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'Mildred Pierce is the hardest thing I've done since The Titanic'

But it paid off, when Kate Winslet won the Best Actress in a miniseries or movie Emmy award for her role in Mildred Pierce. She talks about her interest in the human condition, and tackling naysayers who called her move to TV, 'downsizing'

"Am I actually late?" Yes, she is. Kate Winslet pops into the suite at Venice' Excelsior Hotel with a 15-minute-delay. But there is no reason holding this against her. First of all, she can think of an impromptu excuse: "I can blame the boats." Then, because the actual cause is even more forgiveable: She stepped out for a smoke under the assumption the interviewer would mind her puffing away during the conversation. After being reassured that this would be no problem, she spends half of the time rolling her cigarettes and indulging in another nicotine splurge. But the true reason why the 35 year-old actress can almost get away with murder simply has to do with her good-natured attitude, her spunk and her disarming genuineness that nothing on the earth seems to be able to faze -- not her divorce from Sam Mendes, not even a burning house. No wonder why director Todd Field cast her as Mildred Pierce, the true paragon of survival skills, who weathers a storm of family conflicts in this celebrated HBO adaptation of the James M. Cain novel or why she had no qualms serving under the tutelage of Roman Polanski in the movie version of the married-couple-battle, Carnage. Then again, actress only seems a side job for her, as her true occupation are and remain her two kids -- Mia Honey, 10, and Joe Alfie, 7.


Kate Winslet arrives for the screening of Mildred Pierce at the 68th
Venice Film Festival on September 2.

Pic/ AFP PHOTO


In Mildred Pierce you are playing a character that has to face broken relationships and disrupted families. Is it a coincidence that this somewhat mirrors your own experiences?

People have being getting married and divorced and having children and struggling for centuries, and that will continue to be the case -- For me, I am drawn to complex characters, who are extremely full and experienced a lot. I have experienced a lot in my life, so the characters I play.. they need to have a lot within them.

Otherwise it ceases to be interesting to me. I am really fascinated in the human condition, it intrigues me, compels me, baffles me, and being able to bring a lot of my own life experiences and the experiences of my friends, my family, my own mother -- bringing those experiences into the characters that I am fortunate enough to get to play, that's what actors do. To be honest, I have had lots of big, wonderful relationships in my life. And it's just a coincidence in a way that I have ended up playing these roles that seem to have emulated what actually has been happening in my private life.

But that hasn't been the case at all. Let me tell you, the timing is extremely different from what it might appear. I have just been very lucky and it makes my job much more fantastic.

So these experiences have made you a better actress?
I think life experiences for anyone, it doesn't matter what you do for a living -- it's very important. It's why we grow and change. It makes us who we are. I remember doing Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and the one question that I was asked -- if there was one part of your life or memory that you could erase, what would it be. And I would be so stunned by that question. I thought: F**k, nothing. I would keep all the good bits and the bad bits, because those things made me who I am.

On Revolutionary Road, when you shot harrowing scenes, you said you felt like you had to go home and hug your children. Was the experience on Mildred Pierce the same?
Yeah. To be honest, I always feel like that. Acting is so wonderful and being a part of this crazy filmmaking world is such a privilege, but it is really hard. And we all have moments where we think, 'I can't do this. I don't actually know how to act the scene. I really don't know what I'm going to do at all today. And the feeling of elation and exhaustion when we wrap and you realise, 'actually, we did do that. We just shot 95 pages. How did that happen?' And you go home, and yes, it's been a difficult scene to shoot -- I have many moments where I just want to go home and be close to my kids. I think every parent feels like that. I don't think it's the case more so necessarily for actors and actresses than it is for anyone else.

Was Mildred Pierce the hardest thing you have done since you shot Titanic?
It absolutely was. In many ways it was almost at times harder because of the amount that we were shooting each day. That was extremely challenging. Any TV actor will tell you: Film actors have it easy, they don't know. They don't know how lucky they are. And they are right. They are absolutely right.
There are so many questions having gone from film, winning the Academy Award for The Reader and having this incredible couple of years. So many people have said 'Why a miniseries? You are downsizing.' First of all, even when it occured to me that we were doing TV, not film -- the people and the cast and the crew, these people have been the creme de la creme of the New York film world. These technicians have been around forever, these are true serious artists. Our costume designer, our set designer, our production designer, everybody -- they are film people, it didn't make any difference.
You don't get people on the lowest rung of the ladder. You get the best people, because the material was so good, and it was Todd, obviously. But there was absolutely nothing 'mini' about Mildred. Nothing at all. It was much harder than film. I almost felt the desire to push it even harder, to really stay focused, really stay concentrated. You have to squeeze every last drop out of every single day. And you can't just go 'It's just telly.' And the script was so strong, and the story was so extraordinary, and the character was so full.

How did you come to the project?
It took quite a lot of time to come round to creating the headspace for myself to really absorb the enormity of it. I had come out of a period of not a lot of work -- with Revolutionary Road and The Reader coming out at the same time, that particular award season was utterly manic and all-consuming. So I wanted to sort of take my foot off the gas in every arena. And then Todd is completely brilliant. He sent me episodes one and two, they weren't the final drafts, and he said, 'Just let me know what you think.' And we started a very comfortable and open dialogue, and finally when Todd and John felt happy showing me all the drafts, it then became clear: This is in me now. I am doing it.

Had you read the book?
I hadn't initially read the book. I tried to, but then I thought it was the wrong thing to do.  And then I just waited and very gradually read the script. I read quite slowly, and I don't tend particularly to decide whether I am going to decide about whether I'm going to do something. But in this case it seemed necessary to take that time because of Todd's writing process. And also I was lucky that he gave me that time. I remember we first had a conversation about it maybe even before the Academy Awards, and then I first started dipping into the book in May 2009, and we didn't start shooting until March 2010. So it was quite a while. But once we were going, we were going.

Why are so many high-profile talents working in TV now?
With Mildred, I acknowledged that it was TV for three seconds and then it didn't even come into my mind. We were making a film. I felt so blessed we had five hours of storytelling time. We could do every page of that book. And that doesn't happen with film. You have to cut things out and changes things around and twist things a little bit so it's more palatable to a mass market. In a way, to be a part of product that is going right into people's front rooms. Those people who can't afford the ticket for the movie, the bucket of popcorn to share with their partner -- it was such a joy to know we were able to do that.
It's a completely different vehicle. And actors are realising: Hold on a second, TV is great, the material is great. It's sometimes better than the film scripts that land on our doorstep. I don't know necessarily why sometimes the material appears to be stronger. Perhaps it's because with TV people don't get caught up: Is this appealing? Who is going to see this movie? -- You are making a product that people can choose to watch or not watch. But you don't have to censor yourself based on what kind of an audience might see it. They can switch on or not.

Do you think that Mildred wants to control her daughter and is therefore destroyed?
Let's face it. People who have a need to control things, have deep places of vulnerability within them. And also the ability to really love. And Mildred was so in love with her daughter. Yes, it absolutely was unnatural and unhealthy in places. And it was obsessive. And the love she had for her child was filling these big holes within her. I don't think her life was ruined by the end of the film. She had hit rock bottom and she had the strength to realise that she had to start all over again. We really did make that clear and talked about a lot. I have no interest in playing a woman that ends up completely broken, after everything she has done. That's no story to me.

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