A decade after their emotional (and icy) onscreen farewell as the end of the oceanic blockbuster Titanic, Buzzine sits down with the fabulous Kate Winslet and gets the inside story about her life, career, and the excitement of reuniting with Leonardo DiCaprio on a new award winning film, Revolutionary Road. Adapted from Richard Yates classic 1961 novel of the same name, Revolutionary Road is a fiery, emotional, and (ahem) rather intimate tale, which makes the fact that it was directed by Kate’s husband, acclaimed director Sam Mendes, all the more interesting, don't you think?
Emmanuel Itier: Revolutionary Road doesn’t say good things about marriage — or is it just more about two individuals?
Kate Winslet: Richard Yates wrote this book and chose to write this story about Frank and April Wheeler, and about their marriage in particular, so to me it’s a portrait of a marriage. It’s a study of one specific couple in that level of relationship crisis, and it’s set at a time when men and women - particularly women - had extremely limited choices.
They really didn’t have a choice, and life dictated that you should be happy with your lot in life. You should be happy with every day. You should accept the way that it is and be content. But April’s interior world is so much bigger than her exterior world, and she just can’t sit and suffer in silence. She is deeply unhappy. She is lonely, but she loves Frank; she does want it to be okay.
This isn’t a story about two people who want to separate or don’t want to be together anymore. They are actually trying to do whatever they can in order to stay together. They just want to find a different future for themselves. They want to find something more than what they have, and I can really understand that. I think that’s a lot of the reason why people seem to be really relating to this film and these two characters, is that there was nothing worse than living a life that you feel you shouldn’t be living and feeling trapped in that life, whether it’s because of your job or your relationship or your marriage, or whatever it may be, or just simply the country that you live in. Everyone needs something to hope for.
EI: Has it happened to you, in any point in your life, where maybe you wanted to get out, but felt that it was wrong?
KW: I think that’s what life is about, and until you actually reach a point where you really know what it is to be happy, I think life is about working through those times. It has to do with figuring out who you are. I think we all have experienced moments when you feel like you’re in the wrong job, country, relationship, whatever. Everyone knows what that fees like — to be either with the wrong person or not on the path that you would hope your life might be taking. So yes, of course I’ve been in April’s position.
EI: Working with your husband [director Sam Mendes] with such intimate material — did it bring on anything that you thought, “Okay, well this might be risky for our relationship”?
KW: No, it didn’t. No.
EI: Or it was that you wanted to explore more?
KW: It didn’t have any impact on our marriage in a negative way at all. It really, genuinely didn’t. It’s made everything much more fulfilling, much more positive, for both Sam and I. I could imagine what he would be like as a director. I could see how brilliant he was from the plays he’s directed to the movies he’s directed. It was very clear to me that this is a very spectacular director of film and theatre. Until I was actually working with him, I could never really know what it felt like. I could never really know what happens to Sam when he goes into that mode, so for me, it was like, okay, the final piece of the puzzle was sort of put into place, and it was really wonderful for me to work with him and to watch him work. And to see how he is with other actors, was just amazing to me because he’s different with every actor, depending on the character they’re playing, the type of actor they are, so there were many things that were really eye-opening for me about my husband. But they were all very, very positive things. We didn’t suddenly go into analysis of our marriage. All we felt was, “Oh my god, we’re so lucky.”
EI: Was there anything surprising working again with Leonardo [DiCaprio]?
KW: With Leo, there’s a surprise every day. I have just seen him get better and better. I didn’t even think that was possible because he was always so amazing, but over the last 12 years, I’ve just seen him go from strength to strength, and I really do believe that he is the best actor of his generation, and I feel very, very proud to have had two opportunities now to have worked alongside him. He’s incredibly professional; he’s unbelievably brave. But I suppose the only surprise, really, was just how close we really are.
We’ve always remained very good friends and we really trust each other, but when we were actually there on set shooting some of those very difficult scenes, we have a sort of language of our own, like a private secret language or something, and I was surprised at how present that was within our relationship, and it was just great to have the history that we have and the chemistry that we have, and being able to play these two characters, because there were no boundaries at all. We could do anything, try anything — never felt stupid. We feel so comfortable with each other and I know that…I would let Leo physically harm me if it meant that he had to do something for a scene, and I know that he would feel the same way. It is a very rare friendship that we have, I think, and we used all of it in Frank and April. I actually feel like maybe we wouldn’t have been able to do it if we didn’t have that.
EI: How far would you conform, or not conform, to be in a relationship with someone? April seems to conform a lot.
KW: Oh my God — I wouldn’t, no.
KW: No, I can’t do the conforming thing, actually, at all in life.
EI: How come it took so long before you worked with Leo again?
KW: We just never found anything that we really felt…
EI: But I guess you had offers through the years…
KW: Yes, we did. There were a few things that came our way and few things that we talked about, and we just never really felt like it was absolutely the right thing, and I think we both knew that we could never match Titanic, and…I always felt quite selfishly about working with Leo again. I thought okay, if I’m going to work with him again, I want to be in every single scene with him, I want to be on set with him every single day, and I want to be able to go as far emotionally as two characters could possibly go, because I know that we’ll have much more of a rewarding time doing that, and we were just very, very lucky that Revolutionary Road came along. We honestly looked at each other and said, “Oh my God, this is really the thing; this is that thing that we said we might one day be able to do,” and we were just very lucky.
EI: At that moment that you found the material with Leo, was Sam already attached?
KW: No. The material came to me first with nobody attached at all, and I said, “My God, I have to somehow hang onto this.” That’s a very unconventional way around — that an actress would be able to attach herself to something when there’s no director or no other actors involved at all. I was just very lucky, when Sam agreed to do it, that he didn’t decide not to have me. He decided to keep me and to cast Leo as Frank, which was just music to my ears because that was my fantasy. Really, I thought this is just a complete fantasy, to see if Sam would do it and Leo would do it, and so I’m still in a state of I can’t actually believe that all of that dream came true. It really was like a dream.
EI: You were saying that you don’t conform in your life. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
KW: I’m just not the kind of person who lives by other people’s judgments or opinions — not at all — and that’s in life and in relationships. I dance to the beat of my own drum, and I think that’s really important to humanity. I think that’s really important for people, and I’m lucky that I can do that. There are so many young women in the world who are so fragile emotionally that they can’t do that. They can’t believe in themselves and they can’t say, “Well, fuck it, this is what I’m wearing today and I don’t care what my mother thinks,” and that’s on a very superficial level.
EI: Where does that strength come from?
KW: I think it really does come from my parents and a very, very solid, very normal family upbringing. I had two parents who would always say to me, “Go for it. What do you care if it doesn’t work out? You’re never going to learn until you try.”
EI: That's unusual...
KW: It is absolutely unusual. I remember my dad would drive my sister and I to auditions and I would know I was completely never going to get these parts because I was always sort of slightly overweight and wearing the wrong outfit or something, and I’d say, “Daddy, I’m never going to get this part,” and he would say to me, “That’s not what you’re here for. Come on, you’re here for the experience. What do you care? Go in there and have a laugh. Just enjoy yourself; it doesn’t matter.” That attitude of “it doesn’t matter, just be yourself” — I have literally been taught that all of my life, and my dad still says that to me now.
EI: Do you instill that to your kids as well?
KW: Yes, I do. I absolutely do.
EI: What about your kids, because you’ve had a lot of work recently, and I think you disappear from home for a few months…
KW: I didn’t go away from home for a few months.
EI: The Reader…
KW: I know, it’s Vanity Fair that said I went away for five months, which is completely untrue.
EI: I’m sorry.
KW: No, it’s fine. I’m happy to correct it, believe me. The funny thing is, from the outside looking in, it does look like I’ve been very busy, and the truth is the only reason why, to me, I felt busy was because I didn’t have much break between Revolutionary Road and The Reader. It was only about seven months which, for me, is not very long at all.
Usually I would take ten months to a year, or something like that, so that was quite a fast turnaround for me. But for Revolutionary Road, we were all together — me and Sam and the kids — in Connecticut, where we were filming. Just all together every day. With The Reader, it was a juggle and it was a choice I had to make to say okay, because my daughter is eight now. I can’t pull her out of school and just go wherever. She has her friends and she has her… Routine, for my children, is really important, but I am very lucky to be in a position where I can say to the producers, “Okay, look, let’s help me here. Figure this out. I can’t come away for three months. That’s not going to happen, so how do we do it?”
What we did was I did two weeks, I went away for two weeks on my own, and then Sam and the kids came for two weeks. Then I brought them home and then I turned around the next day and went back for two more weeks, just because I can’t have my children go on an airplane without me, so Sam was flying them in and then he had to leave and go to work somewhere, so I then flew them back, turned around the next day and went straight to the set in Cologne and shot for another two weeks. Two weeks was the longest, and then we actually had a two-month hiatus, the second half of April and May and the beginning of June, and then we went back to the set on the 12th of June and they’d broken up for summertime, so they were with me the whole time, and it was one more month and they were with me.
It was two sets of two weeks. That was all I actually had to…but still I felt like it was a long time. They were fine; I was the one who was missing everybody and wondering if everybody had the right things in their packed lunches and did they have their library books back in. There were notices up everywhere on the door: “Have you brushed your teeth?” with a big picture of a smile and a toothbrush. Pictures of books: “Library books Monday.” “PE: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays.” I left notes everywhere.
EI: You’re pretty systematic.
KW: When I did have to go away for The Reader, or even if I have to go to England and do press for two days, or L.A. for two days, the children have to understand what I’m doing and they have to understand what goes on when I’m not there. So they do. Yes, we do have a routine. It’s not regimented. We’re not fascists about it, but the kids do like to know what time dinner is. They like to know these things and what time bedtime is.
EI: When you don’t like to conform, does that cause friction or backlashes of any sort?
KW: Let’s go back to this conform thing. I’m feeling like it’s actually a bigger question that I’m not quite being asked. What do you actually mean? What do I mean by not conforming? I don’t mean rebelling. I don’t mean that. I’m too old for that. Frankly, I am, but in terms of not conforming, I will not starve myself, as we all know. I just won’t be anything that other people necessarily expect for me to be, and I’ll just be myself. But also, for any relationship to work, I think you have to be yourself. Otherwise you’re compromising your true self, and that is April Wheeler right there, and look what happens to her. She spends so many years losing touch with her soul that she ends up becoming suicidal and going slightly insane. I just feel like, in life, the most important thing is just to be true to you, and I think it’s hard to do that because I think we live in an incredibly judgmental world these days, particularly in the world of celebrity — unbelievably judgmental — and it does actually make me really sad. I think, Wouldn’t it be so nice if we could really be exactly who we are and not have to think for two seconds about what we’re wearing or what we’re saying or what we’re doing; just all be free and be ourselves? But no, life isn’t like that these days, it seems to me –very judgmental society we live in, I think.
EI: Do you think happiness is dependent on circumstances, or is it an inside job?
KW: What do you mean, specifically?
EI: Specifically, especially New Age religions say that no matter what happens in life, you can still be happy. Is that true? Because April actually was an actress before — she probably has a very deep inner life and she could be more creative, more imaginative, and be happy that way.
KW: April’s unhappiness begins when she’s very, very young. I don’t know if any of you have read the book, but in the novel, April’s backstory is that she was abandoned by her parents when she was very young, so she never had a mother and a father. Her mother died and her father was a traveling salesman and an alcoholic. She was raised by an elderly aunt, and so she was always searching for something. She was always looking for love; she was always looking for family; she was always searching for her identity. It’s way into her adult years and she’s still trying to find that identity. April’s deep well of inner unhappiness is enormous, and I think that, as a person, you can find happiness, but you have to have some sense of who you are before you do that. Otherwise, you’re latching on to the wrong thing in order to make yourself happy. I know that I’m very happy to say that I can say this — being married to Sam has made me happier than ever in my whole life, but you have to have a sense of who you are before you really find that, and that’s difficult. But I also think that, in the case of Frank and April, was them falling in love just circumstantial? Is falling in love actually circumstantial? Is it just to do with the circumstances of our own lives, whether you’ve just walked away from a relationship that’s just completely broken your heart and you latch onto somebody else who comes along just because they seem like the person that your mother said you ought to marry? There are so many things that play a part when you really meet that person and fall in love with that person. For April, I think that there are so many circumstances throughout her life, throughout her childhood, up to the point of meeting Frank — she’s really just looking for someone like him — someone who’s glamorous, more glamorous than everybody else, whom she can be glamorous with too, to give her a feeling of importance, a feeling of being wanted and needed, and a feeling of hope. She’s always got this feeling, this thing of just needing something to hope for, and it’s so desperately sad because she thinks she’s found it, but she never really does.
EI: There are all these rumors and talk about the Oscars and possibilities for you, and you also mentioned it in the Vanity Fair article. What does it mean to you, that recognition, even if you’ve been nominated five times? Whenever there’s a movie with you in it, everybody says, okay, there’s something good at least.
KW: Oh my god, no pressure!
EI: You’re known for choosing good roles.
KW: I’m really lucky because I’m 33 now and I feel like, as I’m getting older, I feel as though the roles I’m being offered are actually getting more and more interesting for me as an actress. The challenges just get bigger and bigger all the time, and I’m just so lucky that that is the case. The fact that in the last 18 months, actually, in the space of less than a year, I got to play April Wheeler and Hanna Schmitz; the fact that one actress gets to play those two characters in their lifetime, let alone in one year, that just doesn’t even add up. I’m very, very fortunate this year to have had these two incredibly challenging roles to play, and they’ve been unbelievable experiences that have really changed me as an actress a lot, and as a person. It’s been just incredible. Awards and nominations — of course they mean a lot, you’re only human. At a certain point, when a group of people get together and decide to say that you’re worthy of that level of recognition and you’ve been doing this as long as I have and working very hard, it really means a lot. Of course it does. These are all people who, within this industry, are my peers, people who I really admire and respect, and yes, it really means a lot.
'Revolutionary Road' is in theaters now from Paramount Vantage