Being normal is Kate Winslet’s thing. That and being one of the most brilliantly talented actresses of her generation. She is an English actress. That means tea and Pringles, thank you very much. No kale juice, goji berries and joyless Hollywood detox lifestyle for her. Nor does she do airs and graces. In the past she went for full-on honesty, talking openly about everything from love to ambition – leading to some knives-out bitchy comments by newspaper columnists.
Career-wise, life has never been better. A serial Oscar nominee, she finally won Best Actress for ‘The Reader’ in 2009. She is ‘Revolutionary Road’-terrific in her new film ‘Labor Day’, playing an agoraphobic single mum of a teenage boy. Their lives are turned upside down over one sweltering bank holiday weekend when an escaped murderer (Josh Brolin) walks into their lives. As she says – ‘Just when you think he’s going to slit their throats, he bakes them a cake.’
Kate Winslet in ‘Labor Day’
Kate Winslet in ‘Labor Day’
You have a sixth sense when it comes to picking Oscar-grade films. What’s your secret?
‘Honestly, I think it’s just luck. I was 17 when Peter Jackson asked me to be in “Heavenly Creatures”. I’d grown up in a house where we had free school meals and school bus fares were covered by a charitable trust. I learned so much on the job. I got my foot in the door and everything opened up.’
You made ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Titanic’ all by the age of 21. Do feel like you’ve had a charmed life?
‘I feel like I’ve had a charmed career, without question. I still get terrified in the middle of a film, thinking, oh my God, how am I going play this part. But I have been really blessed. The directors that I’ve worked with just taught me so much, particularly Todd Haynes, who directed “Mildred Pierce”. I learned so much from him.’
You’ll be at the London Film Festival premiere of ‘Labor Day’. Aren’t you a little bit afraid your waters might break on the red carpet?
‘[Laughing] It won’t be that close! I’ll be fine. It would give the photographers something to talk about. That would be funny, actually.’
Jason Reitman, the director of ‘Labor Day’, waited a year for you to become available. What were you busy doing?
‘Oh, Gawd. It slightly makes me cringe to hear you say that. It was very sweet of him. To be honest with you, when Jason originally sent me the script, there was a lot going on in my personal life. In my head, I was just committed to my children. But very sweetly he asked: “Well, when would you be free?”’
Your character in the film, Adele, is very fragile. She’s agoraphobic and depressed, but she has this incredibly strong love for her son. Was that a tricky balance to strike?
‘I’m so glad you say that, because I did find that challenging about her. I didn’t want her to be a nervous Nelly for the whole film. And I very much admired her ability as a mother to absolutely put her son first. She’s depressed and yet she’s not moping around in a dressing gown until three, sinking into a bottle of gin. She’s somehow just about pulling it together to raise that lovely boy.’
Could you have played the part before you were a mum?
‘No. It’s really interesting. I did “Hideous Kinky” when I was 22, 23, and there was a lot I had to guess about maternal instincts because I wasn’t a parent. But with Adele I don’t think I would have been able to play her had I not been a parent. Particularly a parent with a child of similar age. Mia is nearly 13 and it almost brings a lump to my throat to describe this time in a child’s life, because everything is a gigantic question. Every day it’s just exhausting because they’re just bursting with curiosity. “Is this right? Is this wrong? How should I be?” And you just have this desire to hug them, just be there and just listen. All they really want actually is to be heard.’
Single mums get a hard time of it, but ‘Labor Day’ shows what a tough job it is.
‘You’re right, single mums do come in for a hard time. Society is incredibly judgmental. Listen, I know this. My life has taken me down several different paths I never expected it to take me down. Not in a million years. And I know the true meaning of getting by by the skin of my teeth, I do. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got money or you haven’t, whether you’re famous or not. This is the case for all women actually, you have to carry on. You always have to carry on. And you can, because you have to.’
Some actresses do pretend-drab. They might leave their hair unbrushed to play a character like Adele. You go all-out, greasy hair in a shabby dress. Why be so hard on yourself?
‘I love it! I prefer it. Quite frankly it’s less to think about. I can just concentrate on playing a character. In “Revolutionary Road” my character April always looked pulled together, so there was a lot of fiddling that went on during the day, hair and make-up. I want to make myself a T-shirt that says: “Don’t make me look nice.”’
You’ve worked through this pregnancy. How has that been?
‘I worked from about from nine weeks to about 20 weeks, so it really wasn’t too bad – less than most women who work. But it was interesting trying to hide the boobs beneath a corset. Oh my God, we would just laugh at the end. I would stare at the corset in the morning and want to cry.’
Have you taken this pregnancy more in your stride?
‘I’m a bit older, and certainly my body doesn’t feel like I have been pregnant in ten years. I’ve been more active and healthier, I think. I know more about how to take care of myself now. I think that between 27 and 37 was a really big learning decade. I just know more, I think, now than I did then. I’ve been very lucky – a bit tired and a bit sick at the beginning but nothing major at all.’
You husband is Ned Rocknroll. Is your baby going to be a little Rocknroll?
‘[Laughing] No it won’t be, I think it would be a bit of a big name for a baby.’
Weren’t you a tiny bit tempted to change your name?
‘No, I’ve never changed my name. I think partly because of my job. But I really like my name. I do. I’m really proud of it, I’m proud of the family that I’ve come from. We only have one brother and so if the name is carried on it would only be him carrying it on.’
You moved back to England last year from New York. Does it feel good to be home?
‘Yes. But to be honest with you I never really felt as though I left. We would always come back for summer, Christmas and Easter. There are things that the kids miss about New York – every now and then we get nostalgic for the sound of taxicabs or our favourite little park. One thing I love about being back is English rain. Looking out of the window now, it’s raining and the sky is dark, I love it. To me those are reassuringly English things. I love it when it rains.’
You were 22 when Titanic came out. What stopped you from becoming a Hollywood brat?
‘I’m nice [peal of laugher]! Seriously. What would be the point? I was raised to be a decent, polite person and I just could see that with some people they changed, that terrible sense of entitlement can kick in. I never felt that I was in any way entitled to be a little arsehole. I just don’t believe that that’s how you should be in life, famous or not.’
Does that down-to-earth attitude come from your family?
‘I think groundedness is definitely something I grew up with. And having a sensible attitude about celebrity is something I learned. Being an actor, being a celebrity and being famous are three entirely separate things. I try to stick to the acting.’
Do you still keep your Oscar in the loo?
From the outside it seems as if you’ve lived at a fast pace. You had success and a family in your twenties. Does it feel like that to you?
‘Not now it doesn’t, not now. When I was a bit younger, in my early thirties, I remember having moments where I’d think: Okay, I should really slow down now. But no. When people say that to me: “You’ve done so much,” I don’t really feel like I have.’
What advice would you give your 19-year-old self?
‘None. I don’t really believe in regret, honestly. Not to get spiritual about it, but there is literally nothing in my life where I think: “Oh God damn it, I wish I hadn’t done that.” Every moment I’ve experienced, everything I’ve gone through in my professional life and in my personal life is part of who I am. You learn from things that you experience in life. I’d never want to say that I regret anything or that anything was a mistake. Honestly, that isn’t how I have chosen to live my life.’
How aware are your kids of your fame?
‘Not particularly aware. Because it isn’t thrust in their face. I never ever expose them to it. Sometimes, if we’re out and about in London and people start pulling out cameraphones, Mia might say to me: “Hat, Mum,” or, “Twelve o’clock.” You just have to make light of these things and carry on really. We really have a totally normal life.’
You named-and-shamed a magazine that airbrushed you thinner. Why is that important?
‘I just believe in setting real examples, you know? I won’t allow magazines in the house. When I was younger I wanted to have my hair cut like so-and-so in the class above me at school, not somebody in a magazine. You see young girls trying to dress like so-and-so because they’ve seen lots of pictures of them.’
Have you become more comfortable and confident about your body as you got older?
‘Look. I’m 37 years old. We have one life. I don’t want to spend my time thinking about the size of my arse. I want to be as healthy as I can be, and I want to have as much fun as I can have. I want to be around for my children. That’s it. Those are the priorities. Not getting a flat stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I like staying fit and healthy, it’s all part of a healthy attitude to life. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m seeing more and more curvier actresses out there. And every now and then the fashion world will give us a slightly curvier model. I just believe in being normal and healthy.’
So we’re not going to see you rushing out after the baby to get the figure back.
‘No, how does anyone have the time? Also, let’s be real here. Everyone is different. Springing back into shape after a baby, that’s not really something that’s ever happened particularly swiftly for me. That’s just me. I have a good friend who’s naturally extremely slight, who’s five weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy. She must eat three times as much as I do. I just saw her this morning and I said, “You are just literally going to bounce back within three weeks of your child.”’
There’s sometimes a bitchy attitude towards you in newspapers. This image of you as too emotional. Does that bother you?
‘Listen. I’m blissfully unaware of it. I don’t read anything. I get on with my life. I can’t really get worried about it. Because what am I going to do about it? I stay away from those things, because there’s just no point. It’s just awful bullying, really.’
How do you relax?
‘I don’t relax. Relaxing for me is either hanging out with the kids playing board games or cooking. I love cooking. I’m not one for lying down and having two-hour massages.’
What keeps you awake at night?
‘A wriggling baby.’
What pisses you off?
‘Not much. Actually, I’m late for everything and I wish I wasn’t. That pisses me off, because I like to think that I’m always on time, but I’m always late. Apart from for work. For work I’m early.’
In ‘Labor Day’ you come face to face with your 50-year-old-self. Does getting older worry you?
‘No it doesn’t. I really love it when I see that youthful twinkle in older men and women. My dad really has that impish twinkle. Getting older is all about life experience.’
So you’re looking forward to the Meryl Streep years?
‘If I get to have them, yeah, sure. That would be amazing. This generation of actresses is incredibly lucky because we have people like Meryl and even Emma Thompson, Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench. We have these actresses to look up to. Isn’t it interesting that those are the actresses that we all want to watch? The ones who look real, the ones whose lives you can see in their faces. Those are truly beautiful women.’