Her spirits sank after her Titanic success, but now a soaring Kate Winslet is
Queen of the World
For millions of people, Kate Winslet will forever be the woman standing on the bow of the Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio, her arms spread in exultation. But even as she was starring in one of the big screen’s greatest love stories â€” and Titanic was becoming the most popular movie in history â€” Winslet was suffering through a personal romantic tragedy that would change her life.
â€œLooking back, I see what I was dealing with when Titanic came out”, Winslet says. “I had a lot of pain, and I was confused about who I was.”
Today, Kate Winslet is one of our finest actresses and one of the youngest ever to capture four Oscar nominations. This fall, she’s won acclaim (and talk of yet another Oscar nod) for her performance in the suburban drama Little Children. Her next film, The Holiday, a romantic comedy with Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, opens in early December.
Winslet, 31, lives in downtown Manhattan on a tree-lined street near the Hudson River with her husband, director Sam Mendes, 41, daughter Mia, 6, and son Joe, 2. During an afternoon we spend together near her home, she is surprisingly forthcoming. And while talking about the present is easy, she also is willing to discuss a more difficult time.
Before Titanic, motherhood and Mendes, there was another man she loved â€” Stephen Tredre. “He was the most important person in my life, next to my family”, Winslet admits. “I’ve never told anyone all this stuff before. I have no desire to hide any part of myself.”
They met in London when Kate was 15 â€” the shy, overweight middle daughter in a family of provincial actors. Stephen Tredre was 28. A television writer and actor, he was her first love.
“I was very shy”, she says. “I was vulnerable”. In school, she was nicknamed “blubber” for being heavy. “Other girls teased me terribly. I was bullied. I’d just put my head down and get on with it. That was my means of survival. Stephen made me feel secure and embraced.”
By 16, Kate had dropped out of school and was working at a deli in Hampstead. Encouraged by Stephen, she auditioned for her first film, Heavenly Creatures, and unexpectedly won the leading role.
“Stephen was very inspiring”, she says. “He’d wake up in the morning, open the bedroom curtains and say to me, ‘Oh, what a gorgeous day! Let’s go out!’ He had this extraordinary zest for life. My life revolved around him.”
Shortly before Winslet began filming Sense And Sensibility in 1994, Stephen was diagnosed with bone cancer. He became very ill during the film’s production.
“There was no point to his suffering. No rhyme or reason to it”, she says. “He lived healthfully. It always seemed impossible that this man could ever die. He had a tumor in his leg removed and lots of chemotherapy. I was there.
“I’d take the sleeper train up from Devon, where we shot the film, and just be at the hospital with him”, she adds. “When Stephen had gotten better and his cancer was in remission, we broke up. I don’t know why.
“I was so young, when I look back on it. Only 19. How could I have left a person who was so unwell? I thought Stephen was going to be all right”. They stayed apart for about a year. “After we separated, he got ill again”, she continues. “Stephen and I talked every day. This was not somebody I’d turn my back on.”
Tredre died the opening week of Titanic. Winslet missed the film’s Los Angeles premiere to attend his funeral. “It was unbelievably heartbreaking”, she says. “All I have left is that we remained very close until the end.”
Kate looks somber. After a moment, she takes her cell phone to check on her children. She is slender and appears younger than she is, wearing a beige silk blouse, fitted jeans and black sneakers. Her hair, long and blond, hangs loose. She is warm and engaging â€” stunningly beautiful.
After she’s assured that the kids are OK, I ask if it’s true that the fame Titanic brought, coming on the heels of that loss, nearly undid her. “I didn’t know how to deal with it”, Kate admits. “I sensed that great life changes were impending. I had to hang on by the seat of my pants and not get drawn into public events and endless red carpets.”
She turned down Hollywood movies to make Hideous Kinky, an independent film. On the set, she met James Threapleton, the film’s third assistant director. A year later, they wed and had a daughter, Mia.
“I thought I wanted to be with Jim”, she says. “I was dealing with the pain of having lost Stephen and Titanic coming out. Jim was just a regular guy, and that had a big impact on me.”
The marriage was over three years later. In 2000, while separated from Jim, she met American Beauty director Sam Mendes. “We had this exciting meeting”, she recalls. “I walked away dazzled, thinking, ‘What the hell was that?’ It was this overwhelming feeling â€” this hope you always have that you will meet a man exactly like him. I knew this was the person I was meant to be with. I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone I had this feeling, not even my mum. I had no idea if Sam felt anything for me.”
Before Winslet, Mendes had been involved with other actresses, including Rachel Weisz. Well-born and Cambridge-educated, he had never married.
“We met again, quite by accident, months later at a barbecue in London that a friend was having”, Winslet says. “Sam made it clear that he wanted me to act on my feelings. He felt the same way I did.”
Within weeks, they were seriously dating. Their affair made Winslet the object of unrestrained British press attacks for allegedly “trading up” to a better class of man. “It was shattering”, she says of the controversy surrounding her divorce, “but it was nothing compared to losing Stephen.
“I believe in fate”, she continues. “I know it sounds corny, but it was like Sam and I were from the same tribe. We were meant to meet: Both of us from Reading, both born in the same tiny hospital, Dellwood. Then suddenly, years later, this totally gorgeous, sexy, talented man is in my life? That’s fate.
“I love being married to Sam”, she tells me, “and I love motherhood more than anything. It’s like it’s the whole reason for my existence now. Sam’s a wonderful dad. We have a beautiful, healthy son.”
She smiles big. “Oh, lucky, lucky us, to be so genuinely happy.”
By Dotson Rader
Published: November 5, 2006
Source: Parade magazine