KATE WINSLET and her husband Sam Mendes are flying out to Los Angeles over the weekend – but not together.
Contain’s major spoilers for the film Revolutionary Road
‘I’m completely traumatised because we’ve never both gone and left the kids, so we’re going on separate planes – flying out and back on separate planes,’ the five-time Oscar-nominated actress told me this week. ‘It lessens the odds and makes me feel better. Sam’s like: “Oh, you’re crazy! We could have a really nice time together!”‘
But the 33-year-old actress is adamant. ‘I know it sounds ridiculous, but I will go to any lengths to make sure my kids are OK.’
Indeed, just before I arrived to meet her at Sam’s office in downtown Manhattan she had been busy, trying to sort out some complicated domestic drama. Kate is fiercely protective of her eight-year- old daughter Mia and five-year-old son Joe, and there are several photographs of the children around the office of Mendes, the Oscar-winning director.
These days Kate’s career is built around her children’s schooling and holidays, although she says she has stopped reproaching herself for being a working mother.
‘I don’t beat myself up any more about going to work. It doesn’t mean I’m being a bad mother just because I want to go and do my job sometimes.’
Somehow, over the past 18 months, she found the time, and energy, to make two films: Revolutionary Road, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, her heroic leading man from Titanic, and The Reader for film-maker Stephen Daldry.
I have seen both films – twice – over recent months (in the case of The Reader, an early rough-cut version and this week a nearly completed film) and they represent an actress at the height of her considerable powers.
In Revolutionary Road, based on Richard Yates’s novel about being trapped in post-war Fifties suburbia and a marriage that crumbles before our eyes, Kate plays April, a woman who tries to hide the growing awareness that there will be no American dream for her.
‘She’s this combination of incredible frigidity and courage and feistiness,’ Kate says.
It’s the first time she has worked with Sam directing her, and several great oments stick out, including one which shows, devastatingly, how her marriage to DiCaprio’s Frank has withered.
‘You’re just some boy who made me laugh at a party once and now I can’t stand the sight of you,’ Kate’s April tells DiCaprio’s Frank.
The scene is made even more powerful because DiCaprio has to smash a chair in his rage and despair.
Kate says she told her co-star to go for it. ‘Just throw it!’ she ordered. And he did.
Did it hit you, I asked? ‘There was one take where a little bit caught me on the head, but it was fine. It just went flying. Those kind of things happen. I wasn’t hurt and we got what we wanted for the scene.’
Sam had to work carefully with DiCaprio and his wife. The two actors had known each other nearly 15 years and had remained close since Titanic. Sam sometimes had to break through the pals’ comfort zone to achieve freshness.
For the chair-smashing scene, Sam had Kate speak her devastating line (which comes straight from the novel) and not the line from the script which DiCaprio had been expecting. His face crumples as she says it and we’re blown away as we watch.
The movie’s an excellent dissection of a marriage and the sheer psychological brutality makes you hold your breath.
I predict both leading performances will be in line for Academy Awards and for Baftas.
Ms Winslet should be up for a best actress Oscar for The Reader as well, but she can’t be nominated in the same category twice – although she can in the case of the British Baftas.
In The Reader, she plays Hanna, a tram conductress working in a post-war West German town. One day she helps a 15-year-old boy who falls ill in the courtyard of her apartment building. A relationship ensues.
Years later, the boy becomes a legal student and discovers that his mistress was a prison camp guard. But what tears at your heart is the realisation that Hanna guards another secret that she would rather die than reveal. The moral complexities this throws up are fascinating.
Kate probably does the best work of her career in the courtroom scenes where you begin to understand the burden this secret has placed upon her.
Kate has to appear naked several times in The Reader and she does so because it’s integral to the story. She does not use a body double and neither lost nor gained weight for the scenes.
The earthy, realistic nude shots are a world away from her recent, Catherine Deneuve-style poses for the cover shot (and bare bottom shots) for Vanity Fair magazine.
Sam mentioned to me that he knew nothing about the photos until his wife brought home the Polaroid test shots.
‘Of course I didn’t discuss them with him!’ she told me. ‘The whole shoot was about doing the character. I feel like I was playing the part and not me – it doesn’t feel like me. It took six hours to set up the lighting and the hair and make-up, because I obviously don’t look like that all the time.’
I asked her what she thought of her body – the real one, not the Catherine Deneuve version.
‘I’m doing all right. I’ve had two kids. I’m 33. I don’t look in the mirror and go: “Oh, I look fantastic!” Of course I don’t. Nobody is perfect. I just don’t believe in perfection. But I do believe in saying: “This is who I am and look at me not being perfect!” I’m proud of that.’
And what, I wondered, did she feel wasn’t perfect about her body?
‘Oh, my good God Baz, where do I start? OK ,what’s not perfect about me? Everything!
‘Here we go: crumble baby belly, boobs are worse for wear after two kids. I’m not a supermodel and I do whatever I can just to stay healthy. I don’t go to the gym. I mean, I go through phases where I think: “Oh, I really should go and do a class. I don’t have a trainer or a cook.”‘
But she does have an exercise secret: a Pilates DVD which she works out to at home, ‘on the living-room carpet’.
‘Here’s what’s so great about it: no one’s looking at you, no one’s telling you what to do or work harder or anything like that.Â ‘I know it seems slightly tragic, but it’s my way of exercising in a time-efficient way.
‘I have a mat and little hand weights and I do a stomach thing and a bum thing. It’s very simple – you barely break into a sweat.
‘My body’s different. It has settled into what it is now. None of this different diets lark. I can’t remember the last time I tried some new fad.
Honestly I eat anything, although the only thing I don’t is pasta, because it gives me stomach ache. ‘I cook at home. I have a cleaner and a baby-sitter, but my mantra is “keep it simple”.
‘Life gets too complicated – and I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want staff running around. I want them to put their own dirty clothes in the laundry bin and bring their plates from the table to the sink.
‘It’s as normal as we can be,’ she said.
â€¢ The Reader opens in the UK on January 2; Revolutionary Road opens on January 30.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Friday November 14, 2008.Â Baz Bamigboye