Kate Winslet on Golden Globes, Oscars and keeping it in the family

PUBLISHED: 10:12 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 20 February 2013

Kate Winslet in her Oscar nominated role in The Reader

Kate Winslet in her Oscar nominated role in The Reader

Despite the Hollywood glitz and glamour, actress Kate Winslet is still very much a Reading girl at heart, as she tells Kim Francis

Despite the Hollywood glitz and glamour, actress Kate Winslet is still very much a Reading girl at heart, as she tells Kim Francis

Kate Winslet is laughing. I have just mentioned her mother's prizewinning pickled onions, which are given regular coverage in the local Reading media. "Oh, yes," she says. "Believe me, there's another batch: Sally's Pickled Onions Christmas 2008."

Still a Reading girl

And no doubt she was back in Reading over the festive period sampling those pungent pickled bulbs as part of the Christmas Day buffet, because at heart, Kate's still a Reading girl.

"We spend a lot of time in Reading, absolutely, when we're in England," she says.

"We" is Kate, her husband Sam Mendes, also from Reading and their two children, Mia, eight, from her first marriage to Jim Threapleton and Joe, five. They live in Oxfordshire and regularly makes the trip over the Thames to see her family, staying over - "kind of sleeping in everybody else's beds" she jokes and "always in and out of each other's houses".

"It's very much the family that it always has been," she adds.

Shooting to stardom in Titanic

Ever since she shot to stardom in 1997's Titanic, and lauded for her beauty, Kate looks more gorgeous than ever. Naturally beautiful, she has clearly avoided the fillers, Botox or surgery route and is all the more alluring for it.

It was recently reported that she has lost weight and is slimmer than ever but sitting here today she is a perfect combination of slenderness and curves. She is also refreshingly free of the vanity that afflicts so many Hollywood stars, with simple hair and outfit and a unselfconscious tendency to rub her face and forehead as she discusses earnestly her career and her art.

Kate Winslet, Sam Mendes and Rick Gervais?

I ask Kate if she and Sam ever compare notes about Reading with that other famous Reading export, Ricky Gervais. She laughs before continuing: "We have done actually! 'What school did you go to?', 'Oh, no way! Oh my God! Oh, I really wanted to go to that school - really good drama department; didn't like the maths teacher'.

"Yeah, we have; it's funny." (She attended Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead from the age of 11.)

Of Ricky Gervais, she says: "He's very much a Reading boy through and through. He's really got the accent still too, actually, which weirdly I almost never had." Most would presume that Reading is nothing like Tinseltown and Kate agrees.

"There's no comparison with Hollywood as such," she says. "Apart from when I made The Holiday (a rom-com set in LA), I haven't really spent a huge amount of time in Los Angeles. Not that I avoid it, it's just that I don't often have to go there really unless I'm doing press.

"But the one thing I have discovered about LA with kids is that it's really great for children. So the kids are always asking: 'When are we going to LA again?'

"They really like the sun and making sandcastles and all of those things. Over the years I've come to like it much more now as a city than I did when I was younger. Then it struck me as so terrifying and so, sort of, oppressively about movies and so on."

Working on Revolutionary Road

With Kate professing to enjoy spending much of her time with family, the idea of working with her husband on the film Revolutionary Road, must have been very appealing. Not only because it gave her the chance to spend more time with him but also because of his standing as a director.

Kate says: "I couldn't wait to see these other sides of Sam that might potentially be revealed to me because we hadn't worked together. I was getting a bit impatient about it."

So did she find the experience revelatory? "I didn't know what [Sam] was going to be like as a director; I could sort of guess at what he might be like and hope to have certain things revealed to me. There was always the element of the unknown about it."

"I did see other sides to him and that's only a great thing to learn more about the person you're sharing your life with," she admits. "And we walked away as a couple unscathed, we really truly did. Sort of walking away from a car crash and going: 'Wow! No cuts and bruises - how did that happen?"

Kate is very honest about what she did discover about her husband and their relationship. "With Revolutionary Road I was able to kind of abuse the fact that I was living with the director because I could just pick his brains constantly and it was just great.

"And with The Reader I would just be absolutely shattered at the end of every day really and just wouldn't really want to talk. We kept saying: 'You know, we're in Berlin. If we wrap at a decent hour, let's go and have a glass of wine' and we'd always think it was a great idea and we'd get to the end of the day and just go uhhhhh!".

Similar styles

As a director, Kate says that Sam is similar in some ways to Stephen Daldry, who directed her in The Reader.She explains: "A great thing about both of them is they really enjoy the company of actors. Stephen and Sam are both very good at keeping things fluid and spontaneous and also very prepared to say: 'Anyone got any ideas because I'm stuck?'

"It's impressive when you see a director do that. They both made it possible for their cast of actors to come forward with [their] thoughts and try anything out.

"It's a really luxurious position to be in because not all directors are like that, believe me, because sometimes they want you to fit into their vision of what it is that they want and what they see, even sometimes down to how you walk. It was really nice to feel so included in that process."

Both roles presented Kate with some very demanding challenges. In Revolutionary Road, she plays a woman called April Wheeler who finds herself despairing as she and her husband drift into an ordinary life of drudgery, going against all their aspirations. In The Reader, she plays Hannah Schmitz, a 36-year-old woman who embarks on an affair with a 15-year-old boy before facing trial for Nazi war crimes.

Golden Globes and Oscar nominations

With two Golden Globes for best actress for her role in Revolutionary Road, and best supporting actress for her performance in The Reader, for which she also won a BAFTA, already under her belt and an Oscar nomination for the latter, I wondered how much Kate had actually invested in each film professionally and emotionally and how she is feeling now the process is over.

Kate says: "I'm still recovering from the last 18 months of my life. Just coming to terms with the fact that I got to play April Wheeler and Hannah Schmidt in one year, let alone in my lifetime, I'm very aware how rare that is as an opportunity for any one person.

"I can't tell you how much I've been able to take away from these experiences creatively. I really learnt so much about acting; about myself.

"It's difficult to talk about the actor's process without sounding arrogant, but they really were very challenging and, you know, there wasn't much time actually between wrapping Revolutionary Road and starting The Reader - about five and a half months - which for me isn't that long.

"Some actors are very good at going from one thing to another but I've always been a bit useless at that."

For Kate, time to prepare is crucial, particularly so for the role of Hannah.

"When I first read that script I really thought: 'OK, I'm terrified, number one,'" she says. "And number two, there is literally nothing of my own life that I can draw upon to play this part and so I knew that every day was going to be a bit like climbing a mountain.

"I just knew that there was so much that I didn't know that I would have to understand - the German accent, etcetera - it was a lot and it does leave you shattered, those experiences."

Balancing professional and private life

Kate famously has a good balance between her professional and private life which means that she doesn't make endless movies back to back. She says that this allows her to thoroughly understand and love the characters she plays.

Kate says: "With April and Hannah you sort of go through a weird period of feeling sad about letting them go and sometimes that takes me a week and sometimes a couple of months just until I feel I can sort of realign my own thoughts again."

It also allows her to draw breath and reflect on her career.

"It has been an absolutely incredible time for me," she says. "I do feel blessed to have had these opportunities, I really do."

The youngest ever actress to have been nominated for four Academy Awards, you can't help but wonder if this could be her time. And if it is, it will inevitably lead to more opportunities.

One thing's for sure, Oscar success is unlikely to change Berkshire's most famous daughter. Keep your eyes open, you just might see an Oscar-winner walk past next time you're out and about in Reading.

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