Kate Winslet: Kiss Us, Kate
Enough about directors, how does Winslet feel about her costars, like, say, Leonardo DiCaprio? Roses come to Winslet’s cheeks and her voice goes all mushy. “I bore people with how wonderful I think Leo is,” she says. “He’s brilliant. At first, I thought, ‘Oh, is he going to be Hollywood stud-like?’ But he’s a really kind, wonderful person. He said to me one day early in the making of the movie, ‘You know, I was kind of worried about you.’ He thought I was going to be a proper, tight-corseted, clean, glowy individual with peaches-and-cream perfect skin, which I am certainly not. It didn’t take long for Leo to crack and see who I really am, and we became very close. But, I must say, he is absolutely gorgeous.”
Just as she seems to have said her piece on DiCaprio, she suddenly reminisces, “He’d walk onto the set in the morning, after, like, a half hour’s sleep or something, and that face–it took your breath away. I just looked at him, having been through hair and makeup for hours, and wailed, ‘You fucker!’ He just practically rolled out of bed and looked that gorgeous. He can’t take compliments, absolutely hates them, and he goes, ‘Shut up!’ and gets me in a headlock and wrestles me to the ground. I love him dearly. I bullied him into doing the movie, because it takes a long time for him to make decisions. He likes to be advised by all his close friends and family, which was terribly frustrating for me because, with me, it’s always gut feeling. We became such good friends, so close, absolutely like brother and sister. We’ve talked about everything. We’ve laid our souls out on a slab to each other, in one way or another.”
With eight months in each other’s company in remote locations, did she and her new soul mate lay out anything else to each other? “Oh, my God, you’re kidding–the whole notion!” she chides with a touch of mock Mary Poppins. But why not? They’re both young, great looking, gifted and available, right? After a bit of good-natured coaxing, she admits, “Before we met, I thought, ‘I’m just going to fall completely in love with this guy.’ Once I met him, I thought, ‘Well, it’s true. Leonardo DiCaprio is incredibly beautiful, but no way.’ He’s just so normal and so–what’s the word I’m looking for?–fundamental. Very chatty and so funny that we laughed and joked around. Everybody kept saying, ‘God, you two just get on so well.’ Leo and I sometimes still talk about it and say, ‘Oh, should we have an affair just for the hell of it?’ But we wind up agreeing, ‘No, we couldn’t, because we’d laugh too much.’ We just wouldn’t be able to take it seriously.”
They did take the work seriously, though. DiCaprio’s working style was new to Winslet. “He’d just say, ‘Hey, let’s not talk about it, let’s just do it.’ That was rather daunting, because I’d think, ‘Oh shit, what’s he going to do?’ After we did a take that was absolutely fine of the scene late in the movie where we run through the ship toward each other and end up in this big hug, saying, ‘I couldn’t leave you, I couldn’t go without you,’ Leo said to Jim, ‘Hey, can we just have one for the actors?’ Jim said yes. I had no idea what Leo was going to do. It was so weird how he just got hold of me and lifted me up in a violently emotional way. I could do nothing except give it back. That’s the take that made it into the movie.”
And the two stars of Titanic coexisted happily all those long grueling months? “There were days when I would say, ‘God, I can’t be without Leo,'” Winslet recalls. “He was my rock. We were such a team, nothing could break us, nothing could come near us. Jim kept saying, ‘I am so lucky and grateful because just as easily, you two could have hated each other.’ And it helped Jim, too, because there were days on end where he’d be on a crane hundreds of feet up doing a panoramic shot and we wouldn’t even see him, he’d just be a voice over a loudspeaker. That was often frustrating, especially if you had a quick question. But I’d ask Leo and he’d always come up with the answer. God, he’s wonderful. I love him to death.”
As she goes on to reminisce about some pranks DiCaprio played on her, Winslet at one point lets out an uproarious, foot-stomping whoop. Which is when I notice her feet. Which are mighty. I ask her teasingly whether she ever regrets that her feet weren’t bound at birth, and she chortles, “No, I’m glad I’ve got big, huge flappers. Leo used to laugh at my feet all the time, going, ‘Fuck, man! Look at those things!’ The other day we were having our makeup done for a photo shoot, and he said, ‘Shit, I haven’t seen those things for awhile.’ We used to swap shoes all the time because we have the same size feet.
“You know,” says Winslet, warming to the subject, “I’ve got big, huge toes, too. Really, I have to show you because they’re extraordinary. Absolutely massive.” Down come her laces, off come her shoes and socks and, yep, there they are. Damn, they are extraordinary. “See, these are the kinds of things Leo and I laughed about, too,” she says. “So we could never take a relationship seriously.”
Winslet not only has her happy memories of a delightful working relationship with her costar, she has the happy results of the work, too. “The thing that Leo and I knew was that we were going to have to fight to hold onto this very profound love that the two people, our characters, share. We had to fight for that because sometimes the scenes were just so huge, with so much action going on, so many stunts. We knew that the thing that would break people’s hearts was not the fact that so many people died on the ship that night, but the love story. And when I saw it at a screening, that last 20 minutes, I sat among men in business suits who were sobbing their hearts out like small children.”
With Titanic as her calling card, Winslet is flooded with offers at the moment. “Once your foot’s in that door, you don’t need to agonize so much over the struggle to find work,” she admits. “But, with some of my friends, my family, it’s heartbreaking because they’re still trying to get that foot in the door. I have the luxury of being able to choose what I think is the right thing for me. It’s like that fantastic speech Frances McDormand made at the Oscars, ‘We women have the choice.’ Being in that position, the ability to choose things, thrills and amazes me.”
It wasn’t always so, of course. Wasn’t she up for William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet? “I tested for it three years ago, when Leonardo was definitely already doing it, but I knew, reading it, I was too old for the role–too old inside.”
The Crucible? “I was desperate to do it, phoning all the time, asking, ‘What’s going on?’ I was obsessively jealous that it was always going to be Winona [Ryder] as Abigail, but she did it wonderfully, even if that was my dream role. On Oscar night for Sense and Sensibility, this huge bouquet of roses arrived with a note saying, ‘Good luck tonight. I think you’re wonderful. Much love, Winona Ryder.’ It was so sweet and lovely, I was like, ‘My God, Winona Ryder sent me flowers!'” Woody Allen’s movie, which Ryder took when Drew Barrymore dropped out? “It was a tremendous honor to meet him, but it was a minute-and-a-half or something, and he smiled, asked me a few questions, took my Polaroid, and that was that. Leonardo’s having such a great time with him, but I knew that, with Judy Davis and Ken Branagh already in it, he wouldn’t cast another Brit as an American.” She philosophizes, “I’ve never sat in a movie theater going, ‘Shit! Why didn’t I do this movie?’ Regret isn’t good. Every decision one makes in life is made for a reason or another. Whenever something bad happens, I go, This is happening for a reason, or, This is going to teach me something.”
Winslet scrunches back in the couch and says, sighing, “Every time I go to work now, I go through this suicidal saga of, ‘I’m terrible,’ ‘I’m fat,’ ‘I’m ugly,’ ‘I can’t do it anymore.’ I get paranoid. It’s so incredibly encouraging when people say they like me and my work, but it almost frightens me because I think, ‘Oh, shit! I have to live up to it, not disappoint them.’ I don’t necessarily think of myself as particularly good or attractive, and I’m very aware of how you can burn out in this business. It’s like ‘too much, too young.’ And there’s so much worry among some actors about how something is going to do at the box office. Greed is a nasty thing. I’m sure it’s very easy for actors to become greedy once they’re handed everything on a plate and can pick and choose from any entree, appetizer or dessert they want. Hugh Grant once said to me, ‘How well did Heavenly Creatures do at the box office?'”
(Here Winslet imitates Grant so perfectly, you can practically see his hair spilling over his forehead.) “When I said, ‘I have no idea,’ he was shocked, saying, ‘Well, don’t you read the figures?’ No, I don’t. To get all caught up in the business side of it frustrates me. That’s one major reason why I really don’t want to play only big leads in films or only strong female figures. I’m more than happy to play a part in a smaller project if I really love the script, the material.”
Which is exactly what she’s doing at the moment. Winslet’s next film will be the small-scaled Hideous Kinky, based on the novel by the real-life granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, in which she plays a hippie mom who ran away to spend years in Morocco with her kids in the early 70s. “Neither my agent here nor in London got the script at all or why I wanted to do it,” she says about Hideous Kinky. “The mother I play is very carefree and not necessarily as domestic as a normal parent would be. My agent said, ‘Don’t you think people are going to say, “Why is she playing this woman who’s basically not a very good mother?” When agents don’t like what I like, I have to say, ‘You have to listen to me and this is what I want to do. I’d really appreciate it if you would work on this and help me. This is falling at a really important time in my life.–a time I feel I should go and do it.’ I’m an actor. I have to do just that. The other, business side of that–doing publicity, choosing things that may get a big audience–is a totally different thing.”
I tell Winslet she strikes me as a terrific combination of good sense and age-appropriate inner chaos, to which she responds, “Personally, morally and emotionally, I sometimes feel I’m in complete turmoil. I really don’t know who I am. I still feel like I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn, you know? But I would hope not to know who I am at 22, right?” Right she is, and, whatever she learns, she’ll be fascinating to watch all along. Very Winslet of her, I think.
Stephen Rebello interviewed Jennifer Lopez for the February issue of Movieline.