Kate Winslet Looks Ahead
Growing up, the actress thought of herself as neither a screen siren nor a great beauty. Now, with both an Oscar and a Lancôme contract, she reflects on what happens after you get what you want.
For this year’s Academy Awards, where she won the Oscar for Best Actress, Kate Winslet wore a highly glamorous one-shouldered blue-gray Yves Saint Laurent evening gown. But a little part of her — metaphorically, at least — was in tennis whites. “I wanted to run over to my parents and do one of those Wimbledon moments when the person jumps from the court and leaps over the audience and the bleachers,” she says, her face creasing into a smile. “I did have the urge to do that.”
Kate is, of course, a serious actress. She has gravitas. She, like her sisters in name, Blanchett and Hepburn, could conceivably be on the head of a ship. No, not that one. But onstage on Oscar night, when her fedora-wearing “gangster” (as she calls him) father let out a whistle, his daughter turned into a little girl. “Ah, my dad’s whistle,” she remembers, rolling a cigarette at filmmaker husband Sam Mendes’s production office in New York’s meatpacking district. “On holidays when I was a kid, we would all be off in the rock pools along the beach. When it came time to go, we’d hear the whistle and we’d all come running. Like dogs!”
Later that fateful night, Kate took her parents to a post-Oscar party where, she says, “seeing my dad meet Elvis Costello and my mom shaking hands with Elton John, it was lovely.” But her highlight is what the kids might call random: “Meeting Tom Colicchio. I’m obsessed with Top Chef.” Turns out Kate and Mendes had been planning a win-or-lose dinner at Colicchio’s New York restaurant Craft. “I was like, ‘I just want to run the menu by you. For an appetizer, we’re having da-da-da,’ and he was like, ‘Good choice, good choice.'”
Returning to New York the next day, Kate discovered that you do, in fact, have to put your Oscar through the X-ray machine at the airport. “They say, ‘Is that it, in the bag?’ and I was like, ‘Yep!'” Kate drank champagne on the flight and took pictures while her golden boy was passed around the flight crew.
Even though she returned the champion, Kate notes of the endless awards season, “It’s very hard to feel like yourself because you’re not; you’re on show. In the old days” — her debut in Heavenly Creatures in 1994, followed by her first Oscar nominations, for Sense and Sensibility in 1996 and Titanic in 1998 — “I’d just wing it, but now you need to give people what they want, which is someone looking composed, fresh, and put together.” But she gleefully defuses the glamour mythology. “Our knickers will still go up our ass at the most inappropriate moment. And we’ll still want to flick them out, but you can’t, because someone is going to catch you.” So what does one do? “Oh, I run behind pillars and things.”
Kate hasn’t really gone all shy and retiring on the red carpet. After years of wearing long, she’s more recently taken a short cut — sporting, among others, a curve-loving Hervé Léger and a racy Balmain number. (She’s still legging it today, perched on the couch in a gold Calypso minidress.) “I danced a lot when I was younger, and I’ve always had decent, shapely legs and thought it’s now or never,” she says. “I mean, when you’re pushing 40, are you really going to wander around in a dress that’s midthigh length? So I thought, Oh, fuck it, I’m just going to do it.”
And so began the thousandth round of Kate Winslet body speculation. “I’ve heard, ‘Oh, she’s toned and she’s lost weight,’ but I am exactly the same as I’ve always been. The one thing that had to go during awards season was exercise. People would say to me, ‘Oh, come on …’ like I was lying about it!” The topic clearly fatigues her. “Some may find it hard to believe it, but I don’t care about that stuff.”
But Oprah Winfrey does, as she proclaimed gloriously to the world when Kate was on her show promoting The Reader — in which her character, former Nazi guard Hanna Schmitz, is often naked — “God bless your real breasts!” Kate shrugs and says, “I’m used to people openly discussing my tits. If people are noticing my boobs in a movie and saying they do what real boobs do, then that’s great.” But, like her legs, the boobs have a shelf life. “I’ll be 34 in October. I can’t keep getting away with it. There was so much of it in The Reader because the story required it, but people have seen enough of my bum and my boobs. I have to put them back.”
So while Kate’s figure has been endlessly debated, it’s her classic, expressive face that is most compelling. She is now a model for Lancôme — her new campaign, for L’Absolu Rouge lipstick, launches this month — and she is such a diligent ambassador that she pulls a giant Ziploc bag out of her purse and starts explaining, in detail, her favorite products one by one: “Rénergie is really, really fantastic. Résolution eye cream — excellent for puffiness! Pink Parfait Magic Blush, which I just love … and Absolute Rouge is spectacular. Sam and I went out to the theater one night, and I double kissed everyone and it didn’t come off!” Pause. “Actually, I don’t double kiss. Just one will do, thank you.”
Kate has been frank about not being the hottest girl on the block growing up, and she admits she was surprised when Lancôme came calling. “I really thought, me?” she says. Lest she seem disingenuous, she insists, “Seriously. Because I think what you feel like as a teenager never really goes away. If you were teased for being fat or thin or having bad teeth, you’re always insecure about that particular area of yourself. So I’ve never thought of myself as any kind of beauty, iconic or otherwise.”
Sure, Kate has an Oscar, a lauded husband, and two fetching children (Mia, 8, and Joe, 5), but she’s not Gisele. She’s one of us … ish. “Part of the reason Lancôme asked me was because I come across as a woman other women can identify with. The media plays such a big role in how women measure themselves against other women, so I can be in a position where I can say beauty comes from within, we’re not all perfect, and the covers of magazines are of course retouched. We do not look like that.” She points to her forehead. “I have wrinkles here, which are very evident, and I will particularly say when I look at movie posters, ‘You guys have airbrushed my forehead. Please can you change it back?’ I’d rather be the woman they’re saying ‘She’s looking older’ about than ‘She’s looking stoned.'”
Kate has lived many lives for someone not even 34, and it lends her an old-soul quality. She had the wind in her Titanic hair 12 years ago and was married and a mother by 25. “You know, I never felt like I was young at the time,” she says, “and obviously having Mia was absolutely planned, and I was married to Jim [Threapleton, who she met on the set of Hideous Kinky]. It’s only now when I meet people who are my age and single, [with] no kids, that I reflect and say, Bloody hell, I really have lived at a fast pace.” She rolls another cigarette. “The growing-up-fast part weirdly happened between the ages of 15 and 22. When everyone was out getting plastered, I didn’t do all of that. I was working. I was doing life. Now that I look back, I feel very lucky. I’ve never taken drugs, never been offered cocaine. And I’ve done a heck of a lot of traveling: India, Australia, Morocco, New Zealand. You have to rely on your resources when you’re away; you have to think quickly [and] grow up quickly.”
These days, though, her peripatetic ways are behind her. “I always have the itch,” she says of work and the scripts piling up in her office, “but at the moment I am deliberately resisting it. I turned to my kids after the Oscars and said, I’m not going anywhere for a while.” Mendes is in the throes of his own project, so Kate is having her turn at home, relearning French for kicks and thinking about finally putting away her work bag from The Reader, which she hasn’t quite “put to bed” yet. “It’s still fully packed, which is very strange,” she says. “I’ve never done that before.”
How do she and Mendes keep the home fires burning, as it were? “Ah … romance to me is spontaneity. It’s not diamond earrings; it’s a bunch of daffodils that’s freshly picked from the field. Or just a little thing like Sam calling me at three in the afternoon, saying, ‘I’m coming home now. I’m done for the day.’ It’s romantic because he just thought, ‘I’ll go home. I want to be with Kate and the kids.’ I’m not one for big, grand gestures.” Like rose petals on the bed? “Ha! No, given American Beauty [for which Mendes won the Oscar for Best Director in 2000], I would walk in and be like, what the fuck? I would laugh my head off.”
But, of course, as of-the-people (ish) as Kate Winslet is, her success comes because she embodies our dreams — of romance, of drama, of beauty. We will always want to see her on the prow of that famous ship, or as the heavenly creature in a Lancôme commercial, meeting her lover on the Pont des Arts. Because maybe that could happen for us too.
By Laura Brown