the nominations, unbelievably proud. Probably prouder than I’d care to admit a lot of the time.
There’s perhaps an assumption out there that I don’t really need it, but actors are insecure people; when someone pats you on the back and tells you that you’re good, it really bloody means a lot.
Because you don’t just walk to work and flick a switch. You do your homework, revise for the exam and if someone says, “Well done, you got an A!” it’s like [punches air] “Yeees!” It’s literally as basic as that.
You’ve got to keep it fresh and not ever predict how you’re going to say anything. Don’t prepare a response to another actor’s line before they’ve said it because you don’t know how they’re going to say it, from take to take.
Leo… his skill is so sharp now that he can just turn a scene on its head.[page-break]
Let’s talk about nudity. it’s brought up in every interview and you must be sick of it…
A little bit. But go for it.
Interview by Jamie Graham