Hers is the career to watch

Kate Winslet,of the “eclectic” roles,has been up for five Academy Awards,but hasn’t got one yet.

Published:January 4, 2009 11:30 am

Kate Winslet,of the “eclectic” roles,has been up for five Academy Awards,but hasn’t got one yet. The Reader and Revolutionary Road are Oscar-bait too
In the Hollywood-as-high-school fantasy of our minds,Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson giggle in the back of RomCom 101; Anne Hathaway rocks an independent study with Julia Roberts; Charlize and Nicole breeze in and out of “Prosthetics and Your Oscar”.

And tucked away somewhere is a permission-only course team—taught by Judi Dench,Helen Mirren and Vanessa Redgrave,with occasional guest lectures by Maggie Smith. The class is called “Dame Training: How to Join the Greats”. And because Cate Blanchett and a few other pupils are absent today,the only student—taking furious notes and rapid-firing questions—is Kate Winslet.

Kate Winslet? Lovely. Lovely in Sense and Sensibility,lovely even when speaking vulgarities with that British accent. Lovely in her fleshiness,which has nothing to do with the curves everyone’s always talking about and everything to do with how real she is,and the fact that when she cries on screen she looks genuinely awful. She commits.

She has no Academy Awards,though she’s been up for five. At 22 (Titanic) she was the youngest person ever to have been nominated twice,then at 26 (Iris) the youngest for three,then at 29 (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) the youngest for four,then at 31 (Little Children)… Next are two more Oscar-bait roles,The Reader and Revolutionary Road.

The Reader is set in the decades after the war,exploring the ramifications of an affair between a German teen and the older woman he discovers was a guard at Auschwitz. Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz is at once stony and fragile,a monster but perhaps also a victim. The sex scenes are plentiful and naked. The film prompts ambivalence. “I was very aware that if an audience member felt any degree of sympathy for Hanna,they would also feel compromised for feeling that way,” Winslet says,which why she thought the role was so delicious.

Revolutionary Road,directed by her husband,Sam Mendes,is about marital carnage. A 1950s couple rages against the suburban machine because they’d expected their lives to be more interesting than barbecues and community theatre. It reunites Winslet with Leonardo DiCaprio,whom Winslet’s eight- and five-year-old call “Uncle Leo”,and it so thoroughly disabuses any notions of young love that it makes one wonder if Jack slipping into the ocean at the end of Titanic wasn’t the best thing for the couple after all.

Dingy postwar Germany vs. bland Connecticut suburbs,but deep down both movies are about the same thing: how limited options and wrong choices can completely and ruthlessly destroy a life.

The right choices,inversely,have made Kate Winslet. Turning down the blockbuster offers after Titanic seemed an odd choice at the time. Winslet says,“I was suddenly really famous. I didn’t know myself well enough as a person and as an actor. I wanted to escape.”

Critics often categorise Winslet’s roles as “eclectic”,a useless descriptor that really means she doesn’t do action or girlfriend-in-a-box,and she doesn’t crack the Hollywood Reporter’s top-10 highest-paid actress list.

But when it comes to career paths or life goals,“I don’t have a radar for agenda or strategy,” Winslet insists. Though Winslet describes the past two years of filming as the most creatively gratifying,the rewards aren’t without pressure. “I’m in a position where at the age of 33,the roles I’m being asked to play are getting more and more challenging,” she says. “And I have to step up to the plate. Because that’s what they employed me for.”
Monica Hesse,LATWP

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