On screen, she can be anybody. Off screen, she refuses to be anyone but herself. Stylist meets the kick-ass Kate Winslet
Words: Helen Bownass
Kate Winslet is showing me her bone broth. That’s not a euphemism. She is showing me a picture on her iPhone of the saucepan full of bone broth she made last night from a recipe by the Hemsley sisters. And we’re talking on Skype, so she’s holding the phone up to her laptop camera. It’s an intimate, and somehow meta, moment with one of the most impressive and intelligent actresses of a generation. She’s the star Stylist has always wanted, and after more than six years and 293 issues finally has, on the cover thanks to the beauty and ease of technology.
Actually it feels totally appropriate that I’m talking to Winslet on Skype. After all, it’s a vehicle that has become, like Winslet herself, an integral part of our lives. And as an incredibly prolific actress and mother of three, it makes sense too; it’s what we all do when we’re juggling and trying to stay connected.
But Skype interviews, it turns out, are laden with dilemmas. Is it OK to wear a nice bright jumper that (and I actually thought this) ‘pops on camera’ but team it with those tracksuit bottoms? Where’s the best light? Should I tidy up my bedroom? Oh god, have I got time to change my username to something sensible? This feels even more intimate than meeting face-to-face. Online, there’s nowhere to hide and Winslet is going to see a little bit of my world now.
Of course, I get to see some of hers too – despite the fact she looks to be in a nondescript hotel room. She’s not wearing a scrap of make-up. A fact I know for sure because when I admit to putting on mascara in preparation she gets so close to the camera to show me she didn’t that I can see every single pore, before wrinkling her forehead comically. She’s wearing a white cotton V-neck and keeps tying her hair up in a bun then shaking it lose. It’s an action that smacks of normality.
Of course Winslet has often been critisised for trying to be normal. True, she’s a mega film star, so her normal is not necessarily our normal, but there is something extremely relatable and familiar about her. She is open from the off. Her teen cultural references are my cultural references – Grange Hill! Judy Blume! – she gets cross about things we all get cross about. She can’t help mentioning her family regularly. She loves Quality Street. She also knows this is a game. She makes a film, she has to talk about it; crucially, she doesn’t seem to resent it.
And 25 years in the business have taught her to play it well. Winslet’s is a name that has long appeared in awards categories alongside the Streeps, Moores and Blanchetts of the acting elite. She has two Baftas, three Golden Globes, and one Oscar (for 2008’s The Reader – it lives in her toilet). In December, Bafta will honour her with a career retrospective, starting in 1994, with her role in Heavenly Creatures. Winslet is the ultimate screen chameleon.
Her latest film The Dressmaker is a perfect example. An Australian comic melodrama, Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage who returns to the outback years after being ostracised by her community. Couture fashion, cross-dressing and retribution feature heavily. Liam Hemsworth stars as her love interest – refreshingly, the fact that he is 15 years her junior isn’t even mentioned in the script. Progress?
Winslet is one of life’s doers, so that’s not all that’s on the calendar – and you just know she has a proper calendar with all her family’s movements marked on it – as she’s also in the thrilling Steve Jobs (out this Friday) alongside Michael Fassbender. She plays Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs’ marketing executive and one of the few people on earth able to take him to task. There’s also her family who she’s fiercely devoted to: her husband Ned Rocknroll, they married in 2012 after meeting on Richard Branson’s Necker Island (he is Branson’s nephew), their one-year-old son Bear and her two children from previous marriages – Mia, 15, and Joe, 11. They live on the south coast, two counties away from where she grew up in Berkshire, so really she’s come full circle, albeit with a trail of sucesses behind her. And there’s no sign of that stopping any time soon…
You’ve just turned 40, were you looking forward to it or dreading it?
I was never dreading it at all and actually now that I am 40 I do feel really grown up and responsible. If there has been any reflection, it’s just how much life I’ve covered [laughs]. I’ve done a hell of a lot so it was about time I was 40. I don’t know how I’ve managed it; it’s never been dull.
Does it feel like you’ve been on a journey to get to this point?
Yes, my own very specific one. I think about the versions of this life that I’ve already lived. For a lot of people you go to university, you work towards one thing, then you might meet someone, get married, start having children… I’ve done that so many times! [laughs] I have done so many versions of that, and in the midst of all of it I’ve kept playing all of these different characters too. I think that is how I’ve learned to juggle so well and to be 100% present for people, which I feel very proud of. And it is lovely being 40 because I literally don’t have to give a sh*t what people think any more and it’s f***ing great.
I’d love to know how you’ve achieved that defiance…
I know how to do interviews. I know how to conduct myself in the workplace, I know how to be a mother, I know how to be a wife, and I’ve taught myself all of these things. I can walk down a red carpet and not worry any more that somebody is going to catch me off guard because they’re not. I’m too smart for that now.
What if you walked out of your hotel room and heard a waiter criticising your latest film?
It would make me laugh. Good for that waiter for having an opinion.
The world has changed a lot during your career. Is there anything you regret that your children won’t get to experience in the way that you did?
Top Of The Pops was a great one wasn’t it? And the way that there were so few TV channels so we really had that one thing each week to look forward to. I recently heard the Grange Hill theme on the radio, [she bursts into the theme tune] and it took me back to Zammo and those guys. I feel nostalgic for things like that, but more than anything I feel nostalgic for the simplicity of childhood before computers – we don’t have any social media anyway – and being so available. It is hard to protect your children from that. School has made it impossible now for my daughter to do her homework without a computer. What happened to the good old-fashioned days when they had to write it down in a little book? I sort of dream of having that again, but in order to get that you have to live on a flipping island where there is no Wi-Fi and you have to throw your phone into the sea.
Could you live in that world?
Absolutely. We were on holiday for half term and I took email off my phone so I didn’t check it for nine days, which was amazing. Until this morning when I realised I can’t pretend that this is not happening anymore and I really need to get back in touch with my life.
Was there a book that you read as a teenager that changed how you thought?
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s such a wonderful, genuine coming-of-age story. Judy Blume is actually a bit like Aaron Sorkin [who wrote Steve Jobs and The Social Network], she writes the way that young people think and that is why her books will stand the test of time. My daughter has read [her books] too.
You recently said that you think people find you annoying. What did you mean by that?
Actors are the easiest people to pick on because when we talk about our job, we’re ultimately talking about ourselves and that makes all of us sound like a pack of f***ing w***ers! [laughs] Also there’s only a certain amount of years that I can keep banging on about being normal and having a big bum. I mean, this is not new information. Surely people are bored of it, aren’t they?
You also said you experienced a public form of bullying after Titanic. How did you stop that dragging you into the mire?
I just stopped reading things. You have to otherwise it does you in. I just thought: ‘I am who I am. I am just going to do my job to the best of my ability, make instinctive choices, do things that people might not expect me to do and I am not going to pay any attention to what anyone thinks.’
When it comes to career, do you see yourself as a brand?
No, and I hate it when people describe me as that. When people say, “Well, that’s your brand isn’t it?” and I’m like, “What? What do you mean? I’m not a brand, I’m a person!” When you walk the red carpet that is also a role you are playing. Yes, of course it is a version of me but it is the version of me that’s really good at talking to journalists and smiling for a camera. It is just one evening of complete chaos, then back home to feed the pigs.
Do you thrive on that chaos?
It’s not necessarily that I love it but I know how to do it. I’m a really good multitasker. I tend to be 10 steps ahead of everyone else. There is definitely an art to it.
You seem to have found a solid work/life balance; are there any other issues facing women you think we should take to the streets about?
I don’t know if I have an answer for that. One thing that I have found quite difficult to navigate recently is that there have been a lot of questions about discrimination in the Hollywood work place. One journalist actually asked me if I knew if I got paid less than Michael Fassbender on Steve Jobs? I was like, “I’m sorry? You’re really asking me that question?” What I find hard is that something has happened recently whereby these types of conversation about salary, and if there are good roles for women or not, and why there aren’t many female directors are happening more. Some of it I could give you an educated answer on and some of it I don’t know why that is. But what I do know is that those types of conversations have got to have a shelf life because they overshadow the great achievements that women are making. It is not that there is any part of me that feels any lack of support for my fellow actresses at all, but I feel so fortunate to have made a career for myself and never experienced any discrimination.
You’re about to be honoured by Bafta. Which role are you most looking forward to revisiting?
Heavenly Creatures, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the biggest turning point of my life. Some actors will be cast in their first film and that first film might never see the light of day. That was my first audition for a film, so the fact that I got the job was amazing. If it hadn’t been for that I’d have never got the audition for Sense And Sensibility, and if I hadn’t been in Sense And Sensibility, I wouldn’t have been in Hamlet, or Titanic…
So where would you be?
God knows. I’d probably be living in Islington doing theatre. That was what I always imagined I’d be doing, I never imagined I’d be in films at all.
Do you ever have a pang of regret that didn’t happen?
None whatsoever, I don’t have regrets about anything, I think that it is a wasted emotion. Guilt and regret, I just don’t believe in.
How do you manage that?
The only thing I used to feel guilty about was being a working mother. I think people assume that busy film actresses just leave our children and go off to work for three months; that has never happened, that will never happen. I would rather cut my head off. But certainly just being that busy when Mia was little, it took a while to achieve that balance and to realise that I didn’t have to feel guilty because I was enhancing who I was, laying down the foundations of a future for both her and I and anyone else who came along, and I was able to set her a great example of being a strong, confident individual who is self-sufficient and resourceful.
The Dressmaker is a dark comedy, which isn’t something you’ve really done before…
I have never played a role quite like Tilly. You know, in a way I have never played a character who was quite so isolated at the beginning of the story and I really enjoyed exploring her quick-wittedness.
You seem quite Zen. Do you practise meditation?
No, I can’t do meditation really because I just end up making lists: PE kit, blueberries, Manchego, smoked salmon…
Is that an insight into your Ocado order Kate?
Well, I can’t even do Ocado because I like to see everything so I actually have to go to Waitrose. I do power yoga – that’s quite energetic and resets me a bit mentally and physically. That has kept me consistently strong without going crazy.
What is your friendship group like?
I don’t have many actor friends. I love the company of actors, but they’re a nightmare to pin down; they are always working. I have a mixture of local friends, and friends who I have known since I was 15 or 16, who are not necessarily my age, they are older. I love putting groups of people together, I can organise a group of 20 really good people. I’ll think ‘so and so will really get on with that person,’ so we’ll sit them next to each other at dinner and low and behold they will start their own friendships. I love that.
Who’s the cook at home?
I am. I love being inventive and I am a very big fan of the Hemsley and Hemsley girls, I love their passion. It is real back-to-basics food. I spent last night stuffing venison bones into a pot and making a bone broth. Hang on, I’ll show you a photo, it is pretty funny [she runs to get her phone].
Have you got a spiralizer?
A crucial question we’ve been debating at Stylist, what’s the best chocolate at Christmas?
The green triangle from Quality Street!
Outside of the kitchen, have your interests developed as you’ve got older?
Since meeting Ned, the things that I’ve always hoped that I might one day do, I have done. I have climbed so many mountains now… like actually climbed mountains.
What do you get from climbing a mountain?
I have always been much happier in the elements than sitting in one place at a desk. Having a life partner who matches me for energy and zest for life is pretty extraordinary. I don’t want to be the person that sits and looks at the mountain; I want to climb to the top.
The Dressmaker opens nationwide on 20 November, watch the trailer
Photography: Trunkarchive.com, Rex