From practically conning her way into auditioning for Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility”—and earning her first of seven Academy Award nominations for it—to building an unlikely bond with Jodie Foster, whom she grew up idolizing as an aspiring actor, in “Carnage,” Kate Winslet has more stories than she can count spanning her rollercoaster 30-plus years in Hollywood. In our exclusive Backstage craft and career questionnaire, she recounts some of them while teasing that even at this point in her career, the devil is still on her shoulder whispering she’s not good enough. The trick? Ignore it and work even harder.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve done to get a role? I imagine your audition for “Sense and Sensibility” might be up there…
Oh, yeah, I’ll never forget that story. It literally feels like it was yesterday. I think that was the most outrageous thing I’ve ever done, and that was when I knew that I was perhaps brave enough to try and push every possible avenue I could.
So, I had gone to Los Angeles. I was actually doing a bit of press for “Heavenly Creatures.” And while I was there, I met with an American agent who is still my agent to this day—she’s Irish, so she’s got a little bit of grit and a fighter’s spirit to her. She said to me, “Alright, listen: Here’s the script, it’s fantastic, there’s an opportunity for you to audition for this character called Lucy Steele. But, to be honest, it really is a smallish role. I personally think you’re perfect for the Marianne Dashwood part, which is the other sister, but I know that they’re not so open to you playing that role because you’re a lot younger than Emma Thompson, who’s playing the older one.” I was like, “OK, so what do I do?” She said, “Just go in there and pretend that you’ve got the wrong information. Prepare a couple of scenes for the Marianne role and go in there and just absolutely behave as though that’s the role you’re being seen for.” I was so nervous! So, I plucked out my two favorite scenes and I walked in there. I met with Lindsay Doran, the producer, and she was like, “Hi, how are you?” I said, “Yeah, great! My God, it’s such a wonderful script!” in a very sort of over-the-top English way. I said, “God, the role of Marianne, it’s completely bizarre how similar we are!” I mean, I went off on this whole bullshit. She was like, “Oh, OK...so did you prepare something?” And I was like, “Yes! I prepared two scenes.” And, suddenly, I’m in there! I just completely went for it. I’d prepared my Marianne scenes, and that was that.
Obviously, I was incredibly polite and very English about the whole thing. And then I got this call saying, “Ang Lee wants to meet you.” I was like, “Holy fuck, what have I done?” That’s when I was like, “Shit! I don’t know how to do any of this. What am I doing?” And then I met Ang Lee in London with Emma Thompson, and then I had to meet him, separately, again. And they gave me the damn part! But I got there on Day 1 of shooting—I properly had 55 devils on my shoulder going, “They just read the wrong name off the list, and they’re too embarrassed to say. They didn’t mean to really cast you, Kate.” So, that’s definitely the most outrageous thing I’ve done to get a part, for sure.
“Obviously I was incredibly polite and very English about the whole thing. And then I got this call saying, ‘Ang Lee wants to meet you.’ And I’m like, ‘Holy fuck.’”
What is one screen performance that every actor should see and why?
Let me think. There’s really a lot, there are so many. I think for actresses, I have to say it’s Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver.” Because she’s not acting. This is what inspired me so much, specifically from that performance, and specifically from Jodie: When I saw her onscreen when I was younger, I just couldn’t work out exactly what it was that she was doing, because it wasn’t, to my mind, what I had believed acting was—she wasn’t acting. She was just this person. She wasn’t an actress; she was a real person who kept showing up. I kept seeing her in things. And that, for me, was a real penny-drop moment. I was like, “Well, that’s it.” Because it’s about being, isn’t it? It’s not about acting. The trick is to be it and not have them see that you’re “acting” being it.
How fun, then, to work with her in “Carnage”!
I know, and we got on so great. I love Jodie. She turned to me at the end and was like, “You know, I really like you. Mostly, I don’t like people.” No, she didn’t say, “I don’t like people” but “I don’t really get along with people.” And I thought, This is just amazing. This is this person I have literally worshipped all of my life. I had to do quite a good job of pretending not to worship her too much. We were actually working together. But I just love and adore her, and, to me, her performances are still that real now. They’re still that kind of fibrous with humanity and reality. I just absolutely love watching Jodie.
“The advice that I would have given to myself just would have been: Breathe. Slow down. You’re gonna be working more in your mid-40s than you are now.”
Going all the way back, how did you get your SAG-AFTRA card?
I got my first SAG card doing “Sense and Sensibility,” I think. I suddenly qualified for a SAG card. I don’t quite know what it was, but it was something like that. And then of course this bonus came with it: I was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for that performance, so this brilliant thing of, like, “Oh, my God, you get sent DVDs!” To me, I was being sent free DVDs, that’s what I thought it was initially. And now, of course, I mean, my God, SAG as a union, they are just extraordinary, so thank God for them.
Also looking back to those early days, what’s one piece of advice that you would give your younger self?
I think the advice that I would have given to myself just would have been: Breathe. Slow down. You’re gonna be working more in your mid-40s than you are now. And you just need to maybe give yourself some time. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You have plenty of time to be hard on yourself later.
That devil is always going to be on your shoulder, right?
Right there, babes. Right there!
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