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Interview: Kate Winslet on Revolutionary Road
Kate Winslet has already won a Golden Globe and is nominated for a Bafta for her portrayal of 1950s housewife April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. The British actress talks to Kate Whiting about working with her husband Sam Mendes and former Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Kate Winslet on the red carpet
Kate Winslet can’t seem to win. After waiting for a major acting award for 12 years, two come at once, but she still gets it in the neck for her over-emotional acceptance speech.
After her double Golden Globe victory, reports of ‘weeping Winslet’ were rife, telling how she was assisted onto stage, repeatedly apologised and urged herself to ‘gather’ and forgot Angelina Jolie in the list of her Best Actress rivals.
But even Kate agrees she will have to try better when she attends the Bafta Awards in February.
“Clearly, I should prepare a speech because I didn’t think that was going to happen at the Golden Globes,” she admits.
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on the red carpet promoting Revolutionary Road
Kate won the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress gongs for her performances in Revolutionary Road and her portrayal of a former SS guard in The Reader.
She has also been nominated twice for Leading Actress at the upcoming Baftas and is sure to clock up a sixth Academy Award nomination.
But of all the roles the 33-year-old has taken on in the last decade, motherhood is still the greatest.
As well as listing agents, producers and make-up artists, during her gushing Globes moment, Kate also thanked her two children Mia and Joe for “coming on this adventure with mummy”.
“I love being a mum,” Kate says when we meet just before the red carpet madness that is the awards season starts.
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road
“My priorities in life have just completely shifted since I had my two children. Mia and Joe are the most important thing in my world and that’s that.”
Even so, when she was offered parts in both Revolutionary Road and The Reader - projects that would be filmed less than six months apart - Kate found it impossible to turn them down.
“I’m still sort of recovering from the last 18 months of my life and just coming to terms with the fact that I got to play April Wheeler and Anna Schmitz in one year, let alone in my lifetime,” she says, wide-eyed.
“I’m very very aware of how rare that is as an opportunity and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learnt about acting, about myself, as a result of playing both of these unbelievable women.
Kate Winslet with her Golden Globes
“It’s difficult to talk about the ‘actor’s process’ without sounding like an arrogant arsehole, but they really were very, very challenging.”
Revolutionary Road, based on the novel by Richard Yates, is a heart-breaking portrait of a marriage in 1950s America.
Despite her dreams of a career in acting, April finds herself slipping into the suburban housewife role, while her husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) commutes to New York for business lunches and flirtations with secretaries.
The couple’s hopes of moving to Paris to reinvigorate their marriage are shattered when April discovers she’s due to have another child.
As a mother herself, Kate had to try to understand what drove April’s decisions and how the era defined her as woman.
“She makes choices I would never make as a mother, but what’s tragic about April is that I think if she had the chance to open herself up, to go to Paris and be more free, she would have been a very different mother as a consequence.”
The film gave Kate the opportunity to work with her director husband Sam Mendes for the first time since they married in 2003, which she found to be both a blessing and an added pressure.
“I couldn’t wait to see these other parts of Sam that might potentially be revealed to me, I was getting a bit impatient about it,” she says, flashing that famous smile.
“I’d have Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Hanks and even Paul Newman, when he was alive, say to me ‘you’ve got to work with him sometime’ and I was saying ‘I know, I really want to, stop going on about it!’ “I did see other sides to Sam and that’s a great thing, to learn more about the person you’re sharing your life with.”
The experience threw up differences in the way the pair work as individuals. Whereas Sam would go home at the end of a long day’s intense shoot and be able to just switch off, Kate would try to hold on to April and want to discuss work.
“I actually don’t like switching off because I worry that I might lose my thread. I fall asleep and hope to God I’m going to dream about it, because then I don’t have to put it down,” she says.
“Sam and I decided early on that we couldn’t have any rules about this stuff otherwise it would be way too confusing. So with Revolutionary Road, I was able to indulge in that and I kind of abused the fact that I was living with the director - I would pick his brains constantly.”
Rather than cause a rift between them, the film brought Kate and Sam closer together.
“We walked away as a couple unscathed, you know?” she continues, leaning forward in her chair, her two gold necklaces swinging.
“It was a bit like walking away from a car crash with no cuts or bruises and going ‘wow, how did that happen?’ So we survived it, we really did.”
Reading-born Kate was also reunited on set with her good friend Leonardo for the first time since Titanic broke box office records back in 1997.
Having him in the role of Frank was a huge comfort, she says.
“We’ve known each other since we were 20, that’s over a third of our lives, so to have that level of friendship and trust between us was really valuable and we felt physically comfortable together playing those parts.
“But we also had to look after each other a lot because some days were extremely difficult.”
To prepare themselves for the film, Kate and Leo watched 1950s period videos promoting life in the suburbs, which she describes as “horrifying”.
“It was like a vision of hell. And all the women in the video were just going ‘hello!’ What was striking to me was that these people are not just living a lie, but they’ve forgotten how to be honest, even with themselves.
“One of the things I loved was when we stepped into those costumes and had to go on set and be those characters, we didn’t feel like we were wearing costumes. We felt like we were wearing our own clothes.”
Kate kept Yates’ book with her at all times, so she could get April’s emotions just right, but she says she still had to reign in the despair to avoid alienating the audience.
“In the book, she is very highly strung, she feels like a piece of string that’s literally going to snap at any moment and I knew that while I had to create that for her emotionally, it was more important to do it from an emotional place, rather than the endless wringing of hands Yates talks about.”
Having put so much thought and effort into her performance, Kate found it hard to let go of her character when filming finished.
“I really come to love and understand the characters that I play and you go through a weird period of feeling sad and letting them go,” she says, obviously moved.
“Sometimes that takes me a week and sometimes it takes me a couple of months, just until I feel like I can realign my own thoughts again.”
But Kate won’t have much time with her own thoughts now as the awards season carries on apace - next stop the Baftas...
Revolutionary Road (15) opens in cinemas Jan 30.