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

hated that.”


Kate Winslet says it’s “great fun play­ing an on-the-nose vixen” such as Tilly.

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