Read the full transcript from BAFTA A Life In Pictures: Kate Winslet
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this evening’s A Life in Pictures with Kate Winslet. The event is being filmed so please ensure that all mobile phones are switched to silent or airplane mode, and please refrain from any photography. Now please join me in welcoming this evening’s host, Briony Hanson.
Briony Hanson: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us at BAFTA tonight. I can feel the excitement in the room and I always enjoy sitting down in front of a group like this. Kate Winslet is one of the most celebrated and acclaimed UK actors working today. She’s been a BAFTA nominee seven times, winning twice. She was the youngest ever actress to win six Oscar nominations, and then of course topped it with a win. She starred in one of the biggest blockbusters in film history, and then she’s worked for the 20 years since consistently at a hugely high hit rate. She’s now heading very close to her 40th screen credit, film credit. She’s the subject of constant press attention; we all think that we know her very well. She has a reputation for plain speaking, for being just like us, and tonight we get an opportunity to find out just how like us she is. Before we meet her let’s have a quick look at some of her work.
Kate Winslet: I have to sit on my microphone.
BH: Please do.
KW: This dress is too tight; I can’t find any space for it.
BH: Okay, you know how this is going to work. We had an enormous task to whittle down your films so that we can just find some to focus on. You’ve chosen seven, we’re going to have a conversation about those seven and then obviously we’re going to leave plenty of time for our audience to have their go at you as well.
KW: Okay. It’s quite weird actually, just watching some of those clips I was like, “God, what film’s that?” Really showing my age, but…
BH: Luckily I can tell you.
KW: Okay, good.
BH: Okay, so just before we get to the first clip you’ve chosen, your agent, given how many films you’ve made, what a huge success you’ve had, your agent presumably has hundreds if not thousands of scripts sent to them every year. Do you have a kind of shorthand for the films that you want passed on, the things that you want to see? Is there a kind of little shorthand that you’ve agreed between you - a huge leading role for a woman, a particular type of director, a particular genre - what’s the kind of tick list that you have?
KW: No, I don’t think so. You know I wish I had a sort of like a brilliant reasoned response to that very articulate question, but I think I’m, I’m almost always trying not to have expectations of the types of things, and I think I just always want to be terrified of a role and surprised by it and immediately feel challenged by it, or reading something that I think, “Oh my God, I could never, I could absolutely never play that part.” When I read The Reader I just went, “Oh well, obviously that’s not me. There’s no way I can play this part.” And that happens to me more often than not, although it does definitely shift and change, and I would say there’s sort of another part of the answer to the question which is that in the last probably three to four years, I have definitely found myself saying to my agent, who’s in this room. I love you very much Dal, I’ve been with him since I was 15. I’ve definitely found myself saying you know, “I want to really play character roles now.” I suddenly feel a very strong desire to be fully out of my comfort zone all the time, which is, that’s a big deal you know, those parts are quite difficult to find actually. But at the same time you know, if a role came along that was simply just a person, I mean I would quite like to play an English person who’s fairly similar to myself because I’ve actually never done that at all, so that would be a challenge. And when I do find myself on set playing English people, I do feel quite vulnerable. It’s weird to not have a dialect coach or not have a thing that I’m supposed to have learnt in order to play that part, it is sort of oddly vulnerable, quite an exposing feeling as well which is good, you know that’s good, that’s a good thing too.
BH: Okay, we know what not to send you. Tell us, sort of take us back to the early 90s, obviously when you were already a kind of slightly jobbing TV, you’d done little bits and pieces of TV but nothing too notable, some, a wonderful Russell T Davies series for young people, and a little bit of Casualty and a little bit of this, that and the other. How did you then find yourself on the other side of the world making a film for the young Peter Jackson?
KW: Well I can tell you a great deal about this because I remember it very, very, very clearly, because it was an audition for Heavenly Creatures, and as you say I had done TV, I’d done one series. And I had done the first series as well of a sitcom called Get Back, which was written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, with Ray Winstone and Larry Lamb and other very lovely people. And we’d done the first series of that and I’d just finished my GCSEs, and things moved really suddenly quite quickly, you know having gone from not doing much, I was sent this script for a film audition. And my dad’s in the room and he will probably remember this, I remember that we had to drive to my agent’s office, this is when I still had a child agent, and we had to drive to pick up the script because I had to go for the audition the next day and it might get lost in the post, and you know way back then. And I remember saying to dad, “Oh my God dad, it’s an audition for a film. Wow. Oh my God. Do you think like I might get it?” And he just looked at me and he said, “Yeah, you will.” And I remember thinking, that’s, because he was trying to tell me about the attitude I needed to have, because dad’s an actor as well. And so I remember thinking, “God that’s it isn’t it, I’ve got to absolutely believe that I’m going to get this part,” because so much of it is believing that you will and willing things into existence. I mean it sounds like a sort of a slightly airy-fairy thing to say, but when you’re young and you have almost no confidence really, and certainly no degree of confidence in your ability, you just have no clue whether you can do it or not, whether you’re good, you’re bad, what you still have to learn, and you have no idea, you’re literally sort of firing pinballs into the darkness. And I do remember thinking, “Okay, I’m going to go in there and I’m going to, I’m just somehow going to give them no option but to give me this part.” And of course a part of that is remaining incredibly calm, and yeah I remember trying really hard not to appear too you know like, [breathlessly] “I want this part!” you know trying not to appear too desperate.
BH: Even though that would have been perfect for this role.
KW: Well it probably would have been, yes. But and then I met Peter and his wonderful partner Fran Walsh who co-wrote Heavenly Creatures, and I just thought they were so lovely. They seemed very much like me actually, or sort of members of my own family in some way, and they really put me through it. I auditioned, and then they called me back again about two or three weeks later, and then I was called back again. And I thought, “God, this is like, wow I’m like getting recalls for stuff. Like I wonder how many, like it might be out of me and another two, or I don’t know. Maybe it’s out of me and another one person.” It was just terrifying. And then they sort of made me wait for about two more months, and then I finally got this phone call telling me that I’d got the part. And I was working at the time in the delicatessen in Reading; I had a part-time job where I think every member of my family has worked at some point. And the telephone rang, and I don’t know what it was but there was something about the way the telephone rang that day that I went, “It’s for me.” And I knew that it was, I was like, “Oh my God,” and I stopped. I was literally mid-making sandwich, I’m like… And sure enough, the lovely guy Chris who used to own the deli, “Kate.” “Yes?” “Phone for you”. “Okay [to imaginary customer] Sorry, I’m just, just sorry,” and just left this sandwich, ran to the phone, and it was my child agent at the time who said, “You clever girl.” And I went, and I just had this, I just knew that the phone call was for me, and I sort of knew it was going to be good news. And I left the sandwich and I left work and I went home on the bus and told everybody that I’d got this part. I don’t think any of us could really believe it. It was a film, I was never going to be in films, I was absolutely happily going to be in episodes of Casualty, and maybe a bit of theatre if I was lucky. I mean that was, I never thought, I never, ever thought outside of that, I really didn’t.
BH: Let’s have a look at you in that film then.
Oh my God, it’s so over the top.
BH: Well, I was going to ask you. So the film itself is so stylised, and quite honestly watching it again is such a pleasure, but you’re so weird in it.
KW: So weird.
BH: And what were you, 18, 19?
BH: 17, my God. I mean how much did you kind of understand the film he was trying to make? How much did it mirror the sort of films that you liked at the time?
KW: Well it didn’t, you know at that age, I mean yes I’d seen films, but there’s an interesting thing that happens when you’re an actor, people automatically assume that you’re a movie buff and you must have seen everything, and really at that point in my life I’d seen Annie and Bugsy Malone and Grease, lots of times, and that was sort of about… Oh, and Santa Claus: The Movie. But I hadn’t seen, I hadn’t really seen that many films. We didn’t get a video player in our house until I think I was 14, so this was just not you know, we just didn’t have the resources to access that world really. And so what I remember I had done was, when I was given the part, I thought, “My God, well who is this Peter Jackson person?” And I remember the casting directors, John and Ros Hubbard saying to me, “Well you know he has sort of a cult following, he’s made these quite quirky films called Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste.” And I thought, “Well that sounds bizarre.” And so I did watch those films, and I remember thinking, “Okay, he’s definitely a bit of a nutter, but that’s great.” But I also knew, because he had told me himself, that this film was a bit of a departure for him. He had said that he had co-written it with Fran and the plan was not that he was going to direct it at all, it was going to be directed by somebody else who they would find, but then he realised that when it came to the moment of looking for a director he sort of couldn’t let it go. So he said, “This is really quite different for me, and it’s a very special, very famous New Zealand murder story.” And so I remember thinking, “Okay, well here I am in England. How do I start preparing for this?” And they had said they were sending me a research package, I didn’t even know what that meant, but I couldn’t wait for this research package to arrive which could have taken you know a week or more coming all the way from New Zealand in those days. And so I went to the library in Reading and I thought, “Well I’ll look up old newspaper articles,” which I knew existed, big library in Reading. And I remember sitting there just cranking through, I don’t know if anyone’s ever done that, but cranking through old newspaper articles on a very big screen, and I remember my heart was in my mouth because the murder took place in June, 1954. I think it was June 22nd. And as I’m cranking thorough these pages, it’s June 18th, June 19th, June 20th, June 21st, “God I might not find anything,” June 22nd: ‘Parker-Hulme murder’. I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s really there, it’s really real and we wrote about it in this country.” And so there was something ignited in me from that moment that was just, it was just extraordinary. And I also felt very, I felt like it was my own little sort of secret. I remember looking over my shoulder like, you know I wonder if anyone can see what I’m doing, and God what would they think? And actually my instinct to be quite private about it has sort of stayed with me I think in a way. You know putting a character together, which I do find quite difficult enough and often incredibly frustrating as well, and I’m a really good procrastinator too. No I will, I’ll literally sit there fiddling with my feet and kind of looking out the window for ages and kind of going, “Oh my God, I don’t want to have this scene, it’s just too difficult.” But I definitely, I definitely have that instinct to be quite private about whatever that process is until I get into a rehearsal room and then it sort of, you know everything is shared really.
BH: And is it distracting when it is based on a true story as this was?
KW: No, I love it. I really do love it, and I think I, and I love being in things that are based on a true story, I think probably because of my experience of Heavenly Creatures which was so life-changing I cannot even tell you.
BH: Okay, and what did you, what kind of a performer did you get to be on set? I mean how much direction did you take, how confident did you feel?
KW: Oh I didn’t feel very confident at all. But I do remember Peter and Fran, it’s a funny thing, when you’re an English actor and you go into another country they automatically assume that you are fully trained, you’ve got some magical qualification that means that you definitely know better than everybody else, which I’ve played on believe me. So in this moment of being terrified in New Zealand, and they had cast Melanie Lynskey who was 15, to my 17, and she had in her own words been a speaking flower in a school play. And that was it, she hadn’t done really anything at all, and so they very much turned to me and they said, “Well Kate’s going to look after you, it’s fine.” And I’m thinking, “Fuck. Am I?” “Okay, yes, no, of course. Of course I will, I’m going to look after you because I really know what I’m doing.” Not at all. And in a way it sort of, it forced me to just jump right in there, it was very much a both feet first moment. “Okay, you guys think I know what I’m doing, I better really pretend I know what I’m doing. Actually, I better really know what I am doing and get ready for this.” And there was a lot of direction, yes. I mean Peter’s a, he’s a brilliant director like that, he’s very, very generous, very experimental, and will absolutely give you all the time you need. And there were lots of scenes for us that were quite hard to film, and sometimes we wouldn’t, emotionally would get quite overwhelmed by those scenes, and he was really amazing at, he would actually empty the set and he’d say, “Okay, could everyone go and have a cup of tea.” And he would just sit on the floor with me and Melanie and sort of you know calm us down, or figure out how we were going to get back into it or try something different. Because we didn’t know, you know and film acting it is very, very different to stage acting, very. And I feel as if I’m almost still learning about that in a way, and it always blows my mind that you know you sometimes, just blinking at a certain speed speaks volumes. You know I’m still really overwhelmed by how powerful that can be.
BH: There are quite a lot of quite strange fan-sites about Heavenly Creatures, both the real life story about the film.
KW: No that doesn’t surprise me at all.
BH: They’re quite strange. Several of them refer to the fact that you two, you and Melanie stayed in character, kind of you know around the filming and close after the filming. Is that nonsense or is that true?
KW: Well it’s not nonsense, but it isn’t entirely true. I don’t stay in character, I will say that. I don’t stay in character between takes. If I’m doing an accent I don’t stay in it, I just don’t find that very helpful to me at all. And for the longest time people will say to me, “Oh so do you stay in character?” as if you know you really should. And I would go, “Oh, no I don’t,” sort of almost feel embarrassed to admit that I didn’t. And the same with an accent. “So is it really helpful to stay, you know to keep your accent going?” I’d go, “Well, no actually, I find it’s really exhausting.” And so now I’m kind of learning to sort of you know be open about the things that I do, however odd people might think that they are, it doesn’t really matter. But Melanie and I, you know we were very close, and we were absolutely, we were in this thing together, and it consumed us beyond belief. And we were surrounded by memories of this crime and these women. There are classmates, if anyone has seen Heavenly Creatures, but at the beginning it opens on Christchurch Girls’ High School, and there’s a panning shot, and they’re all singing, “Just a closer walk with thee,” all those teachers are old classmates who were in the class with both of those girls. So we were surrounded by it, and we filmed in the school, in the classroom where they met, and it was very bizarre. The house that was Juliet’s family home, we filmed in that house, it’s actually still there. And so we were consumed by it, and you know we were in those kind of heady, excitable teenage years where everything is just so crucial, and we were fully allowed to indulge in that you know, and that energy in us was very much encouraged and supported by Peter and Fran.
BH: That’s interesting that you talk about sort of heady and excitable, because I think that the next thing which you went onto which of course was Sense and Sensibility, Ang Lee is quoted as saying that he was a bit nervous about you because of the way you had attacked this role, and that he sent you off on all sorts of tai chi courses.
KW: He didn’t send me off anywhere, he bloody well made me do it, he did it with me. I remember at the backlot at Shepperton he would say, “Oh, now we do tai chi.” I’d say, “I’m sorry, what are we doing?” “Tai chi.” “Okay. Yes, of course we’re doing tai chi, because of course I don’t know anything and you must know everything, and clearly I must do tai chi in order to get into character.” But I still didn’t understand why I was doing the tai chi. But he’s, Ang is not a man of great tact as he will himself admit, and I do remember him saying to me, oh my God this was truly one of the most awful moments of my, I think my whole life, and still is to date. At the end of the first day of filming, he’d barely said anything to me all day, and I did actually have quite a big dialogue scene with Gemma Jones who plays our mother in the film. And I thought, “God, I mean maybe I’m just rubbish, and maybe I’ve just been crap. He’s barely said anything.” And I remember going to him and saying, “So, you know, how was everything?” And he went, “You’ll get better.” I promise you, that is exactly what he said. And I went, “Okay.” And I remember going home, crying my eyes out and thinking, “No, Kate, this is it now, this is it. You are in a film, you’re not even worthy of this role, I’m sure they read the wrong name off the list and they’re just too embarrassed to say, ‘Look, we didn’t really want you for the part love, but you’re here anyway so get on with it’.” And I thought you know, “Come on, he’s right, I am going to get better. And they must, I mean it’s tough this game, you know everyone is told this kind of thing.” And so I just dealt with it, and then three weeks later I remember saying to Emma Thompson, “Oh my God, can I tell you this thing that Ang said to me.” And she said, “Oh darling, oh my God, what did he say?” I said, and I told her the whole story and she went, “Oh for fuck’s sake, that is abuse.” She was like, “Darling, why didn’t you tell me?” And I said, “Well I really just thought that…” “No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no. Whenever a director says something like that you tell someone.” And I thought, “Oh God, okay.” And it made me feel, I mean she was hugely supportive, and it really made me feel human you know, and in a way working with Emma almost gave me permission to realise that actually we are all just human beings and that’s what acting also is, it’s very much being and knowing that your emotions are going to take you to places that are sometimes scary and sometimes make you feel like shit. [Laughs]
BH: So what he did and what you did together was sort of, he turned you into that English rose, that’s the kind of image that we started to get of you.
KW: Well he definitely, I mean I think he was concerned. I’m seeing that clip quite rightly that I was a little bit hysterical, and I think he, you know and definitely the experience of Heavenly Creatures had been so huge for me that the residue I’m sure of the role was probably still existing in me somewhere. And it wasn’t that long after I’d finished filming Heavenly Creatures I think that I had the audition for Sense and Sensibility, so I look back on it and I think, “Actually, thank God.” And he just wanted to calm me down, to really, really calm me down, and he did, yeah he absolutely did.
BH: So you did a whole range of English rose films, or a couple more English rose films, and then of course you had Titanic. Now, I’m really intrigued, why didn’t you choose a clip from Titanic?
KW: Well because you know, everyone’s seen it lots of times. And it’s funny, I don’t know why I didn’t actually, I don’t know, I don’t know why. Because it was a huge moment of course in my life, it was a big turning point moment, and you know my life did change really overnight. And I remember people saying to me before the film came out, “Oh God, how are you going to cope, you know your life’s going to be, you know how are you going to not change?” And I would get, I would feel almost defensive and angry. I’d think, “Well of course I’m not going to change, you know I’m not going to change, what are you talking about? My life’s not going to change.” And it truly did overnight. I mean I remember one day being able to go and buy a newspaper and a pint of milk no problem, and the next day I actually couldn’t get out of the house because of paparazzi, and that was a huge shock. And nothing really prepares you for that, no one really can tell you about what to expect because it’s so sort of unknowable and so weird. And you know luckily life isn’t like that at all anymore, but at the time you know I think there were very few kind of suddenly famous you know young women of my age range. You know I think there are a lot more now and it’s a lot more sort of spread out, but at the time that was just gigantic, and you know pretty overwhelming as well. And I can honestly say I wasn’t able to even really enjoy the success of Titanic because it was so frantic, I just thought, “Well I’ll just throw myself into work and concentrate and just do the work and make sure that I’m following my instincts, and that I must hang onto.” I remember really somehow knowing that that was the right thing to do as opposed to doing lots more big things.
BH: And there are kind of apocryphal tales of course about the kind of grueling nature of making Titanic.
KW: Yes exactly, yeah.
BH: But not only the kind of production and you know we all know, we’ve seen those stories, but also the kind of mauling that it got in the press even before it was made, and then what happened afterwards. I mean did you have any sense when you were pursuing the film, and when you got the film and were making it, of kind of quite what was going on, quite what it could become?
KW: No I had absolutely no idea. I mean I really had no idea, I just loved the script and I loved the part, and I did love that love story, that relationship between Jack and Rose, I really did, I thought it was amazing. And of course Leonardo DiCaprio’s name had been mentioned as a possible Jack, and I actually read with some fairly well known actors for that role which was amazing and great fun, but I just kept thinking, “Oh God, I really hope he does it. I really hope Leo does it.” And you know lucky for me he did. And it was this completely extraordinary experience, but very, very hard. Really very hard. I remember finishing filming and my family were on holiday in Scotland and I was going to join them sort of a few days after the beginning of the holiday, and I remember one night falling asleep, or one afternoon actually, it was I don’t know sort of half four or something, thinking, “Oh I’ve just got to have to go and have a lie down.” I remember waking up the following morning at 11am, and I really had slept for a just enormous number of hours, I was absolutely shattered. I really remember feeling very tired.
BH: For your next trick you did a kind of sideways step and you went back over the other side of the world to work with Jane Campion. Well, not quite your next trick, but the next trick we’re going to talk about, with Holy Smoke. Shall we have a quick look at Holy Smoke and then you can explain how that happened.
So you did Hideous Kinky then you did this. They both seem like quite strange choices considering who you were at that point; you know what you could have gone on to do. It’s as if you were particularly sort of seeking out small, independent pictures. Is that what happened?
KW: I don’t really, I don’t really, I don’t really know is the truth of that. I mean I think these were incredible parts to play, I mean this, you know Jane Campion was hot off the heels of Piano success, Harvey Keitel, I mean my God. And I had been sent the script, and you know it was just clear to me that if I had an opportunity to work with both of those people I’d be really stupid not to go for it. And so I definitely, but looking back it’s interesting of course, I look back on that period in my life and I realise that you know there’s the me that didn’t get the chance to really go travelling, there’s the me that left school and immediately was working. And you know whilst all of that was wonderful there’s definitely the sort of self-discovery element that probably was played out in the playing of these parts in some way, and that wonderful thirst for adventure that I’m afraid I still have. And this was an amazing experience, and taught me a really great deal too about film acting and working with somebody like Jane who’s very experimental, and Harvey obviously. But again you know it’s a real lesson in what do you need to hang onto as an actor, and what do you not have to pay any attention to. And I do remember doing, I am going to tell two little quick Harvey Keitel stories that I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me telling. But when they auditioned me, which they did do for this part, there was a lot of improvising which Harvey’s a big fan of, as am I, but he’s a particularly big fan of improvising. And they had me do a thing in the audition which was Harvey pretending to be a baby refusing to eat.
BH: Oh, it sounds horrible.
KW: So I’m like, “Okay. Yeah, that sounds great, okay.” So Jane said, “Well why don’t we just, like you could just give him a yoghurt or something you know. Have you got a spoon?” So I’m like, “Okay. Spoon, okay thanks. So just, I’m just gonna feed him the yoghurt?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” “Okay. You’re just going to be a baby? Okay.” I mean for fuck’s sake you know. And I remember Harvey spitting the yoghurt out, spraying the yoghurt at me, you know doing… And I, and it didn’t teach me anything you know. This was the thing I remember walking away from it thinking, “God, I’m sure I’ve learnt lots from that.” But what, you know. And it was a real lesson. And there was another improvisation that Harvey did. [Laughs] Oh my God, in the rehearsal, oh my God I can’t believe this. So I have told this story once before but never since, and it was on Graham Norton a few years ago but I’m going to tell it anyway. So we were in the rehearsal room and Harvey came in one morning and he said, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about intimacy and the importance of intimacy in the movie. And Jane, you know I’m really concerned that we’re not creating enough of that. So Kate, if you would like to join me in a little improvisation.” I’m going, “Oh yeah, great Harvey. God. Harvey, God.” So he said, “Yeah, so I was thinking maybe we’ll just you know try something out. Like maybe, okay, I’m a dog and you are my owner, and I’ve been hit by a car, and you’re helping me to die.” “Okay. Yep, this is the yoghurt, baby-feeding moment, okay.” Okay, and so, I’m going to have to stand up and do the action. So then of course you know I’m standing there and I’m thinking to myself, “Okay there’s absolutely a hidden camera in this room, because this cannot be real. This is so stupid and… Okay no, no Kate, come on, take this seriously, this is Harvey Keitel, and this is Jane Campion who’s gone, ‘I’m going to put on some music, a little bit of Enya.’” And she goes and puts on Enya, I’m going, “For fuck’s sake!” So there’s Enya going on, and Harvey starts going [makes whimpering dog noises]. And I am watching this dying Harvey dog, and I’m going, and I’m actually squeezing my cheeks together because I’m thinking, “Okay, just don’t laugh, don’t laugh. Don’t laugh, really don’t laugh. There’s a hidden camera in this room, there is a hidden camera in this room. There’s not a hidden camera, he is a dying dog, I’m your owner.” And so I suddenly think, “Okay, get into character Kate. Come on, just come on.” “Oh, shh. Shh. Oh poor…” “Can you do your accent, Kate?” “Oh, sorry Jane. Poor Harvey dog dog. Poor…” This goes on for about seven minutes, and I’m thinking, “Just fucking die. Just really die now, come on.” And then finally the music ends and Harvey just goes [makes brief dog noise]. So I jump up, I’m going, “Great, that was great. I mean that was really helpful, don’t you, you know?” “Yeah, yeah, I thought so, yeah.” I mean come on! And so that was also a very interesting lesson because I remember thinking, “Okay, now I’ve got to process the fact that I’ve just done an improvisation with Harvey Keitel that was clearly absolute bullshit. I don’t know what it was useful for.” I still don’t know, I mean I wish I did, I wish I could say, “But, here’s why it was brilliant.” I have no idea, I really don’t. And so you know that’s, these little things definitely help to secure my own confidence I think in just doing it my way.
BH: He’s probably doing it just so he can say afterwards, “You’ll never guess what we made Kate Winslet do.”
KW: Yeah. And another thing as well that, and I’ve spoken about this with Jane since then, because she had co-written the script with her sister Anna, and they’re both so brilliant, both those girls are absolutely amazing. They had written it together and it was definitely, my part, Ruth, was definitely a version of both of them and both of their pasts. And so Jane, I think she had a hard time letting, literally letting go of the role and just giving it fully to me to play. And I remember her being a few weeks into the shoot and feeling as though she was sort of jumping on me a lot and not letting me sort of explore things, and actually not even letting me really fully express my true ideas about certain aspects of it. And I remember thinking, “Okay, this is one of those moments where I’ve got to be really, really brave and I’m going to have to say to her, ‘I think you need to just like give me a go.’” And she was brilliant about it actually, we had a really great conversation, and from that moment onwards I think she realised that had to just let me play a bit and sort of own it a little bit more, which with that type of a role I really did feel like I needed to do. But it was an amazing experience, and great adventure filming in the Flinders Ranges and the middle of nowhere in the red sand desert in Australia. And wonderful, incredible Australian actors. I love working with Australian actors, they’re so loose and so funny, and so yeah it was a really great experience.
BH: So if that’s the story you tell us about Holy Smoke I can’t wait to hear what you’re going to tell us about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which in itself is quirky personified. Can we see a quick clip from Eternal Sunshine and then we’ll ask you about that.
So this is a film that’s very famously kind of messes with structure. I was going to introduce it and say it’s at the beginning of the film, but of course it’s not the beginning of the story. When you get a role like that, which presumably is that’s how it was written as a kind of you know narratively confused film, do you then spend time kind of unpicking your own character’s journey?
KW: Oh, you cannot imagine. And I recently actually found, because I keep all the scripts, and I recently found my copy of Eternal Sunshine which I was worried I had lost, and I was desperately looking for it because somebody had asked me to show them how I had done this exact process. But I really, it was like hieroglyphics. Because sometimes, for those of you who have seen the film, you know there are memories that are being erased and sometimes we’re in the memory as it’s erasing, and sometimes they’re memories that are, they’re either Clementine’s memories, and sometimes they’re Joel’s memories. I mean it’s absolutely; it was all over the map. So I sort of had these kind of weird graphs, in a way I would, you know there was a ruler and I would say, “Memory. In it. As it’s erasing.” And then alarmingly I’ve put, “Question mark” after it. So I mean I think we were always permanently just ever so slightly confused with exactly how this story was really going to be told, and you know I don’t normally think about the process of how I’m going to feel when I watch the film when it really comes out, but I can honestly say that I was so intrigued and couldn’t wait to see Eternal Sunshine because I didn’t really have an idea of how it was going to pan out. But when I was asked to play that part I sort of, I kind of couldn’t believe it because I hadn’t played any parts like that at all at that point, I really hadn’t. I had done Titanic and I had done a film called The Life of David Gale which Alan Parker directed, so I’d only played a couple of Americans, and this was just, I mean she was Clementine you know. She was this extraordinary, eccentric, bonkers, barmy, glorious you know person who absolutely had her own rulebook. And nothing I had done up until that point really made me feel as though it would warrant a director thinking that I would be right for that part, and so I remember feeling tremendously flattered that Michel Gondry wanted me for that role.
BH: Do you know what it is that made him pick you?
KW: Well I did ask him actually, I really did, I said, “Why did you ask me to play this part?” And he did seem to have picked up on qualities that actually I myself do possess that clearly he’d seen somehow through some of the roles that I’d played, I mean I’m not quite sure. And I loved working with Michel because he’s properly nuts, I mean he’s absolutely; he’s really quite bizarre and incredibly clever. And so he would write storyboards actually, some of which I would keep, he would write storyboards you know in the diner in the morning before he came into work on a napkin, and often they would just look like you know, people with sort of feotuses growing off their head and explosions going off, and he had a proper sort of surrealist mind almost. And he had tricks and ideas and ways in which we would film certain things that were all in one take, a lot of camera trickery, a lot of smoke and mirrors, real things, there was no special effects in this film at all, it was all Michel. He had a lot of, he has a lot of experience in the world of music videos, and I think you know he’s been quite experimental with some of the things he’d done with The White Stripes, and that came into our film as well. And often people would say, “My God, what’s this guy doing?” You know I’d go, “No no, just, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be brilliant.” And we’d all be running around like crazy, you know there were some scenes where Tom Wilkinson is talking to Jim Carrey and the camera is panning across the two of them and then you’ve got people running behind the camera changing costumes. Jim Carrey, it would pan off him and go onto Tom Wilkinson, Jim would jump up immediately, have a full costume change whilst the shot is still happening, behind the camera, and sit in the other chair in a completely different costume, in a totally different moment of a memory. I mean it sounds very complicated to explain, but to be a part of that was absolutely thrilling. And these hugely choreographed takes that would go on for seven or eight minutes, and entire buildings would almost be in lockdown because we were occupying so much of the space and we’d be walking through them and going through a door that didn’t appear to be there one minute and then it would be closed and someone would have disappeared the next, and costume changes and all this fun, exciting stuff. And we’d get to the end of a take and everyone would go, “Yes!” and you’d run to the monitor, just to see if it all worked. And it was very exciting, such a different way of filmmaking; I learnt a huge amount playing that. And I definitely I think became properly confident in doing an American accent on that film, because it had to be so loose and so spontaneous. And I mean that scene on the train I remember was nine and a half pages long, and I remember reading it and thinking, “Oh my God, I hope I never experience this again,” and then I did an Aaron Sorkin movie [Laughs]. But you know that’s very challenging in and of itself, you know on a constantly moving train and you really can’t forget your lines, you know you have to absolutely be on it because it’s a moving train and if you screw something up you know you can’t reverse the train, and there’s lots of other people who you’re messing up as well. So it was a very different, really different experience, you know as it appears, it was absolutely like that. Lots of adrenaline, crazy wigs, crazy costumes, insane hours as well. And weird moments, I remember putting my daughter to bed, she was only two at the time, and I’m thinking, “God, I’m absolutely exhausted,” going to bed myself and being woken up by the phone at two in the morning. “Kate, it’s Michel! The circus is coming through the Brooklyn tunnel, they have some elephants. You have to come, you have to come, it’s happening right now.” I’m like, “Michel, wait. What do you want me to do?” “You have to come, the guy’s coming, you have to come right now and we’re going to shoot this elephant!” And there was a strange montage sequence in the film, which, sure enough, is me and Jim Carrey running amongst elephants as they were being walked through the Brooklyn tunnel into town for the big old circus that happens at Madison Square Gardens. And we just made up a scene because the elephants were coming into town, in the middle of the night, and it was snowing. And the scenes when it snows on the beach in Montauk, none of that was scheduled at all. We were out in Montauk, we were supposed to do scenes on a lovely sunny day on a nice dry beach, and we woke up in the morning and it was snow, I mean it was proper two-foot of snow, couldn’t open the door of the hotel. And I remember phoning Michel and going, “Oh well what are we going to do?” He said, “We are going to shoot! We are going to shoot of course, come on, it will be so crazy and we will have the bed on the beach.” I’m going, “Okay, it’ll be brilliant,” and it is, it is, and it all looks amazing, but all of that was totally made up on the day.
BH: And aside of all of that, the most incredible thing about this film is how romantic it is. I mean it’s one of the most romantic films I’ve ever seen, which is very unusual considering it’s the pairing of you and Jim Carrey. How did that work, and how confident did you feel that there was going to be a chemistry there?
KW: I don’t know, looking back I think I just felt really excited to work with somebody who I never would imagine I’d work with. I mean he was absolutely, you know he was Ace Ventura, he was from a different, he was The Mask, I mean he was a different genre of filmmaking to me entirely. But that’s one of the great things about acting is that you know sometimes you’ll find yourself working with people who are quite different to you and have different ways of going about things, which Jim most definitely did. And you know it teaches you to become really accepting of everyone’s oddness you know, and it’s such a privilege to experience what everyone brings, because everyone is very different, you can’t judge anybody, you absolutely cannot, and you can’t make decisions about who a person is just after meeting them for the first couple of days, you have to let it all come out and it gets revealed very gradually. And you have to be a team, and you know that for me is one of the most exciting things about being a part of a film is the teamwork that involves everybody, there’s no hierarchy. I mean I have to sort of stamp all that out you know by making sure that I know the name of all the crew members and you know really joining in. And sometimes low-budget films you know helping carry equipment, I mean truly you know. And then little by little, that sort of, “Oh they’re the actors, the untouchable actors,” you know gradually you can break it down and then you are all in it together. And ultimately it makes the working environment not only much more fun to be in, but it means that people really are excited to come to work and people bring their best when they’re looking forward to being there, it makes a big difference. And Eternal Sunshine did, it definitely taught me that, because that was, it was a proper team effort.
BH: I feel like we’re not going to do you justice here because there’s a huge couple of years that were packed with stuff that we can’t really talk about. But let’s go from the extreme of kind of unplanned, eccentric filmmaking to something that’s much more planned, let’s talk about Revolutionary Road. Which is a film that came from a novel that you found, that you decided you wanted to, you thought it had cinematic potential.
KW: Well what had happened was, I had read the book and, which you know I don’t get time to be honest with you to read many novels, I just don’t because often when I’m reading it’s either bedtime stories or scripts. And I read the novel and went, “God, this is absolutely amazing,” and then very quickly heard that someone had done a loose draft of it. And then, we were living in New York at the time and a very dear friend of Sam Mendes, a woman named Cynthia O’Neal, she had come over for coffee of something and I said, “Oh God, Cyn, I just read this absolutely amazing book, and someone’s written a sort of a spec script for it, and I’ve got to find out who owns the rights.” And she went, “My darling, I do.” And I said, “What?” And she said, “Well yes, I do.” I said, “Hang on, hang on. Stop. Explain yourself.” And her husband was a man named Patrick O’Neal who had bought the rights in a Poker game from Richard Yates for a dollar; he ended up buying them for a dollar because he lost everything in this game.
BH: You wouldn’t believe that if it was in a movie.
KW: I know. Anyway, so he had these rights and he bequeathed them to Cynthia in his will when he passed away. She went, “Yeah, they’re mine.” And I said, “Well can I have them?” She went, “Sure.” I’m going, “Oh my God, this is unbelievable.” And so whilst I wasn’t a producer I was able, because I didn’t really want to be, I don’t know why I’ve never kind of, I don’t like following a trend and I think that you know actors get to a certain level and they suddenly just start producing things and sometimes directing things and you know so I sort of almost shy away from following a trend, probably just because that’s me. Anyway, but I do love getting you know involved at that sort of almost grassroots level, so I was very heavily included in that process, and I remember sitting down and you know having big meetings with the producer about who was going to direct it and who would play Frank, and it was amazing to be a part of all of that. And to convince Sam to do it, and then subsequently Leo, which was my biggest coup yet I tell you. I was, yeah, because he can be a bit of a monkey to pin down, and yeah.
BH: And how much had your working relationship changed in the kind of decade between the last time you worked with him and this time?
KW: Well, to be honest with you it hadn’t changed very much; I think we probably had become just much closer I think really. Because Titanic was such a specific time for both of us and you know we’re very similar, he’s just a year older than me, and you know what we experienced it was really identical in terms of the sort of stratospheric nature of it. And we just sort of were there for each other, I mean really truly, you know we’d call each other about, “Do you think I should do this? Do you think I should do it?” “Well, I’m not sure.” And so we were, yeah, there was lots and lots of good communication and friendship through all of that time. And we had said, we had said, “God, it would be amazing to work together again,” and so when this came along it was really wonderful. And you know there were definitely sides to Leo as an actor that I got to experience that I hadn’t experienced on Titanic, simply because they were such different parts, also we were both a lot older. And you know being able to push buttons that I know only I can push, and you know tease things out of him. I know I can make him vulnerable you know, which is a great trick.
BH: And if the last time you worked with him was grueling physically, this one presumably was very grueling emotionally. Not least you shot this in sequence didn’t you?
KW: We tried to where possible. Not entirely but we did, everything in the house was shot in sequence, yeah, because it was very, very hot summer and it was the only way really that everyone could cope was just to, “Okay, we’ll start on day one in the house and we’ll just go through it that way.” So yeah, the guts of the story, yeah we did shoot in story order.
BH: And did you, had you spotted, when you were thinking about the original novel had you seen it as a very cinematic piece? It strikes me as being incredibly cinematic when I read it on the page.
KW: Well I don’t have a very cinematic brain to be honest, I mean I’m not very good at imagining how a film will look, I can only really imagine playing the part or what a scene should feel like, but in terms of visually I’m not really, I don’t really have that. I can do that with you know home decor, but I can’t really do it with films. But I just knew it was a, you know it was an extraordinary story about a marriage, and I did feel that Leo and I would find something together that was both on the page and not on the page at all, and I was quite excited by that.
BH: And the strange thing about this of course is that you found yourself competing with yourself at awards time, because back to back you made The Reader.
KW: Oh my God, I know.
BH: Shall we have a quick look at The Reader, and then you can tell us about that experience.
KW: It’s almost Leo’s fault that I did it. Yeah okay, go on.
BH: Tell us about your entry into a character like this who’s not automatically sympathetic, who you know she’s not that likeable to start with. Tell us how you get inside her skin.
KW: Well I think every day on the shoot, I think I was trying to do that really, because she just was just nothing like me at all, and it was definitely the first time I’d played a role where I was searching for something that I could hang onto, relate to in some way, and there was just nothing, nothing. And trying to sort of turn that into, trying to make my own peace with that and committing to playing a person who had to be allowed to be entirely dislikable by an audience, you know that was a big moment of surrender for me because I, you know one’s instinct is you know, we all want to be liked you know. Not necessarily liked, loved as the characters, but as actors you know you do hope that people are going to like you. And learning how to let go of that stuff was, I had to do in playing Hanna, absolutely. And I think I remember, I remember thinking, “Well I’m not going to be able to sympathise with her. I might be able to empathise, possibly. But if I can play this role as honestly as possible, and if I can get this audience to feel alarmed by the fact that they may feel some degree of empathy for this woman, okay then that’s what my job is actually. That’s my job.” And so I just tried to, I just tried to play her with as much sincerity as I could. I did sympathise with the fact that she can’t read, I did sympathise with that, and I found that very, very upsetting, especially in the courtroom scene. Oh my God, I think about the courtroom scenes now and, yeah, I just felt sick for a whole week. It was six days of solid shooting of those courtroom scenes and I really did just feel sick.
BH: Kind of how grueling is it to do those things, and can you then shake it off when you go home?
KW: It was incredibly grueling actually; I mean I can’t say that it wasn’t. You know you can’t sort of have a laugh between takes and a bit of a joke. And we had wonderful actresses playing all of the other women who were on trial, they were just amazing, and actually we did sort of stay in character a little bit when were sitting in the docks there, we did kind of stay in it. And I remember not wanting to leave the room, I remember thinking, “Oh just God, I’ll take my lunch break, I’ll just stay here.” I just remember really staying in the space and not wanting to sort of break the spell of the intensity that we were creating in that room. And we did have people who had actually sat in on some of the real trials playing extras, and so just the, I don’t know, I think I would have felt disrespectful if I’d moved from my chair you know. And you know it’s very hard to shake that stuff off, very. You know I think about it now and I still get a slight sort of panicky feeling, yeah.
BH: And so apart from the kind of emotional level of it, there’s also, there’s quite a technical challenge with this film, because you not only had to age four decades I think, but also you had a kind of accent challenge, because of course you wherein English speaker doing a German accent while most of the cast were German speakers doing English accents. So presumably both of those things, did they take you away from the kind of emotional side of preparing for the performing or…
KW: No, they sort of go hand in hand with it. I mean with any accent really you can’t sort of learn an accent and then apply it to the part, it’s sort of you learn it within the whole process. And so all of Hanna was to me, it had to be sort of how she sounded initially. I think that helped me sort of hide behind the fact that I was playing this awful person, and I really hung onto the accent, I remember, I really did hang onto it. And actually there was a brilliant dialect coach who sort of designed the German that we all did, because we didn’t want any ‘zis’ and ‘zat’, nothing really strong. And so William Ross Conacher who is a fantastic British dialect coach who works a lot with Stephen Daldry, he was working a lot with David Kross, and he had designed an accent that we were all going to do. And I started working with William, and he’s wonderful, he’s become a very, very dear friend of mine, but I just, I just needed to feel as though I had a friend who was just sort of my person, it was a really weird feeling. And Susan Hegarty who I owe so much to, she’s an extraordinary American dialect coach who I’ve worked with, still work with today since Titanic, she’s absolutely brilliant, and I phoned her and I said, “Suze, do you think you could do German with me? And if I ask and they say yes could you come?” And she said yes, and they said yes, and so it was an amazing experience with her, of the two of us really figuring out this dialect together. And not only that but Stephen Daldry is, he’s a very, very inclusive director so he fully brings everybody in, whereas some directors can understandably be quite protective of their time with the actors and making sure that it’s really the director’s voice that the actors are mostly listening to. But Stephen was absolutely brilliant, between takes in those courtroom scenes I remember he would come over, he would want to come in between takes and say things, and I would see him before he even came he’d go, and he’d get Susan, and they would both come in together. And she would actually just literally hold my hand, just kind of go, this little kind of pat pat, which was, really was amazing to have, because it is quite frightening playing those types of, those scenes, it really was actually.
BH: So you had two roles going on at the same time, competing with yourself. In a way you’re kind of doing it again now because you’ve got two films on the circuit at the moment. Tell us about the first one, we’re going to talk about The Dressmaker first. So tell us about Jocelyn Moorhouse, is she somebody whose film you knew? Because she obviously has been sort of silent for 20 years or so.
KW: Well she, I had heard of Jocelyn, but I think I’d only really, I really had only heard of her because I know that she’s married to PJ Hogan who’s a brilliant writer and director, Australian director, and producer. And so I wasn’t that familiar with her work actually as a director, and she’s just a very, very dear person. She has four children, two of whom are quite severely autistic, and so for her I knew that The Dressmaker really meant a great deal. And so I automatically wanted to really be her partner and really make this not just a terrific film but a terrific experience for her as well as for everybody else. And The Dressmaker, it’s, when she asked me to do it, it was one of those lovely moments where I suddenly realised, “Wow, God we could go to another country to make a film, “ because I hadn’t actually done that for quite a long time. I mean I’d worked a lot in America, mostly in America during the 10 years that we were living in New York, and since moving back to the UK in 2011 you know it’s, whenever I work it’s you know it’s leaving the house of course, but those far flung locations, you know I hadn’t really been to Australia or New Zealand or somewhere to make a film since before I started having children when I was 25. And so this was a moment of me realising, “Oh my God we could, wow, this feels like those days again. This feels like those sort of real risk-taking Holy Smoke moments when, ‘I’m just going to do something different.’ Oh my goodness, we can make this work.” And I loved the fact that it was a comedy, I mean it is essentially a dark comedy, and this wonderful role, Tilly. You know she’s really quite complicated, on the surface appears quite strong, but actually she isn’t, there’s huge vulnerability there and lots of sacrifice and sadness in her. And I just knew I wanted to throw myself at something that was quite different to everything that I’d done for a very, very long time.
BH: Let’s have a look at you throwing yourself into The Dressmaker.
You only did this role so you could wear that frock didn’t you?
KW: Say that again.
BH: You only did this role so you could wear that frock.
KW: Well there is actually a little bit of a story behind that frock which is that Margot Wilson who’s a fantastic Australian costume designer, she and I had worked together on another film called Triple 9 which is directed by John Hillcoat; brilliant, brilliant director. And when I arrived to Australia to shoot The Dressmaker it was clear that it was going to be very difficult for one costume designed to create all the costumes for this film. And so Margot was brought on just to do the Tilly looks, and she came to me about two weeks before that scene, she said, “Now, I’ve got this fabric, it’s really, really beautiful and it’s very, very red, and I bought it about 45 years ago when I was working in Milan, and I’ve been holding onto it for a special moment, and I just thought maybe this could be it.” And I went, “Oh, Margot, oh you’re so brilliant.” And so she created this dress out of this wonderful old fabric, and that was the other glorious thing about The Dressmaker was that I did wear these wonderful creations, and she also creates beautiful outfits for all the townsfolk, they’re quite transformed individuals by the end of the story because of Tilly. And you know this clothing for Tilly it becomes, it’s armour and it’s also a weapon, and she teaches these women, most of whom she doesn’t like at all, how to wow and to wear these clothes, and how to literally change people’s perception of them, and it’s very, very clever. And she also befriends them along the way because they all loathe her, and they accused her a long, long time ago of being responsible for a fellow schoolmate’s death when she was only 10 years old, and she was sent away. She was separated from her mother, played by Judy Davis, and the story begins when she’s come back after all of those years of being away she’s become a brilliant couture dressmaker living in Europe. And she steps off the greyhound bus and the first thing she says is, “I’m back you bastards.” And when I read that line I just thought, “That is the best opening line of any movie I’ve ever read.” And Jocelyn did actually try and add a few scenes, sort of strange dream sequence before that, after I’d initially read the script. And I said, “Please don’t do that, it’s got to start hard on Tilly saying these lines,” and luckily for me she listened and it remained the way it originally was.
BH: And we saw your co-star there, in the film, Liam Hemsworth.
KW: Yes, lovely Liam.
BH: Lovely Liam, who is of course 14 years your junior, and there has been a big old fuss about that.
KW: Well you see I don’t really pay attention to the press so I’m very glad to know that I don’t, I’m not particularly aware of that. But you know, great, lucky him.
BH: Let’s come up to date and talk about the other film that you have out at the moment, which of course is Steve Jobs, working with Danny Boyle. Let’s have a very quick clip of Steve Jobs and then we’ll talk about it.
KW: Okay. It’s broken.
BH: So as with the first film that we showed tonight, this again is based on a real team of people, and you got to meet your character. Tell us about how that affects the performance that you then put together.
KW: Well for me it was really everything. I think, you know again having had that experience doing Heavenly Creatures and sort of wanting to do that story and those characters justice, I still have that feeling, so I was very nervous when I met Joanna. And she looks nothing like me at all, absolutely nothing like me, and is nothing like me. She’s sort of five foot nothing and has lots of you know curly hair, and she’s [puts on high pitched American accent] kind of really bubbly and you know she kind of talks like this. She’s a very warm woman, and actually meeting her after reading the script several times, it was so crucial because it really did have quite a direct impact on how Michael and I, both of us, because obviously he didn’t have anyone to meet, but it had a big impact on the closeness, the physical closeness that we were allowed to have. You know there’s moments where she links his arm or she throws her arms round him or there’s a hug or there’s a something, there’s no boundary there, there’s no barrier between Joanna and Steve, and that came from the time that I spent with Joanna and the stories that she shared, and her enormous affection for Steve and admiration. And she loves him still now and misses him greatly, and they remained very, very good friends for the rest of Steve’s life, and their children were very close and they shared a nanny, all kinds of things like that. And so yeah I felt I really did need to be, actually more than anything respectful of the relationship between her and Steve, and really honouring it as much as we could.
BH: And you’ve talked in a couple of interviews about how technically challenging this film was, and how you felt that you really understood how filmmaking worked as a result of making this. Was that specifically to do with accent or dialogue, I mean the Sorkin dialogue is extraordinary.
KW: Well, the Sorkin dialogue is an absolute bitch because there’s just so flipping much of it. I mean, it was 187 pages long this script, which really is unusual. You know normally a film script at its absolute longest will be maybe 132 pages or something, so this was pretty extreme, but it moved at this unbelievable pace. And I just knew, well I heard about the film, and I just knew I somehow I had to get myself involved, I had to get that part, I had to have this experience. I had been told it was written in three acts, I had been told that Danny Boyle was going to rehearse each act like a play. We were all going to learn it, everyone would then shoot one act at a time and go back into the rehearsal room between those shooting periods as well. And it just sounded extraordinary, it just sounded so different. A proper acting challenge, properly spending time with the other actors, and working with Danny Boyle, which you know the idea of which was you know so thrilling to me. And every single thing about the experience was utterly thrilling. Yes, extremely challenging. Getting the dialect right, I found it so frustrating, the number of times I would throw my script on the floor and go, “Okay, okay. No I can do it, I can do it. Don’t tell me, don’t tell me, don’t tell me.” And I’d try desperately, I’d go, you know we’d rewind it back and then I’d say to Ned you know, “Okay, just come and listen to this. But don’t say anything, do not say anything. Just let me do it, don’t even comment with your face, okay.” And I’d be in these sort of like you know, I’d be in these heated, frantic moments of desperately trying to get something right, and not wanting to be prompted if I got a line wrong. “Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. I know what it is, I know what it is, I know what it is. Okay, give me one word. Okay, no no no no, don’t tell me any more.” You know, lots of that would happen. And I’d get anyone in my, anyone to test me on the lines, anyone. Joe would test me, Joe who’s 11. I would say, “No darling, you’re going to have to test me,” because Mia and Ned are both dyslexic and so reading out loud is really challenging for them, even though they’re both brilliant at it. It’s really challenging for them so sometimes I would have to go to Joe and say, “Joe, this scene goes really, really fast. You’re just going to have to run it with me quickly.” And so anybody who would help, and I was very, very lucky to have lots and lots of support, which I genuinely really needed because there was so much homework to be done all the time on that film, and it was amazing. And working with Michael, God, I mean Michael Fassbender, oh, he, you know every day he really took my breath away. Because he had, it didn’t matter how much I had to do or Seth had to do or Jeff had to do, he had, he was on every single page. Every single page of 187 pages, and he learnt everything 100 percent ahead of time. And I remember we all sat down to do a read through of act three, and Brigitte Lacombe, wonderful, incredible photographer had come into the rehearsal room just to take some photographs, some kind of candid just actor shots. And so you know we were all there and everyone was fully prepared and quite excited, because Brigitte’s an amazing person and brilliant photographer obviously. And everyone got their scripts out except Michael. I was like, “You fucker.” And he went, “I know. I’ve learnt this thing, watch,” he sort of whispered it. And he said, “No but I’m definitely going to fuck up a few things, you have to remind me, got to have your script out and prompt me if I get something wrong.” So, but he was amazing, didn’t get a single thing wrong, blitzed it, actually was almost swinging on his chair. He was so delighted to be on act three, he had learnt it all, there was no act four. And he was sort of flying by the time we came to shoot act three, and actually I think when I watched the film he’s his loosest, he’s his loosest version of Steve in act three. And that scene that we just saw, I mean I watch it now and I’m still not entirely convinced that I’m not going to get something wrong. I was so, I was so nervous about shooting that scene, and I remember when I first read the script which was when we were still shooting The Dressmaker, and I was in a funny little motel room, probably at the end of that particular day of shooting as well in the red dress. I remember reading that scene and saying out loud, “No, no no no, no. That’s, no. I actually can’t, I can’t do that. How am I supposed to do that?” It’s an eleven-page scene, and that big emotional moment right in the middle. And whenever we would rehearse it I remember sort of not really playing it. I remember not, I didn’t want to sort of blow it, because it was building in me this tension and nervousness that I had about playing those moments, and when the day arrived to shoot that scene I was sort of vibrating I think. And yeah, and then it all came out. Honestly I don’t know how. I remember thinking, “God, how did I just? God, I just did that. I’ve done it. Oh my God, have we done it? Danny, have we done it?” “I think you’ve done it, yeah.”
BH: You did do it.
KW: I was like, “Okay, oh.” I was so elated with the fact that it had gone; it had gone away, because I was very nervous.
BH: Amazing. We need to take a few questions from our audience.
KW: Okay. Is it over already?
BH: Not quite, not quite. Don’t panic. Just while we get some mics down and hands up just let me just ask you one thing before they do. I said in my introduction that you are very much full of press attention, everybody kind of you know twists your words every five seconds. If it’s not about weight it’s about vulgar gender pay gaps.
KW: Oh yeah, can I set that one straight?
BH: You can, of course.
KW: Okay, so the gender pay gap thing, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing for speaking up, and I think that anyone in this industry, particularly women, if there’s something strongly that they feel isn’t working for them or if they’re being discriminated against in any way, shape or form, it’s very, very important to speak up and so I fully applaud that. What I have a problem with is that there’s a separate thing that has started happening, is that the lid has been somewhat lifted for journalists, and so journalists on the red carpet will now say, “So, how do you feel about the gender pay gap?” “What? What’s the specific question?” “Well do you know whether you got paid less or more than Michael Fassbender?” That question? That to me is not very nice. I’m not going to have that conversation with a friend or even a family member, let alone in public. And so what’s happened as a result of these big, very important discussions is that we’re then subjected to a particular line of questioning that, being a Brit, strikes me as being a little bit vulgar. You know why would I stand on a red carpet and talk about how much I get paid? I’m not a primary school teacher you know, so it’s a difficult one for me that you know.
BH: But you can rise above it.
KW: Yeah, you just have to kind of go, “Oh well, you know, that’s just the way it is.”
BH: A question down here and then there was one along here as well, and you then next.
Q: Hello Kate. It’s a question about research and your preparation. How much do you really delve into that, I mean especially something like The Reader for instance, how much research, how much searching do you do in getting involved in a character like that, especially The Reader?
KW: A lot, I mean honestly, and I always feel like I haven’t done enough, that’s the other thing too. I mean Steve Jobs, for example, the one thing that was very important to me that was separate to anything to do with Steve was actually to learn about Joanna. You know, she wasn’t intimidated by Steve at all, she was entirely unafraid of him, she saw him as an equal, and this was a particular way that she was able to function with him that no one else was. And I thought well, you know I knew that he was a tricky character, I mean I’d heard that from lots of people, not just rumours but from specific people involved with the story. And so for me it was very important to know who Joanna was, where she had come from. You know she had grown up in Poland, moved to Armenia, went back to Poland briefly; a lot of her family spoke Russian. She came to America on her own as a 14 year-old and had some experiences that definitely created a sense of adventure and strength in her that meant that she was able to have that type of relationship with Steve. So for me it always, I always like to map out who a person is and never leave anything to chance. No stone unturned, I suppose. With The Reader it was very, very hard doing that type of research, you know as you would imagine anyone who has seen holocaust images, you know you can never unseen any of that stuff. And actually I’m slightly working on something now where I’m revisiting a lot of those images and it’s really, yeah, I mean it’s just awful. But I do try and be very thorough because then I know that I’m ready, even if I don’t need half of it, even if I don’t need all of it I will feel, it makes me feel more confident. And I really do believe that so much of acting is confidence, and a lot of it is skill along the way, but you know I didn’t start out with much of that, and confidence really is key. So I would say anything that you can do, always do fill that space and make yourself, trick yourself, mind-fuck yourself into feeling confident you know, it definitely makes a difference for sure.
BH: Question down here and then one up here.
Q: Good evening. I think a while ago you said that, not now but in a few years time you might do a play in the West End, which would be fantastic. But also it made me wonder about you going to the theatre as an audience-member, what sort of plays do you like? Maybe what have you seen recently, if you could choose one particular one and tell us why you really enjoyed it.
KW: Well, I would love to do theatre, to answer the first part of your question; I would really love to do theatre. And I’m constantly saying, “Okay well maybe I could do a short run of you know something”, and then we all kind of go off in a flurry and try and find something that might work, but I still come back to the same thing which is…
BH: Why hasn’t it worked up until now?
KW: Really honestly, it’s because I have a family. And you know at least when you’re filming you know, just to sort of dispel a myth for a second, I don’t go off and leave everyone behind. You know we somehow make it all work and everyone stays together as a little group because otherwise I would just be, I would actually would not do it, I’d rather just stay at home and make banana bread, which a lot of people in this room know is true of me. But I honestly can’t make peace with not having weekends, which you don’t when you do a play, and never being at home for bedtime. You know I just, I, for weeks and weeks on end I just find that really hard. At least with filming there are some days when you’re not in, you know it’s a Monday to Friday week, and okay the hours might be incredibly long but you really do get your weekends, sometimes you might have a slightly later call. And so to be honest up until now that’s really why. And in terms of a play, I actually haven’t seen anything for a while; I’ve been very busy this year in particular. But a play that I love and that I would love to see done again some time soon, someone tell me if it’s on, but I absolutely love The Crucible, I really, really love The Crucible. I did it for drama GCSE actually and I was just, I was so obsessed with it, and I remember trying very hard to see any production of it that I possibly could and hoping that one day I might be able to play Abigail, and then actually not very long ago I suddenly went, “Oh no, I’d have to play Elizabeth now, wouldn’t I? Okay, that moment passed.”
BH: A question up here.
Q: Thank you so much for coming. My question was sort of already asked; it’s about preparation so I’ll nuance it a bit. How has your preparation changed from receiving a script to getting onto set, and also to add to that question, how do you pull yourself back into it if ever you feel like things aren’t going right? How do you touch in and be present and create the magic that you so frequently create on screen?
KW: God, is it magic? Oh my God. So, what was the first part of the question about the preparation?
Q: So how has it changed, how does it change from script to script, and how has it changed over the years?
KW: Well it’s really, yeah, so definitely preparation is, like with The Reader, for example, you know there really was a huge amount of prep to do, which was largely because I was so terrified of playing that I part. I thought, my God, I’ve just got to be ready, I’ve just got to do it all and then if I need none of it, it doesn’t matter. One thing I definitely remember learning quite early on after having done Heavenly Creatures and, did I do Sense and Sensibility before I did Jude? Yes I did. So you know there was a lot of prep for Heavenly Creatures, transcripts of the trial, all that great stuff, reading the diaries and total immersion really. And then, I think because of that, I sort of kept trying to apply the same rule to everything. And actually you can’t, that’s not right. And so you know Eternal Sunshine, apart from deciphering the script, you know it was very important really not to be preparing, instead staying quite loose and being sort of malleable and mouldable for the director, and also being able to improvise. You know that’s the other thing too, when you learn something so well it’s very, very hard to you know shake it, and you know I’m very aware of not forming habits, which I’m sure I probably have done, but I try very hard not to. So yeah, so it is different from one film to another for sure, absolutely.
KW: Sorry, okay. Sorry, I actually can’t remember the second part of your question, I’m sorry.
Q: Hi, I am curious, because me and my friends have so many different ways of learning lines between us, like when you get a feature film, which I will get one day.
KW: And you will. And you will.
Q: How do you start with that many pages?
KW: Well I find, first of all you have to just calm down. You have to kind of say, “Okay, calm down here. I can do this. I can do this.” And you know what, at the end of the day you have to, you just have to. So first of all, no panic and no fuss, you just know that you’ve got to get on with it and be quite practical about it. And so I honestly, how do I do it actually, what do I do? I think I read it over and over again, several times in quite quick succession, so that the story really starts to become very clear to me. And then I’m often doing a dialect, so sometimes just the repetition of getting the dialect in really helps in terms of learning lines. With Steve Jobs it was helped massively by the fact that we had a huge rehearsal period. None of us really knew our lines on day one of rehearsal, and when you do it so many times. So I suppose that’s it really, it’s just keep doing it. But my daughter has a brilliant thing where she records lines for plays and things at school, she’ll record herself doing both parts, and then listening to it back over and over again. And actually with dialects I find that I do the same thing myself with my own voice. So that’s another quite good trick, but you know it’s kind of whatever works for you. I mean definitely, you know I think seeing the thing as a whole is just extremely daunting, so breaking it down, you know you can break it down into 16 or 20-page chunks and learn it that way round. But with a film, more often than not, you don’t have to learn the whole thing right at the very beginning. I mean I’m definitely pretty familiar with the whole thing by the time we start, but I would always, you know on a Saturday or a Sunday I go through all the scenes that are coming up during that week and just make sure that I’m ready, make sure I know everything, and then I’m always recapping all the time, all the time, all the time, yeah.
BH: We have time for one more question. You Sir, it better be good. Oh, Madam. He moved the mic, that wasn’t me.
Q: I’m sorry; I come from France so sorry for my English.
KW: Stop apologising right there.
Q: I would like to know if you have started to learn French?
KW: No, I know. And my son got 36 out of 36 in a French test today, can I just say.
And that puts me to shame. So no. I could order for you in a restaurant possibly. But this year, next year that is, I’m going to do it. I am.
BH: Kate, right at the beginning you talked about not being particularly confident in the first performance that you gave. Now, all those films later, do you recognise when you’ve done something good? I’m thinking specifically of Steve Jobs in fact, which I think is the most incredible performance. Do you look at yourself and think, “Okay, that time. I got it that time”?
KW: Maybe. Maybe occasionally sometimes sort of.
BH: So you have a favourite among them all?
KW: A favourite character?
BH: Well yeah, a favourite role. A favourite performance you’ve given.
KW: I am quite proud of The Reader, because it was just so flipping hard, it really, yeah. And I remember I got, and I’m not a fan of this, but I got very thin making the film. I remember turning up to Cornwall, do you remember mum, I turned up after I finished filming and I walked down the lane and mum went, “Oh my God.” And really, I really had shrunk, and I hadn’t even noticed. It just, it was a properly you know stressful, all-consuming you know sometimes quite unpleasant experience playing that part. So probably, just because it was so difficult, I’d probably have to say that one, yeah.
BH: Well I’m sorry to take you back to that grueling time, but Kate is has been so wonderful. Thank you so much. Kate Winslet.
KW: Thank you very much, thank you.