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Little Children - Kate Winslet interview

Kate Winslet in Little Children

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KATE Winslet talks about the challenges of making Little Children, how becoming a mother changed her life and why she never reads her own reviews…

Q. On paper, it sounds a dream for actors. Did it take any persuading to play the role?
Kate Winslet: Well, it didn’t actually take much persuading at all. Todd had wanted to meet with me and discuss the possibility of me doing this and playing this part. The thing that was so different about this process, of committing to playing Sarah, was that Todd sat me down and – I’ve never had this before – he was very, very specific about why he thought that I could play that part. In really minute detail to the point where I thought: “God, I feel good about myself now! Of course I could play this part!” [Laughs] But it’s a big decision to make, to play someone like Sarah because it’s such a challenge. She’s an American woman and is nothing like me essentially.

Also, there was some part of me that thought, “can I do this?” Have I actually got the stuff that’s required for Sarah? Once Todd had convinced me that it was all going to be alright, I then read the script and it became clear to me that I would be some serious kind of fool if I said no.

Q. How did you tune in to the peer pressure and parental dynamic of playing Sarah. Did you draw from anything that you might have experienced in your own life as a mother?
Kate Winslet: To be honest with you, the only similarity [between myself and Sarah] is that we were both parents. Although I have to be honest, now that I’m talking about the film and having seen it myself I realise that there’s a lot of who I think Sarah was up until the moment that you meet her in the film and various things that have happened to her. I feel that in creating a back story for her, I was actually able to relate to a lot of that stuff. But the person that you actually meet in the movie, it’s obviously only that we’re both mothers.

The biggest challenge was playing somebody who was not a good mother. That was very hard. It’s not that she’s violent or shouts or is incredibly aggressive or anything like that. It’s just that she’s so inept at it; she doesn’t how to be a parent, she doesn’t know what to do with this small child. Of course she loves her but there’s something to Sarah that is rather inconvenient about this little girl – she sort of gets in Sarah’s way a bit. I think that one of Sarah’s great weaknesses is the fact that when she had this child, she somehow felt that she was losing a part of herself.

Obviously, for the majority of parents and certainly me you gain a million worlds when you have a child. Certainly, it’s the thing that’s changed my life and made me unbelievably happy.

But Sarah somehow resented the presence of this little girl and I think there’s something so remarkable about the end of this film in the sense that she has that moment, almost of punishment, where she gets her back into the car seat and realises that she could have lost her in that one moment – anything could have happened; a car could have come by and knocked her over… She realises that she’s been making a terrible, terrible mistake. She’s forced to look into herself and what she sees is somebody who’s been completely neglectful emotionally and is now not going to do that anymore, at all. More importantly, she realises that her chance at future happiness is entirely dependent on looking into the eyes of that little girl and being the mother that she always should have been and being the parent that Lucy really needs for her to be now.

Q. Do you have any personal stories or experiences of suburbia that influenced the creation of the version of it we seen on-screen?
Kate Winslet. Not really. There was definitely a time in my first marriage when Jim and I moved to Surrey. It’s actually something that he and I now say: “What an earth were we doing? Why did we do that?” It was a perfectly nice house but there’s something about making a decision to move out of the city, or move away from an area that you’re used to and going somewhere else, that somehow this sort of feeling of “is this it?” surfaces. Do you know what I mean? I was in a situation where Jim and I both felt the same thing and in actual fact, while we were still married, we moved back into London.

I didn’t have the same sort of feelings of being isolated and trapped because of where I was living. But it was very clear, very very quickly that ‘oh no, we’re too young to have done this’. But I do know women who have moved out of bigger cities into areas near the countryside or more suburban areas that are still close to bigger towns. I remember I asked one friend, “so how is it now that you’ve moved?” And she said: “It’s a choice.” For her it was a choice and actually she was very, very happy with it.

I think that’s a difference. When I think about these women in this film, they’re living in this area but they’ve always wanted to live there. All the women on the park benches, that was their plan for themselves. I believe as teenagers they wanted to get married and have children and move out of the city and live in the suburb in a perfect little house with a picket gate at the front. That was what they wanted but the thing about these women that’s slightly off is that they’re so smug about it. They do sort of think that they’re slightly superior to other people because they’ve got what they assume everyone else wants. Sarah is obviously entirely different to all of them and has found herself living in this part of society quite accidentally. She’s found herself leading a life that she really had not planned at all for herself. I think if circumstances were otherwise she’d probably be off traveling in Morocco, or India, or going to Paris and listening to wonderful lectures. So the thing that has made Sarah feel so isolated and trapped is not, I believe, because of where she’s living but because she’s so completely divorced from who she once was and who she’d planned to be. It’s given her this terrible feeling of fear and isolation.

Todd Field [director]: She also feels superior to those women, even though she doesn’t really know how the hell she got there….

Kate: Yeah because she can see that at some point those women may in fact go mad. She’s very aware of how important it is to never become like that. That would be making the choice to be someone that she’s not and also be like them. I did admire those qualities in Sarah. She doesn’t buckle or give in, she just carries on trying to remember who she is and embody that person, however weak she may have become. There’s still this kind of flicker of strength in that.

Q. You’ve got four films coming out in the next two months. Are you as much of a workaholic as that suggests?
Kate Winslet: Absolutely not. These are films that I’ve done over the last three years. They just are coming out in a particular four month period of time. I’m not a workaholic, I’m a home-aholic!

Q. Do you feel the desire to be at home more now?
Kate Winslet: I’m actually taking a year off at the moment. Yes, I ordinarily do one film a year and the rest of the time I’m at home with the kids. Even when I am working I’m still basically at home and with the kids. I’ve never left them to go to work.

The only time I did have to leave them was when we were shooting All The King’s Men in New Orleans. We had about four days of shooting in an area where there literally alligators climbing out of the bayou and sitting in the garden. I’m sorry but I don’t know a single parent who would willingly take their children to that place. [Laughs] So they were in LA with Sam at that particular time. Other than that, we’ve always gone everywhere together. So this notion that busy actresses somehow just swan around and leave their children for two months while they go and pursue their acting career is quite honestly not actually true. I certainly have never met an actress who has done that.

Joe’s nearly three and this is what I’ve been doing for the first part of his life with big gaps in between. It’s just that all of a sudden everything’s coming out now. As an actress, you have absolutely no say about that, or any control.

Q. You and Patrick enjoy some fairly physical and explicit sex scenes in the movie. Do those scenes get any easier?
Kate Winslet: First of all, I wouldn’t say that either of us necessarily enjoyed it. I do feel the need to correct you there because I don’t want to run the risk of being misquoted [laughs]. But it doesn’t get any easier, no. Every time that I shoot a nude scene or a love scene, I always find myself saying that’s it now. I’m not going to do this again because it’s really difficult and it’s really, really scary and I’m not quite sure how much longer I can get away with it for, anyway!

But then with Little Children, the thing is those scenes weren’t the hardest scenes. The hardest scenes were the more emotional ones, or the more revealing ones about the character when you’re so concerned about being as honest as you can and really get it right. So, yes it’s tough, it’s totally and utterly tough. But we try to kind of laugh about it because you sort of have to – the situation is so completely ridiculous. But also, more importantly, Patrick, Todd and I were very concerned to make sure that the performances in those scenes – with regard to the acting and the saying of lines – was right. Because these two people have an affair and, yes, they’re having sex behind closed doors and are having this entire affair essentially behind closed doors and they’re afraid that people may find out, etc. But the point is that through the intimacy of those scenes, who these people are as individuals is not only revealed to each other but also to themselves. Sarah really comes out of herself and changes as a result of being in that physical position where she’s feeling something that she’s never felt before. It completely changes who she is and it changes who Brad is too. I couldn’t have imagined turning around to Todd and saying: “Now about this nudity…”

Q. Did you get any bruises or scrapes while filming those scenes?
Kate Winslet: I was fine. Patrick actually bruised the front of his legs when we were doing the scene in the laundry room. I warned him. I actually said to him that you do need to ask if they can put some padding on the front of the seat – see if the sound man has got a sponge. Sure enough, they did bring the sponge in for him and it was a little bit more comfortable but it was a bit too late. He came in the next morning and asked: “Do you have injuries?” I said: “No, I’m completely fine.” But I think he’d kind of bruised the front of his thighs or something….

Q. I read somewhere that you don’t read anything about what’s written about you. Does it matter to you what’s written about you?
Kate Winslet: I don’t read reviews. Just because that is something that’s directly connected to my job. I’m doing this because I love it, not because I’m necessarily looking for approval or anything like that. To me, it seems that reading reviews – whether they’re good ones or bad ones – can only sort of force the person to divorce themselves from the reality of what it is they do for a living. So I don’t read reviews.

Q. You’re married to a director, though, who through reviews must get perceptions of his own work. Is it not a discussion point for you?
Kate Winslet: We actually don’t discuss that. We don’t discuss reviews together. He wouldn’t come to me and say: “Oh look what so and so wrote about blah, blah, blah.” If he reads reviews of things that I’m in, or have been written about me, he wouldn’t tell me because he knows.

Q. There’s already an Oscar buzz surrounding your performance. Do you think that might have been knocked on the head given your role in Extras?
Kate Winslet: Well, to be honest with you I certainly hope not. Extras was a real lot of fun but that was Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s perception of what they feel the Academy Awards to be. I’m incredibly proud to have been nominated in the past and it really means a lot to me because I do work very hard when I’m making a film and I do really do absolutely give my all. To get that kind of pat on the back, it’s really amazing and also never something that I anticipated would possibly happen to me, ever. So I am very, very proud to have been there before. And, you know, the nice thing about nominations is that, same as awards, no one can actually take them away from you and I’m proud of that.

Read our review of Little Children