The Titanic star also recalled the unusual story of acquiring the rights to Revolutionary Road.
Kate Winslet discussed her career to date at a Bafta Life In Pictures event, which took place at Bafta’s HQ in London.
The Oscar-winning actor talked through nine of her films, starting with her first role in Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, her development as an actor in Ang Lee’s Sense And Sensibility, and her rapid ascent to global stardom in James Cameron’s Titanic.
She then recounted working alongside Harvey Keitel in Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke and Jim Carrey in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, re-teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, and winning an Oscar for The Reader, before rounding off with her recent performances in The Dressmaker and Steve Jobs.
Winslet rounded off the evening by addressing the recent media coverage of comments she made about the gender pay gap: “Jennifer Lawrence is amazing for speaking up. What I have a problem with [is that] journalists on the red carpet will now say, “So, how do you feel about the gender pay gap?”…”Do you know whether you got paid less or more than Michael Fassbender?”
“That question? That to me is not very nice. I’m not going to have that conversation with a friend or even a family member, let alone in public.”
Winslet was just 17 years old when she landed her first film role in Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson’s film about the Parker–Hulme murder case in New Zealand.
“We’d done the first series of that and I’d just finished my GCSEs, and things moved really suddenly quite quickly. I was sent this script [Heavenly Creatures] for a film audition.
“I remember that we had to drive to my agent’s office and I remember saying to dad “Oh my God dad, it’s an audition for a film. Do you think like I might get it?” And he just looked at me and he said, “Yeah, you will.”
“And so I remember thinking, “God that’s it isn’t it, I’ve got to absolutely believe that I’m going to get this part,” because so much of it is believing that you will and willing things into existence.”
However, Winslet now reflects on the film with some embarrassment: “Oh my God, it’s so over the top.”
Sense And Sensibility
Winslet’s next major film role was in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic British novel Sense And Sensibility.
The actress recalled the firm treatment she experienced at the hands of the renowned director: “This was truly one of the most awful moments of my whole life. I remember going to him and saying, “So, you know, how was everything?” And he went, “You’ll get better.”
“And I went, “Okay.” And I remember going home, crying my eyes out and thinking, “No, Kate, this is it now, this is it. You are in a film, you’re not even worthy of this role.
“I’m sure they read the wrong name off the list and they’re just too embarrassed to say, ‘Look, we didn’t really want you for the part love, but you’re here anyway so get on with it’.”
The actress then spoke about how co-star Emma Thompson came to her defence: I remember saying to Emma Thompson, “Oh my God, can I tell you this thing that Ang said to me.” And she said, “Oh darling, oh my God, what did he say?” I said, and I told her the whole story and she went, “Oh for fuck’s sake, that is abuse.”.”
The conversation then moved onto the gruelling experience of filming James Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic, which remains to this day the second highest-grossing film of all time and propelled the still young actor onto the A-list:
“It was this completely extraordinary experience, but very, very hard. I remember finishing filming and joining my family on holiday in Scotland.
“I remember falling asleep one afternoon, it was half four or something, and I remember waking up the following morning at 11am, I really had slept for a just enormous number of hours, I was absolutely shattered.”
Winslet then recalled the unusual audition she undertook on Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke: “Harvey Keitel is a particularly big fan of improvising. They had me do a thing in the audition which was Harvey pretending to be a baby refusing to eat.”
She then stood up and acted out the scene, including miming trying to feed Keitel a yoghurt, which left the Bafta audience in stiches.
Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind in 2004 was a departure in process for now experienced actor. Winslet remembers the chaotic nature of the shoot:
“I remember going to bed and being woken up by the phone at two in the morning. Kate, it’s Michel! The circus is coming through the Brooklyn tunnel, they have some elephants. You have to come, you have to come, it’s happening right now.
“I’m like, “Michel, wait. What do you want me to do?” There was a strange montage sequence in the film, which, sure enough, is me and Jim Carrey running amongst elephants as they were being walked through the Brooklyn tunnel into town for the big old circus that happens at Madison Square Gardens.
“We just made up a scene because the elephants were coming into town, in the middle of the night, and it was snowing. And the scenes when it snows on the beach in Montauk, none of that was scheduled at all.
“We were out in Montauk, we were supposed to do scenes on a lovely sunny day on a nice dry beach, and we woke up in the morning and it was snow.
“I remember phoning Michel and going, “Oh well what are we going to do?”. He said, “We are going to shoot! We are going to shoot of course, come on, it will be so crazy and we will have the bed on the beach.”
“I’m going, “Okay, it’ll be brilliant,” and it all looks amazing.”
Winslet then talked about the unusual process of acquiring the feature rights to Richard Yates’ novel The Reader.
“I read the novel and went, “God, this is absolutely amazing,” and then very quickly heard that someone had done a loose draft of it.
“We were living in New York at the time and Cynthia O’Neal came over for coffee. I said, “I just read this absolutely amazing book, and someone’s written a sort of a spec script for it, and I’ve got to find out who owns the rights.”
“And she went, “My darling, I do.” Her husband was a man named Patrick O’Neal who had bought the rights in a Poker game from Richard Yates for a dollar. I said, “Well can I have them?” She went, “Sure!””.
Playing war criminal Hanna Schmitz in Stephen Daldry’s The Reader was a challenge of Winslet, though it ended up with her winning the 2008 Best Actress Oscar:
“It was incredibly gruelling. It was definitely the first time I’d played a role where I was searching for something that I could relate to in some way, and there was just nothing.
“I remember thinking, “Well I’m not going to be able to sympathise with her. I might be able to empathise, possibly. But if I can play this role as honestly as possible, and if I can get this audience to feel alarmed by the fact that they may feel some degree of empathy for this woman, okay then that’s what my job is actually.”
“I remember not wanting to leave the room, I remember thinking, “Oh just God, I’ll take my lunch break, I’ll just stay here.” It’s very hard to shake that stuff off.”
Winslet stars in two films both being released at the end of 2015, The Dressmaker and Steve Jobs. She recalled how the fantastic work of costume designer Margot Wilson on the film:
“Margot was brought on just to do the Tilly looks [Winslet’s character in the film], and she came to me about two weeks before that scene, she said, I’ve got this fabric, it’s really, really beautiful and it’s very, very red, and I bought it about 45 years ago when I was working in Milan, and I’ve been holding onto it for a special moment, and I just thought maybe this could be it.”
And I went, “Oh, Margot, oh you’re so brilliant.” And so she created this dress out of this wonderful old fabric, and that was the other glorious thing about The Dressmaker was that I did wear these wonderful creations.”
She also joked about stories in the press that noted the age gap between her and co-star Liam Hemsworth: “Well you see I don’t really pay attention to the press so I’m very glad to know that I’m not particularly aware of that. But you know, great, lucky him!”
Winslet concluded the evening by discussing the technical challenges of filming Steve Jobs: “The Sorkin dialogue is an absolute bitch because there’s just so flipping much of it. I mean, it was 187 pages long this script, which really is unusual.
“It was a proper acting challenge, properly spending time with the other actors, and working with Danny Boyle, which so thrilling to me.
“Getting the dialect right, I found it so frustrating, the number of times I would throw my script on the floor.
She also talked up the experience of working with co-star Michael Fassbender, who plays the titular computing pioneer: “Working with Michael, every day he really took my breath away.
“It didn’t matter how much I had to do or Seth Rogan had to do or Jeff Daniels had to do, Michael was on every single page. He learnt everything 100 percent ahead of time.
“I remember we all sat down to do a read through of act three, and everyone got their scripts out except Michael. I was like, “You fucker.” And he went, “I know. I’ve learnt this thing, watch.” He was amazing, didn’t get a single thing wrong, blitzed it, he actually was almost swinging on his chair.”