why actress Kate Winslet is more in demand than ever
Kate Winslet can’t seem to steer clear of a challenge. For the epic final scenes for Titanic – the film that would come to define her career – she spent hours in freezing water, day after day, and at one point during the prolonged shoot even succumbed to pneumonia.
Hollywood studio bosses weren’t prepared for how far she would go for her most recent role, however.
Kate stars alongside Idris Elba in The Mountain Between Us, a story about two strangers who survive a plane crash in remote mountains and then must survive the wilderness.
The actress was unperturbed about coming face to face with a mountain lion for one of the film’s climactic scenes.
It was due to take place inside the plane wreckage but studio bosses called it off, judging it far too dangerous. Instead, the mountain lion scene shows the animals prowling around the fuselage at the crash site while Kate’s character hides inside. “They never let the lion into the plane
while I was in there,” says Kate. “I was up for it. But the studio was like: ‘No! It is not going to happen.’”
She admits her husband of four years, Ned Rocknroll, the nephew of billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, was also less than impressed after she showed him the call sheet for the next day’s filming.
“It had a warning which read, ‘Cougars on set today. Nobody wear red. No loud noises. No food or drink on set.’ He thought it was a joke,” says Kate.
It’s so very Kate Winslet that where other actors would baulk at filming with wild animals – or at least demand a hefty amount of danger money – she would instead consider it a thrill.
Regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her generation, she has been described by numerous directors as fearless, and her sense of naughty fun is legendary.
But she took boldness to a new level for The Mountain Between Us, which was filmed in the snowy wilds of British Columbia – where temperatures fell to minus 38°C on the coldest day and the threat of avalanches is ever present. Despite the treacherous terrain and the freezing climate, Kate demanded she do all of her own stunt work for the film, which meant plunging into a frozen lake several times for one scene.
She admits her Titanic experience prepared her well for that one.
“I did Titanic. Falls through ice? No problem. Plane crash? Boat sinks? No biggie. There are so many outtakes where I’m like, ‘Ice, anyone? This brings back memories!’
“There was a Titanic memory at least once a day.”
The James Cameron film that made her a star may be 20 years old but it is still very much part of Kate’s life. She calls co-star Leonardo DiCaprio her “closest friend in the world”. The pair regularly spend time together and recently holidayed at Leonardo’s French estate, after Kate appeared as a guest at a gala for her friend’s environmental foundation a few weeks earlier.
“I’m not going to tell you what we talk about, but yeah, we’re very, very close and sometimes we do quote the odd Titanic line back and forth to each other, because only we can, and we find it really funny,” she says.
Kate admits Leonardo was concerned for her before she began filming for The Mountain Between Us, knowing what both of them had endured for Titanic.
“[We] did speak before filming and he did sort of say to me, ‘Oh my God, you are crazy! It’s going to be freezing cold. Do you honestly know what you are sending yourself up for?’
“I would send him little photos of me saying, ‘Thinking of you,’ as I am lying in the freezing snow-covered ice, and he would just send back slightly worried emojis,” she says.
The couple’s chemistry is what made Titanic the phenomenal success it was, but it seems Rose and Jack may have some competition. The Mountain Between Us director, Hany Abu-Assad, has referred to the chemistry between Kate and Idris Elba in his film as “extraordinary”, revealing he cast Idris after another actor had asked if the film could be on a studio sound stage rather than the harsh Canadian mountain terrain.
“I didn’t want a wimp,” says Abu-Assad. “I wanted a man. So I cast Idris. And then we got Kate, who is fearless. They go well together.”
Marriage and children
Not one for sitting still, Kate has worked on seven movies over the past two years. That’s in addition to raising her toddler son, Bear, with third husband Ned who she wed in 2012,>>
and her two other children, Mia (16) with first husband, Jim Threapleton, and Joe (13) with her second husband, Sam Mendes.
Much has been made of the fact that Kate, at just 41, is already on to her third marriage. But the actress has maintained a dignified silence throughout the ups and downs of her personal life, determined to focus only on her children’s wellbeing.
“There’s no way that I’m going to allow my children to be f***ed up because my marriages haven’t worked out,” she says. “I so wish that wasn’t the case, that that hadn’t happened in my life, but it has. So I will make the best of it.”
She has found happiness with Ned, a businessman with Branson’s Virgin Galactic space initiative, saying their relationship is strengthened by his sense of humour.
“We’ve all got our health and we all laugh a lot,” she told an interviewer last year. “In my personal life, I really can’t say why, but I’ve never felt more confident and happy.”
The couple met while they were both holidaying on an island owned by Ned’s uncle Sir Richard Branson. Kate had flown to the island hoping for some private time with her children following her divorce from Sam Mendes, but she couldn’t escape the headlines after fire broke out at Branson’s home where she was staying, along with 16 other guests.
Kate and her children escaped, but she famously helped Branson’s 90-year-old mother to safety through the smoke and flames.
She and Ned began dating soon after and a year later they tied the knot in a secret ceremony, welcoming baby Bear Blaze in December 2013.
Kate explained her baby’s unusual moniker on an episode of The Ellen Show shortly after his birth, revealing that his first name is taken from that of a childhood friend.
“He was nicknamed Bear and I just had always really loved it. He was a great figure in my life and I had always remembered him, so that’s where it came from. Bear’s second name is Blaze because my husband and I met in a house fire, basically.”
In many ways, it seems surprising that Kate has only just entered her 40s.
Not because of her appearance – in fact she has never looked better – but because she has had such a celebrated career and been such a constant on our screens, it’s a wonder she’s not decades older.
Born in Reading, south-east England, on October 5, 1975, the daughter of a barmaid and a swimming pool contractor, Kate spent her childhood dreaming of becoming an actor.
“It was really very much a fun, lovely childhood on a shoestring,” she recalls of growing up with her two sisters and brother.
Fame evenutally came, at 17, in the form of Heavenly Creatures. It was the first film she had ever auditioned for and Kiwi director Peter Jackson was struck by her.
He cast her as a teenage murderess in the 1994 hit film, a performance that made Hollywood take note of the young English star.
More than two decades later, Kate still counts Heavenly Creatures
– based on the Parker-Hulme murder in Christchurch in 1954 – as one of the greatest gifts of her career.
“That was the biggest stroke of luck for me. Because not only was I asked to play an extraordinary part in a true story in a film script written by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, but then Peter directed it and people actually liked the film. It became that movie that people still talk about. That was a stroke of luck… And I learned so much.”
In 1997 came her big break. Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder and Clare Danes had all turned down the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater, the first-class passenger on the Titanic, before Kate finally auditioned for the role.
James Cameron was unsure about offering her the part, so Kate set about convincing him, sending him a single rose with a card signed “From Your Rose”, and lobbying him by phone. Her persistence paid off, and she landed her first Oscar nomination.
She admits she didn’t know how to cope with the success of Titanic, which remains one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
“It did throw me,” says Kate. “Call me naive, but I had no idea. I really didn’t. I had no idea that was going to happen with that film and to my life. It’s a funny old thing, because I look back, and I just remember thinking, ‘I don’t really know how to do this famous thing and I’m not sure I really like it and I’m not sure I’m ready for it either.’
“In a funny way, I also didn’t feel that I had earned it. I was only 21, and I still had so much to learn, I was learning everything on the job.”
The big problem, too, was how do you follow a role like Rose and a movie like Titanic?
Kate decided to steer away from blockbuster films – despite being offered her pick of Hollywood roles – instead preferring to work on “indie” projects such as Hideous Kinky (where she met her first husband, director Jim Threapleton) and Holy Smoke. “I was in a position where I could choose, and I chose to do some smaller films, because I wanted to stay grounded. I wanted to stretch myself,” she says. “I also didn’t want to burn out. I didn’t want this huge moment to happen and for me to kind of fizzle out. I wanted to stay strong and true and keep chipping away at it. I think it was the right thing.”
Indeed, it was. Three more Oscar nominations followed (Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Little Children) before eventually she won for her role in The Reader, in 2009.
Her unsurpassed ability to tackle nuanced, complex female roles has earned her a top spot on the best actress list time and again, and over two decades she’s built an impressive, eclectic resumé.
Her next role – in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, which opens in New Zealand in December – sees her take on another strong female role.
She plays Ginny, a waitress in a clam restaurant on
Coney Island in Brooklyn during the 1950s, who becomes friendly with the lifeguard (Justin Timberlake).
It’s Kate’s first time working with Woody Allen but she is already receiving unadulterated praise.
The film premiered at the New York Film Festival in July and festival director Kent Jones was won over.
“At the centre of it all is Kate Winslet’s absolutely remarkable performance – precious few actors are that talented, or fearless,” he says.
It sounds like Kate can make more room in her bathroom – the spot where she famously keeps her Oscar so that guests can enjoy it – for another golden statue…
I didn’t want this huge moment to happen and for me to fizzle out.
TOP: The actress with her third husband Ned Rocknroll. ABOVE: With her “closest friend” Leonardo DiCaprio. LEFT: Kate Winslet in glamour mode for the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
FROM TOP: Kate Winslet and Idris Elba endured harsh conditions to film The Mountain Between Us; Kate in the 2015 movie, The Dressmaker; with Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic; and alongside New Zealand actress Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures, the 1994 movie directed by Peter Jackson, which brought both of the young stars to international attention.
LEFT: Woody Allen and Kate Winslet on the set of his latest film,