Revolutionary Road - Kate Winslet interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
KATE Winslet talks about being reunited with Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio for domestic drama Revolutionary Road, as well as why being directed by her husband, Sam Mendes, also meant she could take some of her work concerns home at night.
She also reveals why family life near Reading is far removed from the glamour and glitz of Hollywood.
Q. You were being directed by your husband and co-starring with an actor [Leonardo DiCaprio] with whom you’d worked before. Did that provide a kind of comfort zone, or did those aspects make it more challenging?
Kate Winslet: For me, they definitely made it more challenging. The comfort zone factor really kicked in between Leo and I, and I just think that’s because we know each other so well. We’ve known each other since we were 20-years-old. I’m 33 now and he’s 34 and that’s over a third of our lives. So, to have that level of friendship, really, and trust between the two of us was really, really valuable. We felt physically comfortable together playing those parts. We also had to look after each other a lot because it was extremely difficult some days.
With Sam [Mendes], because I didn’t know what he was going to be like as a director… I sort of guessed and hoped that I’d have certain things revealed to me, but there was always the element of the unknown about him. But I did feel extremely understood. But he made all the actors feel like that – included and understood. He made them feel that their ideas about their characters were always more important sometimes than his own. What that does to you as a cast, and as a company, is sort of enforces this great sense of confidence to try anything and make mistakes but not be afraid to repair those mistakes and try something new.
So, the on-set atmosphere was very fluid in that way in that we’d all share ideas and feel very comfortable about doing that without treading on each other’s toes. Sam set that tone very early on, that we could say what we felt and anything was OK to try. The experience was really wonderful, but there was kind of a pressure too – working with Leo again and me working with Sam. You sort of think: “Oh Christ, I’m going to have to just let go of the expectation and just play the part and try be as truthful about who I feel April is as I possibly can be.” There’s a certain amount of flying by the seat of your pants and just really, really hoping for the best and that what your doing is the right thing.
Q. Did this experience teach you something about Sam that you didn’t know beforehand?
Kate Winslet: I couldn’t wait to see these other sides of Sam that might potentially be revealed to me because we hadn’t worked together and I was getting a little bit impatient about it. I’d have Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Hanks and even Paul Newman when he was alive say to me: “Oh God, you’ve got to work with him!” And I’d say: “I know. Stop going on about it! I want to; I really want to!” But I did see other sides to him and that’s only a great thing, to learn more about the person that you’re sharing your life with. We walked away as a couple unscathed. We really, truly did. We survived it.
Q. How hard was it to understand the characters you play in Revolutionary Road and The Reader, especially April as a mother yourself? Was it difficult to get inside their heads and accept them?
Kate Winslet: Yeah, acting is very difficult. As much as I love it, and the challenge of it, I’m so often just terrified by it. When it came to April, it was where to begin. It did really take me a while to fully understand her. With April, I was able to sympathise with her in ways that I never could with Hanna [Schmitz, from The Reader]. It’s not natural to sympathise with an SS guard.
With April, my sort of way into her was largely through the book, which I really never put down. I would read the scene in the script first and then I’d immediately be going to the book just to make sure that I had as much information about her as possible, because she is incredibly complex. But when the source material is so sophisticated and so rich, you really don’t want to leave anything out.
The hardest thing about playing April, honestly, was making a very specific choice to not have her being as mannered as she is in the book. In the book, she’s very, very highly strung and sometimes hysterical. She feels like a string that’s literally going to snap at any moment. I knew that while I had to create that for her emotionally, it was more important to do it from an internal place as opposed to endless ringing of hands that [Richard] Yates talks about in his book. Her fist would come up to her temples and she’d clutch her pulsating head… I thought, well, maybe I can do a little bit of that but as an audience member myself, that’s just not my own personal taste. If I watch an actor doing something like that, at a certain point I think you start to switch off a little bit and tune out.
So, I knew it was going to be important that if I had an audience understand who she was, then all those things had to come from a place that was grounded, as opposed to being tics and manners and twitches. I didn’t think it was going to be as rich, perhaps, as if I was going to make it more emotional. And perhaps not as disturbing either. So, it was a real challenge. But I would find moments throughout playing April and Hanna where I would understand them a little bit more as time went by.
Q. How difficult is it to switch off?
Kate Winslet: Very, very difficult. With Revolutionary Road, Sam realised very early on that this was the big difference between the two of us. He’s brilliant at switching off and he really needs to do that in order to figure out what he’s doing tomorrow and in order to get some sleep. But I really can’t and I actually don’t like switching off because I worry that I might lose my thread, or something. I fall asleep and I hope to God that I’m going to dream about it, because then I don’t have to put it down. But Sam and I decided very early on that we just couldn’t have any rules about this, otherwise it would be way too confusing for us. So, with Revolutionary Road, I was able to abuse the fact that I was living with the director because I could just pick his brains constantly, which was really, really great.
Q. Do you get back to Reading much and how does it compare to Hollywood?
Kate Winslet: Yes, I spend a lot of time in Reading because we live in Oxfordshire and so we’re always just in and out of each other’s houses. It’s very much the family that it always has been. But there’s no comparison with Hollywood as such. Apart from The Holiday, I haven’t really spent a huge amount of time in LA. Not that I avoid it, it’s just that I don’t often go there unless I’m doing press. The one thing I have discovered about LA with kids is that it’s really great for children. They really like the sun and making sand castles. So, over the years I’ve actually come to like it much more now as a city than I did when I was younger, when it just struck me as being so terrifying and so obsessively about movies.
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