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Kate Winslet is the soul of sensibility.
She claims she doesn’t read most of what is written about her as a matter of emotional survival, and says she could absolutely not care less whether or not Hollywood thinks a size 6 qualifies as a plus size. Mention her starring role as Rose in the biggest blockbuster film of all time, Titanic, and she’ll passionately explain why her role as the zany Clementine in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is her favorite. She also claims never to have sought fame and enjoys tooling around her Chelsea neighborhood with children Joe and Mia and acting like “just another mum.”
Discussing such issues during a recent interview, she centers on her role as the new face of Lancôme’s Trésor fragrance. While articulate and engaging, Winslet really lets down her hair and dishes when she visits a group of teenage drama students at nearby Chelsea High School. In between the respectful and probing questions about her craft, the students—in the manner of Fleet Street journalists—also throw in several real zingers, such as what it’s like to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio. (The teens are participants in the Epic Theatre Ensemble, which connects socially minded plays produced off-Broadway with the New York City Public School system. Lancôme is a sponsor of the program.)
Back to kissing DiCaprio. After a cheeky student dares to ask the question (and every teenage girl in the audience leans forward, listening intently) Winslet belly-laughs before answering. “Leo and I are such good friends that it was a little like kissing my brother,” she says. “It sort of loses its thrill when I have half of his makeup on my face.”
And any sense of awkwardness is dispelled with an eruption of laughter when a teenage boy is called on. “OK, first of all, I just have to say you’re hot.” Winslet rushes over and gives him a heartfelt bear hug.
She gives the students candid advice on surviving in the acting world. Whatever the role, “what you need most in this business is your soul and your confidence,” she advises. “If you believe you can do something, you absolutely will. It’s just a matter of hanging on.”
To be sure, like many of her characters, Winslet can’t easily be put into one category. And speaking of those characters, she’s all about quirky roles. “I like to try lots of different things. If I know that something’s going to be a challenge, if I read something and there’s a part of me that thinks, yes, I’d love to do that, but am I good enough? Could I play that part? As soon as I start asking myself those questions, it fires me up even more, and I think to myself, that’s why you should be pushing yourself to do this.”
Winslet just wrapped Revolutionary Road, due out next year, which reunited her with DiCaprio—and her husband, Sam Mendes, who directed. Right now, she is “trying to figure out what I’ll do next. I’m not one of those people who plans two years in advance. I prefer to live by the seat of my pants.”
Those instincts convinced her to take on the role of Julia in the obscure indie film Hideous Kinky, after making Titanic.
“After Titanic, I realized how lucky I was to suddenly be catapulted into this very privileged position. But at the same time, no matter how headstrong I feel I’ve always been in many ways—and certainly felt I was then, at the age of 22—the truth is, I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I didn’t really know who I was. [Also,] I just wasn’t ready to take on the enormity of that position and that level of sudden fame. It’s wonderful, but it’s also really scary.
“I wanted to run away. I wanted to learn more about myself and I wanted to work on a film where I knew everyone’s first name. On Titanic, there were more than 1,000 people on that movie set every single day, and it just really upset me because I couldn’t know who everybody was. The character I played in Hideous Kinky mirrors completely who I was at that time—a woman trying to escape, trying to figure out who she really was by going on a wild adventure. In many ways, Leo did the same thing. Now, he says to me, ‘Do you know, everything we’ve done since Titanic is a reaction to Titanic?’ I would have said that was entirely true, up until this summer when we did Revolutionary Road together.”
She identifies Clementine in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as her favorite character for many reasons, although one stands out: “She really danced to the tune of her own drummer,” she says. “I think I should be more like her, although it made me a little mad in the head [playing her].”
Winslet enjoys the red carpet, but sees it as another role. “There’s a whole other character that you’re playing. In a way, you’re not yourself—you’re seen in a whole other light. It really is a lot of fun, but it’s not ultimately who I am at all.”
She does enjoy the dressing-up part. “I didn’t use to be fashion-y and I’m still not particularly, I suppose, but I do have favorite designers: Valentino, without question, for the simple reason that his tailoring is just unbelievable. When you meet Valentino, you realize that everything you’ve seen before just doesn’t count. He also cuts for women, and wants women to look like women in his clothes. And Dolce & Gabbana—they are always reinventing themselves.”
Speaking of cutting for women, Winslet’s not even a little bit worried about Hollywood and Seventh Avenue mannequin standards. “We live in a world where I do think there’s a hell of a lot of pressure on women. I’m normal-sized, and to me, it’s strange that somebody who is a size 6 or size 8 can be accused of being ‘larger.’ I just feel like it’s off-the-charts insane right now.”
She is considering doing theater work again, but not so soon. “I always think that I’d like to get back on the stage,” she says. Her last time treading the boards was at age 19. “It’s a great idea, but it’s also terrifying. What happens if you forget your lines? [Unlike the movies], in theater, you don’t get a second chance.”
Also, theater is a bigger commitment, she says. “You don’t get to put your kids to bed for sometimes over three months at a stretch. My kids are of an age [her daughter is seven and her son will be four in December] at the moment where I’m not ready to give up three months’ worth of bedtimes. No way.”
But her kids are beginning to recognize that their mum isn’t exactly typical. “My daughter is just beginning to become aware of what my job means—I tell her [people] come up to me because they think they know me,” says Winslet. “I never felt like I wanted to be a famous person. For me, the most important thing of all is that I love the job I’m doing.”