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KATE WINSLET: The truth behind those tears

Marie Claire’s June 2009 issue contains an interview with Kate.  Article contains swear words.

Critically accliamed – check. Fabulously rich – check. Happy family – check. Perfume endorsement – check. What more could any actress wish for? An Oscar, of course. In her first major post-awards interview, Kate Winslet opens up to Harvey Marcus about the private torments that have driven her to the top.

I TELL HER THAT I THINK I HAD A PANIC ATTACK LAST NIGHT, HAVING WOKEN UP AT 3AM WITH A HEAD FULL OF FEARS.

Kate Winslet is here primarily to talk about her role as Lancome’s face of Tresor, yet she listens intently and, when she speaks, her empathy is almost maternal. ‘I went to the Revolutionary Road premiere,’ she says, ‘and I was so knackered that in the middle of the night I think I had a panic attack. I’ve never had that before.’ This exchange is taking place in the penthouse suite of Downtown’s SoHo Grand Hotel, and I’m not entirely unaware of the irony; the two of us discussing the depths of despair while located so high against the backdrop of New York’s morning skyline. She’s not giving this up for show. I think Kate Winslet actually cares how I’ve felt for the past six hours or so, and it probably says more about her than anything else you’re about to read. ‘I really thought, “What’s going on?”,’ she remembers. ‘But it was just tiredness… just tiredness.’

After five Oscar nominations, dating back to 1995, and her Sense and Sensibility shortlisting when still only 19, someone finally said to Kate Winslet, ‘And the Oscar goes to…’ She won. Best Actress for The Reader. She wanted it so badly, and she’s not ashamed to admit as much. ‘There’s nothing bloody wrong with wanting it at all. And anyone who says, “Oh, I don’t know, oh, I’m on the fence… it’s absolute crap. Of course they want it, deep down. Of course they do.’

There were tears when she won, but not nearly as many, I feel, as she deserved to allow herself. In a recent website survey, Marie Claire readers voted Winslet their most inspiring woman. They weren’t, I’m pretty sure, among those who unfathomably sneered at her Golden Globes acceptance speech. She is, quite rightly, unapologetic for her reaction to picking up Best Actress (Revolutionary Road) and Best Supporting Actress (The Reader). ‘Look, it’s amazing,’ she recalls. ‘I’d never won a Golden Globe before and I’d been nominated since I was 19, you know. And then to get two! I am who I am. I’m too emotional to lose and I’m too emotional to win – I’m not very good at it.’

I wonder if the tears, the outspoken desire for success, went against some quaint idea of what it means to be British, and what piqued them, the Daily Mail readers, so much was the fact that someone perceived to be so British could behave, well, could behave so like them, the Americans. ‘Yeah,’ she says, simply. She should, by all rights, be lauded for her achievements. After all, she came from nothing. Really. Born in Reading, she has two sisters, Beth and Anna, and a brother, Joss. Both their parents were actors, but of the struggling variety, and often the family found it hard to pay the bills. ‘Oh my God,’ she recalls. ‘We were supported through the majority of my schooling by an organisations called the Actors’ Charitable Trust.’ Her mother, Sally Ann, spent more time serving pints in a local pub than delivering lines; her father, Roger, almost lost his foot in a boating accident when she was 11. ‘They operated on him for 18 hours. From then on he was a disabled actor, so the little work that he was getting – like an episode of Casualty, Crimewatch – even that started getting less and less.’

I say I don’t understand how she’s not regarded as some kind of working-class hero and she’s quick to respond: ‘Because I speak nice.’ But the working-class background? ‘People don’t believe that. People literally think I’m lying.’ She then recounts a story of an audition that took place when she was 16; the experience plainly still hurts. On hearing her accent, the director refused to believe she was from Reading. She remembers his exact words: ‘He went, “I hope you’re not as dishonest in your work as you are about your own life,” I was shocked. My dad was very much a struggling actor and spent more of his life as a postman, as a member of a tarmac firm, as a van driver. He’d sell Christmas trees. Anything. That was my dad. We had these dreadful second-hand cars that would always die a death, or we’d go on holiday to Cornwall, come back and it would have been nicked. It’s like a Joe Orton farce, my family.’

They don’t go, ‘Kate Winslet, working-class hero, do they?’

‘No, they don’t,’ she laughs. ‘”Do it! Do it for me!” Honestly, it was hand-me-down shoes and 10p pocket money on a Saturday that didn’t go up until I was 11.’

It’s well documented how she suffered throughout her childhood and into her teenage years for being overweight. ‘I was bullied for being chubby. Where are they now!’ she half jokes. Her nickname was Blubber and the other pupils would lock her in the art cupboard. She started picking up small parts from the age of 13, but that only made her stand out more. In 1991 she earned a role in Dark Season, a kids’ sci-fi show penned by a young Russell T Davies of Dr Who fame. She was 15, and it was then, having returned to school after 12 weeks of shooting, that she realised, ‘I did not belong any more.’

But Winslet was having the last laugh. Her career was taking off and, romantically, she’d found her first love, Stephen Tredre, an actor 12 years her senior. They met on the set of Dark Season and would be together for four-and-a-half-years. On screen, she began earning the kind of acting plaudits she would become accustomed to. In 1994 came Heavenly Creatures, a movie she credits with giving her the confidence to succeed. It was while filming in New Zealand that Winslet fell for assistant film director Jim Threapleton. They married in 1998, a year after Titanic became the highest-grossing film of all time, and had a daughter, Mia, in 2000. (When they divorced, in 2001, the press famously sided with Threapleton.)

Today, Winslet looks back on that time and describes the pace at which she was experiencing life as ‘inhuman’. She was hit especially hard by the death of Stephen Tredre, who lost his battle with bone cancer in 1997. ‘To think back now…’ she’s talking specifically about Tredre, and her voice falters. ‘I don’t know how I… it’s just awful. And I am the age now that he was when he died. So it’s a big shock. If you lose somebody like that, you never really get over it; you just learn to manage it and live with it. I’m not particularly religious or spiritual, but I do feel him around a little bit, going, “You’re all right. Don’t worry.” Which is amazing. ‘But yeah,’ she recalls, ‘that was a very, very difficult time. To have gone through so much then. Because Stephen died, I did Titanic, I met Jim. All of these things happened in quick succession between the ages of 19 and 22. No wonder I blew up like a balloon.

Remember those days? I think it was the Golden Globe year for Titanic, and I was on a red carpet and somebody showed me a picture and I was like, “Fuck, I was enormous.” I don’t particularly remember sitting at home crying and eating endless packets of HobNobs. I don’t remember doing that at all. Honestly, I think it was a stress thing or something. I don’t know.’ She agrees that period ‘screwed with [her] head’. ‘Looking back,’ she admits, ‘it probably did. In short, sharp bursts. But I’ve always been quite good at coping. I’ve never taken drugs, never drunk excessively. I’ve somehow managed not to become that person and I think it’s because of my family.’

These days, Kate Winslet and her husband, director Sam Mendes, together with their son Joe, five, and Winslet’s daughter Mia, eight, divide their time between homes in New York and Windsor. Of her marriage, she says, ‘We’re just there for each other’, but when it comes to running the household, she confesses: ‘I really rule the roost, I absolutely steer the ship. Constantly making checklists; you know, library books have to go in on Friday, make sure that one day a week they’re [the children] not having bread for lunch.’

Recently, the couple have been considering relocating back to England on a permanent basis. ‘Mum would hate this if she read it, but our parents are getting on now. Sam said to me not long ago that we really need to try to find a way to be more consistently in England. I said, “Well, at the point our parents really need us to be around, of course we’ll be there.”

And he said, “Darling, that’s now.”’

Reading older interview with Kate Winslet, dating back to the post-Titanic years, you’re struck by the number of times the writer comments upon how ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘open’ she is, not forgetting her capacity swear like a trooper. You don’t swear as much now, I say. ‘I look back and think, “Oh my God.” Fuck, bollocks, shit – it all came out a million times. Just too much. Probably nerves. I still swear now, of course, but I’ve got kids.’

As for her candid approach to interviews: ‘I never want to give everything away. It’s a funny time now with this obsession with celebrity. It makes me so insane. I’m really, really happy that I’m not a younger actor or actress working now because they have to run before they can walk. It’s really, really tough. When I think about somebody like Keira Knightley, whom I don’t particularly know, I see somebody who is working hard, really tring to challenge herself and make smart choices in spite of people criticising her size and performances. That kind of pressure I don’t feel existed to that entent.

‘”She’s fat, she’s thin, she’s married, she’s divorced.’” I had all of that, and bouncing back from that criticism is fucking hard. But they just go for the personal now in a way I think can be really crushing.’

One aspect of her personality she defiantly refuses to change is that of being an outspoken and unofficial advocate for real-sized women the world over. ‘I’m happy about that,’ she smiles, ‘I really am. I don’t feel the need to keep waving the flag in the way I did during part of my twenties, but I do think it’s important for young women to know that magazine covers are retouched. People don’t really look like that. In films I might look glamorous, but I’ve been in hair and make-up for two hours; someone’s been lighting a scene for three hours. With the nudity in The Reader, for example, even I was like, “Damn, I look good.” And that was the lighting – it was a bit of body make-up. I don’t believe in pretending those things don’t go on.’

Maybe it’s because the woman sat opposite me today, in her neat Stella McCartney suit topped off with blonde tresses that should Hollywood siren, looks so damn fabulous that I don’t’ feel too bad about asking my final question.

Kate, do you still see yourself as the fat kid at school? ‘Yeah,’ she replies. ‘I was the girl that people would always say, “Ah, it’s such a shame, because you’ve got such a pretty face”. I was sort of more one of the boys than I was one of the girls. Maybe that’s why I had such a strong connection with Leo [DiCaprio], because he always saw me as one of the lads. That was a great thing, because there was never any flirty weirdness. Like, it’s laughable, even the idea of that.’

I say it’s hard levelling that Kate Winslet with the one sitting here this minute – I’m not fawning, promise – looking as fantastic as you do. ‘Oh, I had, “No one will ever fancy me!”.’ She answers. ‘I had that well into my teens. Even now I do not consider myself to be some kind of great, sexy beauty. Absolutely not. At all. I don’t mind the way I’m ageing. That’s going according to plan. That’s all right [laughs]. No reason to panic just yet. I think I look my age, and that’s fine. I don’t think I look younger than 33 and I don’t think I look particularly older than 33. I think I’m sort of holding it together.’

Kate Winslet is Lancome’s face of Tresor.

KATE WINSLET ON BEING THE FACE OF A FRAGRANCE

Why endorse a fragrance?

‘It didn’t feel I was ust being asked to be the face of Tresor. They talked a lot about my message to women – about being real and comfortable in your skin.’

What’s the appeal?

‘It has a gentle and romantic quality. I’m not a fan of overbearing scents.’

You’ve said that your mum always wore Tresor when you were growing up.

‘It was the one thing she would ask for at Christmas and the one thing my dad would get for her, and would, by the way, have to save up for.’

Has your beauty regime changed as you’ve grown older?

‘I never used to have any skin problems, then I turned 30 and started having some lower-face skin issues. Hormonal changes, whatever. You just have to take care of your skin now. I drink a lot of water. And a really good under-eye cream is a must. There’s an amazing one by Lancome – High Resolution Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream. I never used to use eye cream or anti-wrinkle products, but now I do. But really I just try to keep as clean as possible. I do my best.’

SOURCE:  Marie Claire magazine UK edition

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