Kate Winslet is one of Oscar’s most nominated actresses … who’s never won. As it stands, the British beauty’s scored five noms, for Best Actress and Best Supporting, but has yet to be called to the podium.
Maybe this is the year her luck will change — she has not one but two award-caliber performances coming up, in Revolutionary Road, directed by her husband, Sam Mendes, and reuniting her with her Titanic leading man Leonardo DiCaprio, and in the Holocaust drama The Reader, directed by Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry and co-starring Ralph Fiennes and German actor David Kross as his younger incarnation.
In the latter, based on a semiautobiographical best-seller, she’s Hanna Schmitz, a former concentration camp guard who takes up with a high schooler to form a bond that turns out to be life-changing for both of them. Moviefone talked with Winslet about how she prepped her co-star for sex scenes, what she thinks of her Nazi character … and that ever-elusive Oscar.
1. There’s a lot of nudity in this film; you’re known for being comfortable with nudity in your movies. How do you actually prepare to do a scene like that?
Honestly, you exfoliate your ass; you starve yourself; you work out like a demon … Obviously, none of that’s true [laughs]. How do you prepare? You don’t really, you know, you don’t really prepare. How can you? I don’t know even what that means. For someone like [my character] Hanna, it was very important to me that she looked real, that she looked absolutely real. And so in fact, quite the opposite; I sort of unprepared, you know, I didn’t go working out like a lunatic or anything like that.
2. Did you help your young co-star, David Kross, prepare for the sex scenes?
… It was very frightening for David, I think, to do scenes of this nature because he’d never done it before. [Director] Stephen [Daldry] and I would block through all of the scenes together in the rehearsal room. We’d be on the floor; we’d be on the chair … and we would just try and work it out. And David would observe. I wanted for David to know that I understood that he might be terrified, because I had been in that position myself as a younger actor. And also I remember when I was 18, which is the age he is, feeling so nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, and I felt that explaining the nuts and bolts of how those scenes would happen would be very beneficial to him. So I sat down with him and said, “Now, listen. You know there’s only going to be, like, three people in the room, right?” He said, “Wh–what, th–three people, that’s all?” And I said, “Yes, darling … that’ll be it.” He was like, “Really? … Oh my God, that is so great!” And I could literally feel the weight of the world just fall off his shoulders, because I think this poor young man had been imagining it was going to be the crew, who we all knew so well by that point … all going to be there watching us walk around naked, and so just shedding a little bit of light on it for him made a big difference.
3. This is really a love story, isn’t it?
Ultimately, the most important thing was that we were able to convey the emotions, you know, of the characters, and the tenderness, and the passion and the love between the two of those people, who are ultimately falling in love, and desperately need each other. I think Hanna needed Michael much more than he needed her at the end of the day, and it is one of those extraordinary relationships that stays with each individual for the rest of their lives. It has a profound impact on their future. I mean, look at Michael’s character. He can’t hold down any stable relationship, doesn’t really like sleeping in bed because it’s not Hanna that is sleeping next to him. No one else looks the same as Hanna in his eyes, and he was sort of tormented by the love that he had felt for her all of those years ago. It’s really extraordinary if you think about it, and I loved that part of the story. It was the most important part of the story and, for me, it’s what the film is about. You can’t choose who you fall in love with, you know?
4. What kind of research did you do for the role?
I thought, I’ll be really organized about this. I’ve got a lot to do; I have a dialect to learn; I have a whole period of history to understand and educate myself about, because I didn’t know nearly enough. And I had this great novel that I just read over and over again, to the point where my copy of the book doesn’t even look like a book anymore. But the most beneficial thing for me was the research I did into illiteracy. There’s an organization I worked with in New York, Literacy Partners; I sat down in classrooms with people who were learning to spell “cat” at the age of sometimes 22, and sometimes 72. There was one woman in particular in her early 60s, who learned how to read and write about three years ago. I was able to ask her how she now feels, and how she felt then. She said, “I felt so, so ashamed. I felt like I didn’t belong. I couldn’t have relationships for fear of being found out, being exposed. I felt very vulnerable and afraid. You know, you spend every day afraid that something bad might happen to you because you can’t read the stop sign, quite literally.” She told me that when you can’t read and write, you need to control everything. That’s why [Hanna] was always ironing [in the film]. Everything was put away in its rightful place … even though she lives in that ratty little flat, it was actually scrupulously clean; that’s part of her control. Because otherwise, everything starts to fall apart and you start to feel the chaos looming.
5. When you guest-starred on Extras, you said you were doing a Holocaust movie because Holocaust movies tend to win Oscars. Were you thinking about that when you took this part?
[Laughs] No. Not at all. No. In fact, I so wasn’t thinking about it that when somebody pointed it out to me when we were shooting the film, [laughs] I laughed my head off. I said, “Oh my God, that is so hilarious. People are gonna draw that comparison now. They’re gonna say, ‘But don’t you remember you said if you do a Holocaust movie …'” Oh, my God. That’s the brilliance of Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais. They are very, very clever guys. It’s just one of those funny little, uh, I don’t know; one of those little coincidences, I suppose.