Kate Winslet: 'I still absolutely believe in true love'
Kate Winslet is all smiles and friendly chatter as we ride down in The Plaza's lift together after an elegant post-premiere party in the famous old New York hotel's recently refurbished Grand Ballroom.
"Yes, what a lovely party," she says. "Wasn't it fun?" She takes the opportunity to quickly apply lip gloss before we reach the street level, where a gaggle of photographers and her limousine are waiting. With a friendly wave she and her two assistants get in and the car disappears into the Manhattan night.
A few hours earlier, the Oscar-winning actress is a lot more serious and introspective as we talk about her life and career and the similarities between herself and Mildred Pierce, the woman she plays in the five-part television miniseries of the same name that is based on the 1941 Depression-era novel by James M Cain,
As portrayed by Winslet, Pierce is a strong, independent woman who, after her cheating husband leaves her, struggles to bring up two children on her own while building a highly successful career and veering between unsuitable boyfriends.
"There are often similarities between any actor and the character they play, whether they're conscious or subconscious," Winslet acknowledges. "But I certainly identify with Mildred's strength and the fact she has two children, the same as I do, and her ability to be able to juggle everything and still remain so true and full of love for those kids. I really admired her."
Winslet, 35, has been a single mother herself since her seven-year marriage to the director Sam Mendes, who directed her in the domestic drama Revolutionary Road, ended a year ago. Since then she has dated the British model Louis Dowler, but it is not something she wants to discuss.
She had already been through a previous divorce when her marriage to Jim Threapleton, an assistant director whom she met on the Morocco set of Hideous Kinky, ended in 2001 after less than three years of marriage. It came as a shock to the show business world because outwardly they had appeared to be a devoted and happily married couple.
At the time she told me: "I still absolutely believe in true love. Marriage is about the meeting of two minds and two souls and hoping that it is going to work for ever. But sometimes it doesn't happen, and that's a shame. Life with someone is very much about not wanting to change anything about that person and not allowing them to change anything in you. I firmly believe that. We all have our dark hours, we all go there, but I don't wallow in it.
"I've always said that you have to hit rock bottom before you can pick yourself up again and as long as you understand that has to happen and as long as you know you have to get back to where you were, then it is fine. But I don't wallow in sad states.
"I don't struggle easily. I never give up. That's not the way I am at all. I don't pretend things aren't happening and I don't sweep them under the carpet. I am a very up-front, hands-on individual."
Her beliefs and emotions haven't changed and she is clearly not in a sad state when we talk this time, although she looks somewhat severe and stern, wearing black trousers, a black camisole and a black Helmut Lang jacket and with her blonde hair pulled back. In the past her weight has fluctuated dramatically and she has sometimes served as an exception to the Hollywood rule that actresses have to be stick-thin to be successful, but today she looks elegant and curvaceous.
She smiles rarely but talks willingly and at length about her life as a single mother. She lives in New York and her children go to school there although, she says, she spends the summer and Christmas holidays in England, where she still has a home. The children - Mia, 10, whose father is Threapleton, and Joe, seven, by Mendes - are her top priority and she has just returned from spending three months in Paris with them while she filmed Gods of Carnage for Roman Polanski.
"It's no secret that I am a hands-on mother," she says. "The only dream I have for my children is that they believe in who they are and are happy in their own skin and they feel loved. Just loving them and being there constantly is the absolute key. They understand the job that I do and I love it that there's never any resentment from them that I'm famous and sometimes people come up to us in the street. They understand why that happens. They don't have to like it all the time but they do at least respect that fact that I do this job because I love it and that to me is very important. It's also very important to keep life as simple and normal as possible for them so they don't ever feel different to their friends.
"They go to a regular school and we do everything any family would do. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's a little challenging, like when we go for a walk in the park and there are six paparazzi hiding behind trees. It's not normal, but if they don't know the paparazzi are there, then it's normal for them. It's really just about being the mother that I want to be and not making any huge changes based on my success. I give them what I feel they need from me as a parent and the success and fame part just stays at the door.
"We don't keep magazines in the house because I think seeing Mummy on the covers of lots of magazines would be a little odd for them."
When working on Mildred Pierce Winslet was able to live at her Manhattan home - although the story is set in Los Angeles in the 1930s, it was filmed entirely in the New York area. Cain's novel was first adapted in 1945 and Joan Crawford won the best actress Oscar for her performance as Pierce in the melodrama, which explores the newly divorced character's unreasonable devotion to her insatiable daughter as well as the complex relationships she shares with the unsuitable men in her life.
After James Cameron's landmark epic Titanic, it was probably the most gruelling film schedule Winslet has endured, as she appears in virtually every scene in the five-part miniseries.
"Let me tell you, television is much harder than film because you have a lot more story to tell and you don't have as much time to do it," she says. "On a movie you will shoot perhaps two or three pages of script a day, but we had days when we were shooting eight and sometimes 13 pages. It was like doing two and a half films in 16 weeks."
Ever since she made her impressive feature film debut in Heavenly Creatures in 1994, Winslet has been compiling a catalogue of exquisite performances, usually portraying free-spirited women tinged with sexuality. When she was only 22 she became the youngest actress to receive two Oscar nominations - the first for her star-making turn in Sense and Sensibility (1996) and the second for her performance in Titanic in 1997.
Born in Reading, Berkshire, Winslet knew she was destined to be an actor: her father and mother were both theatre actors and her maternal grandparents founded and operated the Reading Repertory Theatre.
"We never had any money and I really grew up in a world of struggling actors who were doing it because they loved it," she says.
Winslet had her first taste of the family business at the age of five when she played Mary in a school production of the Nativity. She attended a theatre school where, she recalls, she was miserably unhappy and was constantly tormented by her fellow pupils, who called her "Blubber" because of her weight. When she was 13 she had her first professional acting role in a commercial for a breakfast cereal, and she went on to appear in several television series. Then Peter Jackson, who later wrote and directed King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, cast her in Heavenly Creatures, the film in which she established herself as a young actress with exceptional talent.
After co-starring in Sense and Sensibility she took the female lead in Jude and was cast as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet. Then came Titanic. But she found the deluge of publicity and praise heaped on her and Leonardo DiCaprio overwhelming. "I was so young and I wasn't ready for any of that," she says. For her it was a time of tragedy because a former boyfriend, the writer Stephen Tredre, whom she had dated for five years from the age of 15, died in December 1997 from bone cancer. Winslet skipped the premiere to attend his funeral.
Having starred in what became the biggest moneymaker in film history (Cameron has since eclipsed himself with Avatar), she could have had her pick of roles in Hollywood blockbusters but instead escaped into the more familiar world of independent film, starring in Hideous Kinky, Holy Smoke, Quills, Iris and Enigma. "I didn't want to get lost or confused by the hugeness of Titanic and I deliberately didn't want to do the whole Hollywood thing. I wanted to go to work every day and know the name of everyone on the set," she says.
After being nominated five times she finally won the Oscar in 2009 for her role in another low-budget film, The Reader. Although she is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, actresses of her generation, she likes to think she remains unaffected by it all. "I don't think success has changed me," she says. "I think I'm still the same person inside, I still live by the same morals and I still have the same feelings about life that I've always had.
In fact, I'm probably more myself now in my mid-thirties than I was in my mid-twenties. When women are in their twenties we think we know exactly who we are and we think we've done all the growing we could possibly do emotionally, and then along come your thirties and it's different again. So I'm really enjoying my thirties."
She continues to pick her roles carefully, making sure she gives herself plenty of free time to spend with her children but admits she is only just learning how to relax.
"As a parent, not working too much is really important and I try to pace it out," she says. "I'm still learning how to take time for myself without feeling guilty about doing it and I'm getting better at just sitting down. No, I'm not kidding because I think when you're a mother you sometimes forget to just sit down and pick up a book or read a recipe in the back of a cookery magazine. I'm still learning."
Winslet is clearly devoted to the craft of acting and she revels in the characters she gets to portray.
"Now that I'm 35 I'm really enjoying playing older characters," she says. "Those are the types of roles coming in and it's great because I have so much more life experience at 35 than I did at 25 and it's a real luxury and a blessing to be able to bring those things into a character.
"I'm very fortunate to get to play such wonderful roles, to work with such extraordinary directors and to be invited along for the ride by so many great people. Awards and nominations are absolutely extraordinary and believe me, I can't tell you how proud I am of those acknowledgements, but at the same time I don't think I have to top that or win another one to keep the bar high. For me, the bar is how good my work is and I'm determined that my work will always be of the highest standard that I'm capable of.
"I'm aware how lucky I am, and to get to do what you love is really a great gift - and I'm grateful for it more and more as each year goes by."
The five-part Mildred Pierce miniseries is due to air in the UAE on Wednesdays from next week on OSN First and OSN First HD.
The Winslet file
BORN October 5, 1975, Reading, Berkshire, England
SCHOOLING Redroofs Theatre School, Berkshire
FAMILY Father Roger, mother Sally, both actors; sisters Anna and Beth, both actors; brother Joss; daughter Mia, nine, son Joe, seven
FIRST JOB Making sandwiches in a delicatessen
FIRST KISS Aged 15 with boyfriend Stephen Tredre
READING Children's books and recipes
LISTENING TO Big bands
FAVOURITE QUOTE "Be yourself" - my parents. And now I tell it to my children.
SECRET PLEASURE Having a facial
CAN'T STAND Hanging up my clothes
Updated: June 25, 2011 04:00 AM