Emmanuel Itier: What made you interested in doing The Reader?
Kate Winslet: The character in the novel first came to my attention about six years ago, when I was pregnant with our son, Joe. I read the book. I was absolutely gripped, compelled, and ultimately devastated by the novel. I immediately thought, "Well, somebody must be making this into a movie. Who's going to play Hanna Schmitz?" I never, ever thought of myself. At the time, I was 27, and 27 and 32 (the character’s age)...that seemed like such a big gap. Years later, in April of last year, when (director) Stephen (Daltry) wanted to talk to me about this, I was so shocked. My immediate thing was, "I can't play that part! I'm too young." But then I was like, "Well, wait a minute. I am that character's age now. My God." [Laughs]
EI: Wasn’t there a point where another actress was going to play Hanna? Did you have to be convinced to do it?
KW: No, I knew I wanted to play the part 100%, but logistics got in the way. We just couldn't figure it out. Then it became Nicole Kidman's part, and then Nicole became unavailable due to her pregnancy. The schedule had shifted somewhat, and the role opened up for me again. I just felt so lucky, amazed, and blessed that this happened. It was a remarkable year for me. I played April Wheeler (in Revolutionary Road) and Hanna Schmitz. I'm absolutely exhausted as a consequence. I can put one foot in front of the other, sort of. [Laughs]
EI: It sounds like it’s been an amazing time for you.
KW: It has been amazing. To say that it's been the most creatively rewarding 18 months of my life would really be an understatement. It's just been unbelievable. Here I am at the age of 33, and the roles I'm being offered are getting more and more interesting, and more and more challenging.
EI: How funny would it be if you won an Oscar for your role in The Reader?
KW: It would be funny!
EI: Would you thank Ricky Gervais if you won?
KW: No, he had nothing to do with the making of The Reader. It hasn't occurred to me, quite honestly. Midway through shooting the film, someone mentioned it to me, and I literally had this moment of, "Oh yeah!" The thing is, for me, in a funny way, this was never a Holocaust movie to me. That's part of the story, and it provides something of a backdrop and sets the scene...
EI: How would you describe The Reader then?
KW: To me, it was always an extraordinarily unconventional love story between two people who were both very different as people -- mainly because of the age gap, and because of Hanna's two secrets.
EI: During your love scenes with David Kross, did you use any of your famous dirty talk to break the tension?
KW: No, I didn't. [Laughs]
EI: David said there was a lot of joking.
KW: Well, there was no joking around, absolutely not. [Laughs] But we would laugh at how ridiculous the situation seemed to be, and I would turn to him and I'd say, "Oh hi, and you are? That's right, David. I'm Kate. It's very nice to meet you." [Laughs] You do have little moments of sort of breaking the weirdness. It's a weird thing for an actor to have to do, and the most important thing is keeping a sense of humor about it and remembering that what's important is not what your body looks like, but conveying the emotions that are between those two people in those intimate moments. It was wonderful for me, actually, to watch David relax, literally, as each minute would pass. I could see him think, "Ah, this actually isn't so bad. Kate said it wouldn't be, and she was right. This is really okay.”
EI: It sounds like you were really looking after David, especially during the love-making scenes.
KW: The truth is, he didn't need very much looking after. I was absolutely there for him, I talked him through it all, really just explaining those things to him. From my own very specific experiences, it's the elements of the unknown about scenes like that which are way worse than reality, so just to turn around to David and say, "There are going to be about three people in the room," I literally saw the world fall away from his shoulders. He was like, "Really?" And I said, "Yeah, what did you expect?" He said, "Well I thought it would be the whole crew." I said, "Oh good lord, no! They'll be way outside. You're not going to see them for a week." And having had those experiences as a young actor, I was very happy to share them with David, because I knew it would be important for him to know that I had been there too.
EI: You sound like the older, wiser mentor.
KW: Well, I wanted him to benefit from the knowledge I had gained about feeling uncomfortable as an actor, and how to deal with it. He's older than I was when I shot Heavenly Creatures at the age of 17. I was in New Zealand all by myself for four months. So he didn't need a huge amount of hand-holding.
EI: In retrospect, weren’t the sex scenes in Revolutionary Road harder and more problematic to do, since you were naked in the arms of another man (Leonardo DiCaprio) and being filmed by your husband (Sam Mendes)?
KW: There was nothing to deal with, to be honest. I was so excited to work with Sam for the first time. I could not wait. And to be reunited with Leo, it was just such a dream. And for Sam to work with the both of us together, knowing that we had this friendship, this trust, and this history that predates my relationship with Sam even, he knew that was going to benefit our portrayal of these two people. And my husband is not a jealous person in any way.
EI: Even when you are in the arms of a sex-symbol like Leo, he wasn’t jealous?
KW: No, he literally let Leo and I go be Leo and I. When we were on set, I wasn't standing at the monitor massaging my husband's shoulders. I was in a corner running lines with Leo. Sam always treated me like the actress playing April Wheeler, not his wife playing April Wheeler, so it was a very collaborative and professional environment. It was really no different from any other movie set I've been on. We were just able to benefit from these very close relationships -- my relationship with Leo and my relationship with Sam.
EI: What was it like pulling off the aging process in The Reader?
KW: The make-up was unbelievable. We all worked together as a team. That make-up was designed by all of us together. We knew it just had to look real, and we were determined to make it the best prosthetics ever seen onscreen, so everybody contributed to these ideas; everyone had something to contribute. But in terms of the acting of those moments, quite honestly, I really just observed older people. I would watch people in cafés and how they would sit and stand up.
EI: Did it ever get weird for you not being a German on the German set of The Reader?
KW: I didn't have any fish-out-of-water moments, no. It was a very small crew, so everyone knew each other by their first name and got along just so great. They would all really try and speak English all of the time. They felt like it was inappropriate to speak their own language if myself or Stephen or Ralph (Fiennes) were there. And I did the majority of my learning before getting there.
EI: What did you take away from your time with the German people? Did you learn anything surprising?
KW: What I did take away was how people are still really struggling with this guilt, particularly young people. They're really trying to come to terms with the horrific crimes of a previous generation. That was overwhelming to me. It's everywhere. Some of the German crew members just found it so hard, particularly the trial sequences.
EI: Do you forgive Hanna in any way?
KW: No. Sorry, but that's the straight-up answer.
EI: How would you describe Hanna? What’s your take on her?
KW: My job -- as the actress playing Hanna Schmitz, as the actress playing any part -- is to understand the character and to ultimately love the character. And I did love Hanna, absolutely, because I understood her as profoundly as I did at the end of the day. Did I sympathize with her? Yes, I did. But that doesn't mean I sympathized with S.S. guards, not at all. But that's what I love about the film. It's not a story about forgiveness. It's not a story about reconciliation. It's a story about regret, and how you don't choose who you fall in love with.