Kate Winslett threads needle in ‘Dressmaker’
Oscar winner took up needle and thread to play a potentially murderous seamstress
NEW YORK “It feels like a Western with a sewing machine.”
That’s Kate Winslet’s elevator pitch for The Dressmaker, a comedic fable bursting at the seams with romance, revenge and racks of couture clothing. The 1950s melodrama (in nine cities Friday, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; expands next week) follows Tilly Dunnage (Winslet), a scorned seamstress who returns home to the Australian outback after years of working in high-end Parisian fashion houses. Accused of murdering a local boy when she was young and sent to boarding school, Tilly now attempts to stitch together the mystery of what actually happened, while also reconciling with her ailing mother (Judy Davis).
“She’s got lots of strength, lots of acid, but has a real childlike vulnerability: that need to be loved, to be valued, to be noticed,” says Winslet, 40. “She’s had to fill so many of those blanks for herself as the years have gone by.”
Dressmaker is adapted from Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel and costars Liam Hemsworth as a hunky young farmer pining for Tilly’s affections. The offbeat comedy was embraced by Australian audiences last fall, making its debut at No. 1 and earning $14.4 million. It went on to sweep the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards with five wins, including best lead actress for Winslet.
Winslet was director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s first choice for the hemline-raising heroine, so much so that she was willing to push the film back almost a year to accommodate the birth of the actress’ son Bear in 2013.
“I remember seeing her in Heavenly Creatures and being like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s like Bette Davis has been resurrected,’ ” Moorhouse says. With Tilly, “we get to see this femme fatale who is almost like an ice queen at the beginning melt into this beautiful, sensual woman. I needed an actress who could do that whole gamut of emotions, and she’s the one.”
Winslet says she channeled Rita Hayworth and Audrey Hepburn, donning a mix of vintage Dior and figure-hugging garments created for the movie. Luckily, there were “no real corsets, so I didn’t have that whole thing of ‘I can’t breathe,’ which was a bonus,” she says.
While she was knowledgeable about period fashion from Revolutionary Road, Mildred Pierce and her Academy Award-winning turn in The Reader, Winslet had to learn how to use an old Singer sewing machine.
“My mom would make us little doll clothes, all of which I still have,” she says. “So when I sat down in front of the Singer, I thought, ‘I remember all of this.’ ” It’s a skill she still uses, mostly for “fixes, tailoring, curtains, stuff like that. My daughter (Mia, 15) and I have done quite a few things together.”
Other Dressmaker firsts included golfing, Tilly’s pastime, which after “a few lessons, I was like, ‘You know, I actually do hate this as much as I already knew I was going to,’ ” Winslet jokes. She considers herself lucky that she didn’t have to jump into a rodentinfested container like Hemsworth, whose Teddy unsuccessfully challenges Tilly to do so.
“I’m not particularly squeamish; I’m not a girl like that,” Winslet says with a laugh. “I don’t really mind rodents, I’ve tried to catch a mouse in our house before. But, no, I don’t think I would’ve liked having 50 mice running around all over my chest. Actually, I would’ve really
Kate Winslet says it’s “great fun playing an on-the-nose vixen” such as Tilly.