She could have been stuck in the Titanic forever, but Kate Winslet managed to escape and hence the rut that so many actresses of that One Big Role have so often found themselves in. Speaking in a posh English accent (and even a Brooklyn one), the British actress and three-time Oscar nominee tells us more about her latest flick, Little Children, where she stars as Sarah Pierce, a bored housewife who has a steamy affair…
You’ve appeared in quite a few book adaptations. Do you read the novels before shooting begins?
Sometimes, yeah. There’s Jude, Sense And Sensibility, All The King’s Men, Little Children. With the exception of Hideous Kinky, I have read the script first, and then the book. Hideous Kinky, I had read the book some years before. With All The King’s Men, I became obsessed with that book! I couldn’t put it down. I was rereading things and underlining things and putting stickers on pages. My book was such a mess! There were all these different colored Post-It notes and orange pen and yellow pen â€” all these different things â€” just because I play a supporting role in that movie and I wanted to make sure that I was playing the character as honestly as possible. And in order to do that, I felt that I needed to pull as much as I could from the book, just to sort of keep it in my mind.
With Little Children, when I had my first meeting with Todd, he said, “Have you read the book.” I said no. So he said, “OK! Don’t!” And I said why. He said, “Just don’t. I don’t think you need to. I’d rather you just focused on reading the screenplay”, which I did and loved the script â€” just loved the script. And then once I’d committed to the film, I did read the book and I sort of assumed that was the end of that rule. And then I was on the telephone with him one day and I said, “I read this fantastic thing in the book.” And he went (Kate imitates his New York accent), “Oh man! I told you not to read the book!” And I was like, “Todd, get over it! I’ve got to read the book.” I wouldn’t have felt as though I was doing my homework properly or something if I hadn’t read it. And also, it was very, very helpful in terms of building the character and who she really was, and building her back story. It was really important to me. But I didn’t specifically take things from the book and use them. The only thing I took from the book was when she started to go to the town pool and she starts to try to make herself look a little bit more feminine for Brad. She paints her toenails blue. And I loved this so much. I thought this was such a brilliant detail, not only because it’s quite funny, but because it says so much about Sarah, that in her own way trying to feminize herself, she paints her toenails, but she even gets that wrong because she paints them blue. It just says so much to me about how inept she is at making herself look glamorous and sexy. She just can’t do it. But I didn’t really take specifically anything else, other than personal character things that’d be useful.
Apparently, you hesitated before accepting the role because of the sex offender character. Why did you change your mind?
Well, I didn’t hesitate before accepting the role. I hesitated before even reading the script. That was what it was. My agent phoned me and said, “Listen I’m going to send you this script. It’s absolutely wonderful, but just so as you know, there is a character in there who is convicted sex offender. But it’s handled really well, it’s really brilliantly written, you shouldn’t let this put you off.” And it did immediately put me off! I just thought no! I don’t even want to read it because that is a subject that makes my stomach turn. I find it, like everybody, incredibly upsetting. Then she said to me, “You should meet Todd Field and let him tell you why he wants you to play this part.” And I said, OK, I’d love to meet Todd Field, actually. And so we did. We sat and we talked, he gave me then, and I knew that whatever I read in the script, I was going to be in such good hands that whatever that subject matter was really about, I had absolute faith that he was going to handle it really well. And he did.
And actually, I felt just complete sympathy for that character when I read the script. And I think it’s quite remarkable that Todd was able to create the character who isn’t just twisted and sinister â€” obviously, he’s all of those things â€” but at the same time, he’s ill, he’s sick. As an audience member, I really think that you full understand that that man would do anything he could to be cured of this illness and this terrible psycho-sexual disorder. I think Jackie is absolutely brilliant, I really do. Don’t you think he’s just so heartbreaking? And you kind of can’t believe how sad you feel for him. It really catches you, I think, because as an audience member, you’re saying, “But why am I feeling sorry for this sex offender? How is that happening?” Anyway. Jackie’s just an incredible actor, really an incredible actor.
You have another nude scene in this film. Does it get easier to do them?
No, it does not get any easier! But it was made a lot easier by Patrick. Patrick and I had such a laugh. We ended up going, “Hi, I’m Kate. I’m naked and so are you! Let’s go!” You just can’t help laughing at how completely ridiculous the situation is and how somehow you say to yourself, “I thought this was supposed to be about acting. Nobody told me when I decided to be an actress that I had to take my clothes off. How did I end up doing this job?!”
Do you think Sarah could be a Desperate Housewife?
I’ve never sent the show, actually. I don’t think that Sarah is a desperate housewife in that sense. And I don’t really think the other women are either. There’s something about Sarah â€¦ She’s unbelievably lonely and she’s emotionally completely dead, and very, very weak and living a life that she really does not want to be living. She’s living a life that she hasn’t planned for herself either. I think if her circumstances were different, she’d probably be in Paris going to amazing museums, art exhibitions, listening to fabulous lectures and traveling to Morocco â€” you know, really adventuring and finding out who she is through doing that. But she’s found herself with this life and she doesn’t know who she is anymore at all. The things that happen in this film could happen anywhere in any city, and the fact that it is set in suburbia is just kind of a backdrop to the story, really. I really do feel that this could happen anywhere. And in fact, the conversations that happen with those women on the park bench â€” Todd overheard those conversations actually happen between women in a park on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. So, it really could happen anywhere. And that’s what I love about the film. It’s so real in that sense. That’s why people relate to it and they’re kind of shocked by it. It’s unapologetically honest and it isn’t sentimental at all. It is quite tough to watch at times, too. I heard “Babel” is like that too.
What don’t you like about Sarah?
There are a lot of things I don’t like about her! (Laughs) In many ways, that was the biggest challenge for me. Before we started shooting the movie, I realized that there were things about her that I didn’t respect, and if I met Sarah in a playground, I would not talk to her, I wouldn’t want to be her friend. She’s not a very good mother. She’s emotionally asleep, and that would drive me nuts if I met someone like that! Being a parent is the most incredible gift that you can ever be given.
So when I was preparing for the film, I spent a lot of time figuring out who Sarah was and also coming to terms with her actions in my own quiet way â€” just building up a back story with her. I made it possible for myself to understand why she had married her husband. I decided that she had gotten pregnant accidentally. She hadn’t planned to be leaving this life at all. And I had quietly come to a point where I could sympathize with her and understand why she was the person that she was and why she did certain things. That was very, very important, because then I ultimately was able to enjoy her and not judge her. That was a new experience for me. I’ve always loved all the characters I’ve played in the past, really enjoyed them, and found them to be funny and inspiring. And with Sarah, it was much, much harder.
You mentioned that she was a bad mother. Do you consider how your schedule might affect your children before accepting a part?
Yeah, I absolutely do. I wouldn’t consider shooting something in a really remote, faraway country with too many mosquitoes. I just wouldn’t do that. The location is very, very important to me. And so far, I haven’t had to turn anything down that I really wanted to do. I’ve been really lucky.
Is your daughter conscious of what you do?
A little bit now. Just very recently. She understands that I’m an actress and that I’m in films. If I’m out and about with my kids in a grocery store or whatever, and some people will come up and say, “Hello, I loved you in â€˜Eternal Sunshine’,” and some will even ask for an autograph. Up till now, I’ve been able to sort of dismiss it so that they don’t have to be aware of it or ask me about it, because I haven’t actually, up until recently, been able to properly explain to them what that is. I’ve never really figured out what I had to say. And then, not very long ago, this teenage girl came up to me in the street, and I was with my daughter, and she said, “May I have an autograph?” and then Mia said to me, “Autograph? What’s an autograph?” I said, “It’s just when somebody wants you to write your name on a piece of paper for them and they want to keep it as a keepsake.” And she said, “Why?” What’s Mummy’s job? She said, “Actor.” And I said what else do I do? “Um, films.” Yeah. What happens sometimes is people see these films and then they might see me in the street and they think that they know me, and they’re really interested to see what I really look like and what I really speak like. They don’t know me really. And she said, “Naaah, they don’t know you. Only I know you!” She thought the whole notion of an autograph was ridiculous, which of course it kind of is. I actually felt quite please with myself with how I explained it. Well done, Kate!
Do some people mistake you for some of the characters that you’ve played?
There was this really funny moment not very long ago. I went to the gym in New York â€” not that I do very often! (laughs) â€” and there was a girl who was working there. She came up to me and said, (imitates New York accent to perfection) “Were you I that movie, you know?” Yes. “Oh man, that was beautiful. Them clothes you got, they’re amazing.” You mean the costumes? “Yeah, they’re incredible, but maybe you don’t get to wear them that often, right? You can’t just walk down the street in those clothes.” Yeah. Oh my God! Then she said, “I felt so sad. I can’t believe that he died. You must’ve been heartbroken about that. You must’ve been devastated about that. That was true, right, that boat that sunk, right? Yeah. “Man, you are so lucky that you did not drown.” I was looking around me for a hidden camera, hoping this is not real.
You played a totally different character in the recent “The Holiday”, alongside Cameron Diaz.
I’m playing a contemporary English woman in this movie, which I’ve never done before.
No period costumes…
No, no period costumes, no accent, it was just me! I’ve never played wearing clothes like this (points to her black pants and top). I’ve actually never done that before! I’ve done contemporary American several times. It’s very weird. In the middle of shooting, I said to Cameron, “I’ve never actually played contemporary English before!” I hadn’t even realized it myself. It was really strange. But it’s a lot of fun.
Source: Metro International