'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Kate Winslet ('Wonder Wheel')

Kate Winslet 3 Getty 2017 - H
Getty Images

"I'm the most unlikely person to be in the position I'm in right now," Kate Winslet, one of the most respected screen actresses of her generation, tells me as we sit down at the Hotel Casa Del Mar, along the beach in Santa Monica, to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast. The 42-year-old daughter of "impoverished" actors, who was born and raised an hour outside of London, was working in a deli when she was cast in her first film, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, 23 years ago. Just three years after that, she played the female lead in what became, at the time, the highest-grossing film of all time, James Cameron's Titanic. And, 20 years after that, she is still going strong. All in all, she has made 50 films — others include 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, 2001’s Iris, 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2006’s Little Children, 2008’s The Reader and Revolutionary Road, 2015’s Steve Jobs and, most recently, the 2017 Woody Allen dramedy Wonder Wheel — and has an Oscar, four Golden Globes, three SAG Awards, one Emmy and one Grammy to show for them. "I love this job," she says. "I love it more than ever, and I will still love it when I'm 75."

* * *

LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 34:58], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Dr. Ross Melnick, an associate professor of film and media studies at UC-Santa Barbara and an expert on film exhibition (he's one of two 2017 Academy Film Scholars), about recent acquisitions of movie theater chains, closings of art-house movie theaters in America and how MoviePass actually works.

Click here to access all of our 193 episodes, including conversations with Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Lorne Michaels, Gal Gadot, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Snoop Dogg, Elisabeth Moss, Jerry Seinfeld, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Kate Winslet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aziz Ansari, Jessica Chastain, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, Robert De Niro, Judi Dench, Tyler Perry, Jane Fonda, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone & Jimmy Kimmel.

* * *

At the age of 11, Winslet, at her insistence, began attending an acting-centric school that facilitated auditions for students who desired them. That same year, she booked her first commercial. Two years later, her talent for accents led to a string of gigs dubbing films. Two years after that, she landed a drama series. And two years after that, at 17, she beat out 175 girls to land Heavenly Creatures. "That was really the beginning of everything for me," she says. A year after that film's release, she appeared in Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, for which she received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination. And, as a result, she crossed the radar of Cameron, who was readying Titanic.

Cameron was seeking relative unknowns for his leads and Winslet was one of many called in for a camera test. She performed hers — in full period costume — opposite not Leonardo DiCaprio, but rather Matthew McConaughey, and was cast as Rose DeWitt Bukater, her first American character, in her first Hollywood film. "I had no idea what it even had the potential to be," she admits. She was 21 when she played the part and 22 when it was released and she received her first best actress Oscar nom. The film's phenomenal success made her, for a time, the biggest female star in the world. "I did somehow handle it quite well," she reflects. "I think it's much harder to be famous now than it was back then — much harder — precisely because of social media and the Internet."

Post-Titanic, Winslet made unconventional choices. She elected to continue residing in London, turned down high-paying offers from Hollywood and instead settled into a series of well-received period piece dramas like 2000's Quills and Iris, with the latter bringing her another best supporting Oscar nom. "I was slightly going down this road of people assuming that I was one of those classically trained British theatery people," she acknowledges, "and I've done one play in my life!" For this reason, an offer to star opposite Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a futuristic dramedy, was unexpected but welcomed. "I was so thrilled that somebody had had this idea that maybe I didn't walk around in corset reading Shakespeare in my own personal time," she cracks — and indeed, it did mark the beginning of a career resurgence (and resulted in her fourth Oscar nomination, this time for best actress).

Over the 13 years since, Winslet has starred in a constant flow of "prestige" pictures. Many have been literary adaptations (e.g., Little Children, for which she received Oscar nom #5, 2006's All the King's Men, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, for which she received Oscar nom #6 and finally won, the 2011 limited series Mildred Pierce, for which she won her Emmy, 2013's Labor Day, 2014's Divergent and 2015's The Dressmaker), and more than a few have featured her as a character experiencing depression or a midlife crisis or panic and uncertainty (e.g., Little Children, Revolutionary Road, Mildred Pierce, Labor Day and, most recently, Wonder Wheel). There have been other sorts, too, most notably Steve Jobs, which was derived from an original screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and in which she is almost unrecognizable as the real woman who was the eponymous character's most stabilizing influence. (She won a Golden Globe for the part.) To Winslet, all of these characters share something in common: complexity. "I'm interested in the inner workings of the private female mind," she says, "because I think it's a profoundly deep and interesting place."

Throughout her career, Winslet has crossed paths with Harvey Weinstein — he distributed her first film and the film for which she won her Oscar, among others — something that she is relieved she will never have to do again. Indeed, long before the recent revelations about Weinstein's sexual misconduct, Winslet despised the mogul, she says: "He would come up to me every time I saw him, 'Don't forget who gave you your first movie!' He didn't 'give me' my first movie — I auditioned for four months. Peter Jackson gave me the part. But, you know, how dare he even sow that seed in my mind, that in some way any part of my career had anything to do with him rooting for me or pushing for me or putting my name forward."

"He was just so horrible to deal with," Winslet continues. "I was one of the ones he would label 'difficult' because I wouldn't do the things he would ask for me to do on a business-level.... These were ridiculous requests.... He didn't like me because I wouldn't be bullied by him." Winslet further notes that Weinstein addressed her female agent, Hylda Queally, as a c— "for absolutely years"; tormented Sydney Pollack on his deathbed and drove away Scott Rudin during the making of The Reader; and then unnecessarily released The Reader, which "was not supposed to come out until a whole year later," in the same awards season as her then-husband Sam Mendes' film Revolutionary Road, in which she also starred, in some ways pitting the two against each other. Since it was "just an Oscar grab" by Weinstein, and one handled very insensitively, Winslet decided on a course of action: "I just thought to myself, 'Well, if I can just get my own back in some way at this awful man, I'm not gonna thank him. If I happen to win that Oscar [for The Reader], I am not going to say thank you.'" And she did not.

She has, however, recently made a film with another New York-based Hollywood legend who has been accused of sexual misconduct, Woody Allen. The Hollywood community remains very divided about the allegations against Allen, who was accused of molesting his daughter Dylan, but was not prosecuted after investigators concluded that her story appeared to have been coached by her mother, Mia Farrow.

Before Wonder Wheel, Allen had twice reached out to Winslet about parts in his films. When she was 20, he invited her in for a brief meeting, without divulging which project it was for, and then provided no follow-up; then, in 2003, she was offered a part in another film, but could not accept it because she had just had a child. When Allen reached out for a third time, she was "incredibly excited," but, after reading Wonder Wheel — which centers around the part of Ginny, a working-class waitress married to a man she no longer loves — her heart sank. "I just didn't think I knew how to play the part, I just didn't think I had the stuff to be able to do it," she says. "Everything Ginny feels is gigantic.... She's an awful mother, and I don't like playing people who are bad mothers.... There were many, many reasons why I was nervous to play it, because I felt like I could have got it wrong so easily." (As for the fact that the film tells the story of a man who is in a relationship with one woman, but whose eye wanders to her daughter — a bizarre echo of Allen's own experience leaving Farrow for her daughter, Soon-Yi PrevinWinslet says, "It was honestly never discussed. It was never discussed. And maybe that's not right, but it was never discussed.")

Winslet was just about to share her regrets with Allen when her daughter, to whom she had described the part, told her she was making a mistake. As a result, she signed on to the project, and ultimately had a great experience making it. "He writes these very, very layered female characters that are unbelievable," she explains. "I mean, just unbelievably full and rich and vulnerable and strong." The amount of dialogue that she had to quickly learn and deliver, while also performing loads of business, was unlike anything she had ever encountered before, but she found it invigorating: "It was like driving very, very fast in a really difficult-to-maneuver car with a seatbelt that kept coming unclipped."