Kate the Fearless
Spend time around Kate Winslet, and the subject of food is bound to come up sooner or later. You may not have known, for instance, that the last job she had before breaking into the movies was behind the counter in a delicatessen. â€œI made sandwiches. I cut up cheese. I ground coffee,â€ she says. â€œI loved it!â€
To this day, Winslet likes to unwind in the kitchen. â€œI do endless chopping and preparing things,â€ she tells me. â€œI really find that relaxing. I do a lot of thinking as I am chopping and cooking.â€ And then thereâ€™s the revelation she had a few weekends agoâ€”where else but in a restaurant? Winslet and her husband, director Sam Mendes, had gone out for lunch with their young daughter and sonâ€”a relatively rare occasion, the actress insists. â€œWe like them to see those things as a treat, as they should beâ€”and still are to me, actually.â€ She smiles. â€œWe were having lunch, and I was having a glass of wine and eating bread and putting butter on the bread, and I turned to Sam and said, â€˜I am just so happy!â€™â€
Now, not a lot of actresses would be seen in public eating bread, let alone bread and butter. (â€œA lot of butter,â€ Winslet emphasizes. â€œNothing like it.â€) But then, Winslet has never been like other actresses. Ever since she burst to superstardom in Titanic in 1997, she has seemed in a category of her own: matchlessly talented, splendidly full-bodied in a profession where thinness is an obsession, and unapologetically down-to-earth. Thereâ€™s a delicate beauty to her face, but that resolute jaw seems to signal her willingness to play strong, uncompromising characters. â€œKate Wins-let is always naked, sitting on a toilet, or running buck naked,â€ Halle Berry said recently. â€œSheâ€™s free. I want to be the kind of actress who can really be comfortable with my body like that.â€
When I read Winslet the quote, she guffaws with delight. â€œOh!â€ she says. â€œThatâ€™s so amazing. That is worth the pain! I am thrilled to hear someone like Halle say something like that. But what I would want to say to her is, â€˜Well, you can,â€™ because all I do is say, â€˜I donâ€™t give a ____!â€™â€
Weâ€™re sitting in her husbandâ€™s office in downtown Manhattan. (Winslet and Mendes divide their time between a New York apartment and a country house in their native England.) The 33-year-old actress, wearing high black boots, black jeans, a black jacket, and a white T-shirt, speaks animatedly and uninhibitedly asâ€”the health-conscious will not be pleased to hearâ€”she smokes a cigarette she has just rolled herself.
Kate Winslet goes her own way. Sheâ€™s the youngest actress ever to have received five Academy Award nominations, and the pair of movies she has opening in Decemberâ€”Revolutionary Road (directed by Mendes) and The Readerâ€”could garner her one or two more. In Revolutionary Road, she gives a shattering performance as April Wheeler, a young wife in violent revolt against the complacency of 1950s suburbia. Her husband is played by her Titanic co-star and longtime friend Leonardo DiCaprio. Itâ€™s the first time the two have worked together in a dozen years, and one of the most delightful things about the reunion for Winslet, she says, is seeing onscreen how the two of them have aged.
â€œIâ€™m like, â€˜Yes, damn it! Look at those foreheads move!â€™â€ she crows. â€œI mean, he has this amazing furrow hereâ€â€”she points to a spot between her eyebrowsâ€”â€œwhich wasnâ€™t as prominent then, and thisâ€â€”Winslet points to the wrinkles on her own foreheadâ€”â€œis much more prominent in me now. I just love seeing those things. I am enjoying my face changing, as well as realizing that at the same time, as you get older, the machine isnâ€™t as well-oiled as it was.â€
She may have been younger and sprier a dozen years ago, but she wasnâ€™t happier. As she was finishing Titanic, her first loveâ€”actor and writer Stephen Tredreâ€”was dying of bone cancer. â€œI was so young, and I wasnâ€™t ready for any of that,â€ she says of the combination of pain and international fame that hit. While trying to find herself professionallyâ€”for a few years, she did only small, quirky filmsâ€”she struggled personally. In 1998, she married assistant director Jim Threapleton; and in 2001, the year after the couple had a daughter, Mia, they divorced.
â€œI was very, very thrown by the fact that I had to make some big changes in my life in order to be myself, but under this kind of movie-star banner,â€ Winslet says. â€œIt was a difficult balance to find. Now I feel Iâ€™ve got that. Iâ€™ve actually had it for a while, I think. Thatâ€™s mainly to do with my incredible husband.â€
Winslet and Mendes married in 2003; their son Joe was born later the same year, and her daughter lives with them full-time. â€œHaving children just puts the whole world into perspective,â€ Winslet says. â€œEverything else just disappears. For my own children, I do want for them to look back and remember that it was me in the kitchen, that I was doing the packed lunches, that we were there on the school run, that we did take a bus. I want them to remember those things, because those are the things that I remember from my own childhood and that have been incredibly important to me. I also think that those are the things that children need in order to become normal kids. I donâ€™t want them to feel that they are any different because of my job or Samâ€™s job.â€
What she wants to give her children is what she herself had: a household firmly grounded in reality. Her father was an actor, and her motherâ€™s parents ran a repertory company. â€œWe never had any money,â€ she tells me. â€œI really grew up in a world of struggling actors who were doing it because they loved it.â€
While the Winslets were passionate about acting, they held no illusions about it. â€œWe were all always told, â€˜OK, if this is really something you want to do, thatâ€™s fine. Just know itâ€™s going to be hard,â€™â€ Kate says. â€œIt was always, â€˜You might not get it. Go for it. Youâ€™ve nothing to lose. Just work hard and be yourself.â€™ That was the main thing we were always told. â€˜Be yourself. Donâ€™t try to be like the girl who is ahead of you in the line. Be yourself.â€™â€
The advice stood her in good stead when Kate auditioned along with a hundred other teenage girls to co-star in 1994â€™s Heavenly Creatures, a movie directed by then-newcomer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings). Appropriately, Winslet was working at the deli when she got the phone call. â€œI was in the middle of making a sandwich,â€ she recalls. â€œI had to leave work pretty much immediately, and somebody else had to finish making this poor guyâ€™s sandwich, because I was hysterical. Then I had to walk home, because I had forgotten to collect my wages before I left, and I had no bus fare.â€
She had gotten the breakthrough role by following her parentsâ€™ adviceâ€”advice, Winslet tells me, she now finds herself giving to her own children: â€œâ€˜Be yourselfâ€”thatâ€™s all you need to be. Why do you want to be like that person? Be you. Be you.â€™â€