‘Keeping it real’ is so much more than an empty mantra for Kate Winslet – rather, it’s emblematic of a philosophy and lifestyle she lives and stands by. In fact, she’s made a career of it. One of only a handful of movie stars to eschew the pressure of maintaining unrealistic beauty standards, she refuses to compete with her peers in any physical stakes set on a course for that elusive fountain of youth.
Case in point, during promotional duties for her acclaimed HBO series, Mare of Easttown, not only did Kate insist her image not be airbrushed at all, but she refused to let the director edit out a sex scene which she claimed, matter-of-factly, showed her “bulgy bit of belly”. While most actresses are thrilled when movie studios employ the washboard abs of a 20-something body double to represent their torso, Winslet, 45, and a mother of three, refuses to buy into the smoke and mirrors.
“Well, it’s true,” she chuckles, speaking via Zoom. “I think you know that I always try and be as truthful as I can in the things I say publicly. Young women crave integrity and I think they crave leadership and they crave strong role models, and I think that’s happening now even more than 20 years ago.” Her gaze is fixed. “And so I take that on. I feel a responsibility to those young women.”
She feels more than a responsibility, though – she feels a mother’s obligation since one of those young women she hopes to influence is her own daughter, Mia. In Winslet’s world, though, every single person is important and she seizes the opportunity to lift up other women any time she can.
“Our connection with women is crucial,” she nods. “That includes relationships with our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and especially now in this time we’re living in, I think it’s important to pull one another close, it’s important to show affection, it’s important to be there for one another.” She speaks passionately. “And it’s important to hold each other’s hands at every stage of life. My daughter is 20 now and I am no less committed to her as her mother than I was when she was a baby. And that’s a great privilege and a blessing to have that relationship,” she acknowledges.
“I don’t know where I would be without it, I don’t know where I would have been without my own mother when she was alive.” She pauses. “She died in 2017 and I miss her every day but I’m very lucky to have had a very special relationship and connection with my own mother in the same way that I do with my daughter.”
The recipient of numerous awards, including an Oscar, three Golden Globes, three BAFTAs, a Primetime Emmy and even a Grammy, Kate also just added an Emmy for her role as prickly detective Mare Sheehan in Mare of Easttown to her impressive collection.
Along with Emmy wins for Mare co-stars Julianne Nicholson and Evan Peters, Winslet won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. And if that wasn’t enough, this year Winslet was named as a Global Ambassador for L’Oréal Paris.
But despite her utterly convincing display as a detective, she insists she would be useless at the job in real life. “Oh no,” she assures, roaring loudly. “I’d be a lousy detective. I’d be very good at the coffee and the after-beers, definitely, but I don’t think I have the mental stamina that is required. I have stamina, but in a different way.”
Presumably that stamina comes in handy for her most important role, as mum of three. She’s been married to Edward Abel Smith (Richard Branson’s nephew, who once changed his name by deed poll to Ned Rocknroll) since 2012. They are raising their son, Bear Blaze, 7, as well as her older son, Joe, 17, from her marriage to director Sam Mendes, and her eldest, Mia, 20, daughter of her first husband, director Jim Threapleton.
Given the world’s ‘new normal’, where slipping in and out of lockdown has become almost routine, Kate is struggling to sit still when confined chez Winslet-Smith in West Sussex. “I have to tell you, I’m not very good at sitting down. I’m not very good at saying, ‘Okay. I’ll watch TV. I’ll just sit here, veg out, eat chips, have a glass of wine and enjoy the moment.’ I don’t know why but I’m just not good at it.”
She leans forward. “Well, I’ve gotten VERY good at it during COVID.” She smiles. “My husband and I, and my two eldest children, Mia and Joe, decided that we’d watch Downton Abbey for lockdown. We’d never seen it, it was just something that had passed me by because as I said, I don’t sit down and watch loads of television. So we got really into Downton and it was fantastic.”
Exuding an earthy warmth and relatability, Winslet’s home life conjures up images of big family meals around a kitchen table. Happily, I’m not too far off. “For me, the kitchen is the heart of the house and it’s a very big part of my life, and traditionally big meals are a part of my family’s lineage in a way,” she smiles. “And actually, our kitchen and living area is kind of combined. So, very often everyone else will be watching something and I will [get up] and go, ‘Oh, wait, wait, wait! Hang on, something’s burning!’ And I’ll run between the TV and the stove,” she chuckles, “and try and stay on top of what everyone else is watching.
“It’s been a real pleasure for us as a family to make an occasion of watching television and committing to really absorbing an entire show. It’s really been amazing and may never happen again that we’re all in the same location.” She grins again. “So, that gives you an overview of what my house is like. Normally I’m tripping osei the dog who loves to lie over my feet while I’m cooking. “He’s a big golden retriever so that’s not entirely safe,” she says under her breath, sounding as though the latter was more of a note to self.
The ‘Meryl Streep’ of her generation
But clearly, Winslet is more than content with her lot and her apparently solid partner in husband Smith, who practises yoga regularly, goes for frequent cold swims and maintains a vegan diet.
In fact, she previously described him to the New York Times as a “superhot, superhuman, stay-at-home-dad. He looks after us, especially me. He’s an absolutely extraordinary life partner.” And she an extraordinary woman.
At only 31, Winslet was the youngest actor ever to have been nominated for an Oscar six times — nominated for Sense and Sensibility, Titanic, Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Children — and then winning with her sixth nomination, for 2008’s The Reader.
It’s no wonder she is often called ‘the Meryl Streep of her generation’, in no small part due to her versatility and knack for vocal mimicry. In fact, so flawless are her myriad American accents, many in Hollywood have all but forgotten the woman taking many of their plum roles is a Brit.
She won an Emmy for another quintessentially American role — her portrayal as titular character Mildred Pierce, starring opposite Guy Pearce. By chance, she reunited with the actor for Mare of Easttown. “Guy is the sweetest, most calm actor in the world,” she raves. “There’s nothing more luxurious for an actor to spend time in the company of other wonderful actors.”
Despite the glowing reviews and accolades bestowed on Winslet, she insists her flawless command of those multiple dialects, like her German accent for The Reader and reportedly spot-on Delaware County twang in Mare of Easttown, does not come easy. “Oh God. Two of the hardest dialects 1 had to do in my life, which actually made me throw things, was Mare of Easttown and also the Steve Jobs movie.”
The latter required a Polish-Armenian-Russian brogue for Jobs’ colleague Joanna Hoffman. ‘I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God. I can’t do it!”’ she grimaces. ‘They’re going to fire me, for sure!”
Winslet is clearly up for a challenge, and insists she puts herself through some hell in the process. What state is she in when she doubts she’s up to a challenge? “Panic!” she laughs. “I will say ‘yes’ to something and then spend the entire time up until I’m shooting it telling myself that I cant play this part. ‘Why did I say yes!? Why did they even ask me? This was such a terrible idea!’ Actors are quite weird like that, and I’m definitely no exception. I go through this strange questioning process.”
She shakes her head. “And I’m a very good procrastinator as well, so I can think and think and think and think for a long time and then the pressure hits and all of a sudden it’s really happening. At that point I know I have to knuckle under and then I just can’t think about anything else. So the way I deal with fear is just to really try and honestly face it and work through it. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing this job, you just can’t ever rest on your laurels. My dad has said to me my whole life, ‘You’re only as good as your last gig, babe.’ And 1 really believe that to this day.”
Jealousy and envy do not appear part of her emotional makeup. “I don’t have the capacity in myself to feel envy or jealousy. I feel very, very blessed that I don’t.” She pauses. ‘I’m an actor so I pretend love, I pretend physical intimacy with someone and so there is no space in my life for those emotions. I’ve just never allowed it to enter my world.”
Making the difficult look easy
Saoirse Ronan, who starred with Winslet in period film Ammonite, in which they played lovers, said that Winslet made the intimate scenes comfortable. The actor’s mentor has acted in numerous sex scenes during her career, but she described the same-sex experience as quite distinct from her previous onscreen relationships.
“It felt very different with Saoirse because we are two women, and women know what women want, right? It felt very equal, very safe and we didn’t feel objectified,” she explains. “It made me realise that perhaps I’ve felt a little objectified in the past without really knowing it, so it brought up a lot of really interesting stuff for me. But I’m not angry, I don’t feel aggressively about this. I just feel assertive in my thoughts when I reflect on intimate scenes of a heterosexual nature that I’ve taken part in before. It made me question, ‘Was I okay with that? Did I really stand up for myself?’”
Waiting to exhale
Winslet will soon play a woman who fell victim to a Ponzi scheme, in Fake , as well as model-turned-war correspondent Elizabeth ‘Lee’ Miller in biopic Lee. But her next film needs no explanation – Avatar 2, sequel to one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
The role necessitated Winslet holding her breath underwater and, in doing so, she eclipsed Tom Cruise’s six-minute record for the longest breath held while filming underwater, which he notched up during Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. A
lthough this fact was celebrated around the world, the plaudits passed Winslet by. “Well, I don’t read press, I don’t do social media, I don’t read reviews and I don’t have Instagram,” she says. “And actually, it was someone at work recently who said, ‘Could you really hold your breath for seven minutes?’ And I said, ‘Well, actually, it’s seven minutes and 14 seconds, but why do you know that?’ I have it somewhere. buried in this phone,” she adds of the footage, scrolling through her iPhone. “I’ll use it one day on [Stephen] Colbert or one of the other talk shows, but my husband filmed it, and yeah, it was seven minutes, 14 seconds.”
The mark is really quite a feat but Winslet is nothing if not game. “Well, honestly, when I’m stressed, I’ll say to my husband, ‘Oh my God. I just want to get in a pool and do a breath hold.’ It’s just so relaxing because you have to switch your brain off,” she says. “You have to slow your heart rate down, you have to really restrict your physical movements and you just have to empty your head. It’s a real art. It’s not something where I could just say, ‘I’m going in the bath now to put my head under the water.’ You have to go through a series of breathing [exercises] and you have to oxygenate your body. It’s quite a complicated thing but I absolutely loved it. I got so much out of it.”
In a reflective mood, Winslet offers, “I’ve become truly comfortable with who I am, how I feel and how I look. I’m comfortable with the person I’ve become and continue to evolve, particularly in this last decade of my life, much more than I ever was in my 20s.” She smiles, and says finally, “I’m at peace with me.”
Photography by Raven & Snow, L’Oréal Paris