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Hey, Boys and Girls, lucky cineastes are treated to a Kate Winslet bonanza this month with the dramastic double-shot of The Reader and Revolutionary Road.  The very fabulous, very cool Ms. Winslet, for whom we unabashedly Stan, was kind enough to grace us with chat about The Reader, being back in the saddle with Leonardo DiCaprio, Sam Mendes' jealousy (- or lack thereof), being naked with 18-year-old David Kross, dirty Extras talk and saggy bits.

Dig it

 

The Reader

Kate Winslet

 

The Lady Miz Diva: Getting the role of Hanna in The Reader has been a roller coaster ride for you.

Kate Winslet:  Oh God, it was.

 

LMD:  How did this all even begin?  How did Hanna first come to your attention?

KW:  The role, the character, the novel first came to my attention six years ago, when I was pregnant with our son, Joe.  I read the book and I was 27 at the time and I was absolutely gripped and compelled and ultimately devastated by the novel and immediately thought, ‘Oh well, someone must be making this into a movie.  Gosh, I wonder who’s going to play Hanna Schmitz?’  I never, ever, ever thought of myself because I felt I was 27, and 27 and 32, to me that seemed like such a big gap.  And so, years later in April of 2007, when Stephen wanted to talk to me about this I was so shocked, because my immediate thing was, ‘Well, hang on I can’t play that part, I’m too young.’  I went, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute I am that character’s age now, wow, my God, okay.’  And then knew that I wanted to play the part absolutely 100%, but logistically, I couldn’t do it, logistics got in the way.  The shoot was going to coincide with some of the shooting of Revolutionary Road and we just couldn’t figure it out.  So, then it became Nicole Kidman’s part, and then Nicole became unavailable due to her pregnancy.  The schedule had shifted somewhat and the role opened up for me again and I just felt so lucky and amazed and blessed that that happened.  It was a remarkable year for me from sort of May of 2007 until May, June, July of this year.  I played April Wheeler and Hanna Schmitz and I’m absolutely exhausted.

 

LMD:  Just a little bit tired?

KW:  {Laughs} I am absolutely exhausted as a consequence.  But, yeah, you know… I can put one foot in front of the other, sort of. {Laughs}  Yeah, it has been amazing.  To say that it’s been the most creatively rewarding 18 months of my life would really be an understatement.  It’s just been unbelievable.  Here I am at the age of 33, and the roles I’m being offered are being offered are getting more and more interesting and more and more challenging, and as an actor that’s really a dream.

 

LMD:  Who was more challenging, April or Hanna?

KW:  They both were.  I mean, they honestly both were for a variety of extremely different reasons.  They both were.

 

TDR:  We need to ask about your bit on Extras.

KW:  Dun-Dun-Duunnnn…  You need to ask me? You need to do that, really? {Laughs}

 

TDR:  The joke was that you say to Ricky Gervais’ character you needed to do a Holocaust movie to win an Oscar. How funny would it be if you won for The Reader?

KW:  Oh, brother… it would be funny.

 

TDR:  Would you thank Ricky?

KW:  {Laughs} No, he had nothing to do with the making of The Reader!  It hasn’t occurred to me, quite honestly.  And it was really midway through shooting the film someone mentioned this to me and I really went, “Oh, yeah!  Oh my God, oh God, yes, of course.”  The thing is for me this was never a Holocaust movie to me.  It isn’t, it’s part of the story and provides something of the backdrop, sets the scene.  But to me, it was always an extraordinarily unconventional love story between two people who were very different as people because of the age gap and because of Hanna’s two secrets; one being that she was an SS Guard and the other being that she’s illiterate.  So, that’s always what it was for me, that’s why it didn’t automatically occur to me.

 

TDR:  Did you use some of the dirty talk you used with Ricky Gervais with David to loosen the tension of your sex scenes?

KW:  No. No. No, I didn’t

 

LMD:  I asked David Kross about your love scenes and he said you made him comfortable with a lot of joking.

KW:  Well, no, there was no joking around, absolutely not, but we would laugh at how ridiculous the situation sometimes seems to be.  I would turn to him and I would say, “Oh hi, and you are? I’m Kate it’s very nice to meet you.  Sorry, how long have we known each other?  Oh, that’s right, about three weeks.”  You have moments of breaking the weirdness, you know?  It’s a weird thing for an actor to have to do and the most important thing for an actor is keeping a sense of humour about it, and remembering that what’s important is not what your body looks like, but conveying the emotions that are shared between those two people in those very intimate moments, which I always thought were very tender and very honest and genuine. 

It was wonderful for me to watch David relax, literally, as each minute would pass.  I could see him thinking, ‘It’s not so bad.  Kate said it wasn’t going to be that bad and yeah, she was right.  I’m fine with this.’  And the truth is, he didn’t need very much looking after.  You know, I was absolutely there for him; I talked him through it all, I said, “Look, this is what’s going to happen.  This is how many people will be in the room.”  You know, really just explaining those things to him, cos I think as a younger actor, knowing this just from my own very specific experiences, it’s the elements of the unknown about scenes like that that are way worse than the reality.  So, just to turn round to David and say, “There’s gonna be about three people in the room,” I mean, literally I saw the world fall away from his shoulders {Laughs}.  He was like “*Gasp* Really?”  I said, ‘Yeah, what did you expect?”  “*Imitates Kross’s German accent* Well, I just thought it would be the whole crew….”  I said, “Oh, my good LORD, no, they’ll be way outside; you’re not gonna see them for a week.”  And having had those experiences as a young actor, I was very happy to share them with David cos I knew it would be important for him to know that I had been there, too.  I wanted him to be able to benefit from the knowledge that I had gained about feeling uncomfortable as an actor and how to deal with it, but as I said, he actually didn’t need that much looking after.  You know, he’s not a kid, he’s not a baby, he’s not a child, he’s a young man, he’s 18 years old.  You know he’s older than I was when I shot Heavenly Creatures at the age of 17 in New Zealand all by myself for 4 months.   I think he’s considerably more sophisticated and mature than I was at that age.  So, he didn’t need a huge amount of hand-holding.

 

TDR: About your other release, Revolutionary Road what was it like to have worked with your husband, director Sam Mendes for the first time?  Was it odd for him to direct you and Leonardo DiCaprio in love scenes?

KW:   I was so excited to work with Sam for the first time, I just could not wait.  I could not wait.  And to be reunited with Leo, it was just such a dream, you know?  And for Sam to work with the both of us together knowing that we have this friendship, this trust and this history that predates my relationship with Sam, even, he knew that was going to benefit our portrayal of those two people.  My husband is not a jealous person in any way and he literally let Leo and I go and be Leo and I.  When we on set, I wasn’t standing at the monitor massaging my husband’s shoulders; I was in the corner running lines with Leo.  Sam always treated me like the actress playing April Wheeler, not his wife playing April Wheeler.  It was a very collaborative and professional environment.  It was really no different to any other movie set that I’ve been on; we were just able to benefit from these close relationships - my relationship with Leo and my relationship with Sam.  In fact, my relationship with Sam I completely abused in a way that he didn’t abuse it with me at all.  I would just grill him.  We’d get home from work and he’d be exhausted, flat on his back, just wanting to pass out.  And I’d be like, “No, no, but, just really quickly … So, tomorrow, when we shoot the Paris scene, I just have to say…”  And he would go, “Babe, babe, we will rehearse it tomorrow in the morning.  I promise, you’ll get to say all these things.”  “I know, I know, but let me just say them now, because I’ll lose my thing if I… I have to just say this.”  And he realised that he had to let me do that, because it ended up being a part of the process for me and was beneficial to all of us to have that level of openness and communication and trust was really a special and unique thing.

 

LMD:  The makeup that’s used to show your aging process in The Reader is outstanding…

KW:  I could not agree with you more! It was unbelievable. It was just unbelievable.

 

LMD:  It’s such a total immersion; I wondered what you did to not let the makeup do the acting for you.  How did you prepare for older Hanna?

KW:  You know, the makeup was unbelievable, and we all worked together as a team. That makeup was sort of designed by all of us together, myself, Ivana Primorac, Pauline {Fowler} and Matt {Smith} who worked from Animated Extras, a prosthetics company in England who made all those pieces.  It was a very painstaking and thorough process, because we knew it just had to look real.  We were determined to make it the best prosthetics ever seen on screen.  We also knew that because she gets older and gets saggier and kind of gets a little heavier, physically, we knew that couldn’t be just be like a bit of padding under the costumes and that was a prosthetic body suit that weighed 15 to 20 pounds.  And the amazing thing for me was when I would sit down, the breasts would move; there was a belly, there were thigh pieces, there was back fat, there was a small hump here where the top of the spine starts to go, and everybody contributed to these ideas.  I was the one saying, “You know, how as women get older and their butt kinda seems to get flatter and sort of wider, and their hips get bigger up here and the proportions sit so differently?” and everyone had something to contribute.  But in terms of the acting of those moments, quite honestly, I really just observed older people.  I really did, just a lot.  I would watch people in cafes, how they would stand up, even little things, like….  My favourite was watching people in cafes because the way they would stand like this *Kate Winslet imitates an elderly person rising from a seat* and do a sort of reaching for the handbag thing and the way they would then try and get around a chair.  It’s just not this *Gets up out of chair normally*, it’s just so completely different.  It was just about observing older people, it really was.

 

TDR:  Was working on this film a bit of a history lesson for you?

KW:  In terms of what I took away from the experience; I did the majority of my learning before getting there, but what I did take away was how people are still really struggling with this guilt.  How particularly young people, they’re really trying – like the seminar group in the movie - to come to terms with the horrific crimes of a previous generation. That was overwhelming to me.  It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere.  I mean, some of the German crew members just found it so hard, particularly the trial sequences, they just would sit there sometimes at the end of takes and just shake their heads and just, you know, you could see them thinking, ‘I’m so ashamed of my country. Why? Why?’  That was genuinely powerful and present and really overwhelming.

 

LMD:  What’s your take on Hanna?  Your director, Stephen Daldry called her “morally illiterate.”

KW:  Well she’s illiterate and morally illiterate and my take on her, I mean, you know, we don’t have three hours.  My job as the actress playing Hanna Schmitz, as the actress playing any part is to understand the character and to ultimately love that character and I did love Hanna, you know?  Absolutely. Because I understood her as profoundly as I did at the end of the day.  Did I sympathise with her, yes I did, but that doesn’t mean I sympathise with SS guards.  Not at all.  I don’t forgive her or… I’m not even going into that.  I just don’t forgive her.  But that’s what I love about the film, it’s not a story about forgiveness, it’s not a story about reconciliation, it’s a story about regret.  How you don’t choose who you fall in love with.  And yes, morally illiterate and some of the toughest scenes for me were the trial when you just watch this woman just stripped so bare, her vulnerability so apparent and her intellectual inability to literally understand what the hell is going on.  I mean, in these moments, you really see this woman for the first time in her life think, ‘Oh, so … ohh, so I shouldn’t have taken that job, then?  Is that what you’re trying to tell me?  Oh, I didn’t realise. Oh, so I was committing a crime then?  I wasn’t just doing my job?’  I mean, she just didn’t know and that was very, very difficult to play.  And it was a huge responsibility to get that particular sequence of scenes absolutely right.

 

TDR:  Can you talk about your preparation to play Hanna?  How did you understand her?

KW:  There were so many ways I could have come at this, and I thought, ‘Okay, which one do I choose?  I choose all, let’s just choose all and see where that takes me.’  Of course, I read and observed as much as could about the Holocaust which was incredibly difficult to do and there footage you will see that you can never unsee and things you read that you can never unread or unhear.  So at a certain point, I actually had to stop doing the Holocaust research.  Once I felt I understood the role of an SS Guard and read up as much as I could about that, I had to stop.  My focus was the book.  I can pretty much tell you what’s on page 109, I practically memorised it.  There’s so much that was given to me by Bernhard Schlink and his description of Hanna, both physically, emotionally and otherwise.  That was incredibly beneficial to me, but the most important part of this process was understanding the mind of an illiterate adult.  And so, I spent a lot of time with an organisation in New York City, the Literacy Partners and I sat in on incredible workshops with men and women who were learning to read and write for the first time in their life.  Now some of the youngest members of the group were 22, 23, some of the oldest members are 72, 73 and they’re just learning to read and write now.  There was one woman in particular, she just learned to read and write a couple of years ago, she’s 63 and she has a son who’s a well-educated 20-something, 30-something. She was very willing to talk to me about this process because she’s so proud of herself now and she’s so unashamed and she’d spent this life of shame living this lie and I needed to know how she was able to lie for that long; how it affected every other area in her life.  My instinct about Hanna was if she has very little, she is like a blind person; she must surely need everything in her world to be incredibly regimented and organised. That’s why she’s ironing all the time, that’s why everything has its place in her home. That’s why, even though she lives in this grubby little rented apartment, everything’s clean, you know it is.  These elements these little areas where she could control some part of her life so that she would know what’s going to happen next, that was very important to me.  My instinct was that Hanna had absolutely until meeting Michael Berg had never had a relationship.  The woman I spoke to confirmed that, she said “Oh relationships? Whooo… no, no, no, no.  Literally, if I was in a situation where the person I was with would present me something that I would have to read, I would say, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go now.’” and she would just end the relationship.  So, the understanding I was able to develop about what it feels like to be an illiterate person was very, very valuable to me in playing Hanna, and also just how good you get at lying, you know? I mean, this woman she said to me, because you don’t want people to know, you pretend that you blend in.  She said, “* In Southern accent* I would go to work, I would wear a very nice suit, I would make it myself, and I would press that suit before I would go to work, and I would eat in very fancy restaurants…” And I’d say, “Okay stop!  You would eat in fancy restaurants, how would you order from the menu?  How did you do that?” She said, “Oh honey, everybody has chicken! I would look at the menu, I turn to the waiter and I say, ‘I’ll have the chicken. What vegetables come with that today? Oh, that sounds good I’ll take some of that.”  That example was so helpful to me in the scene with Hanna and Michael, “You order, I’ll have what you have.”  I was really able to fill that moment because I knew what it felt like because I had been told.  That was some of the stuff that really got me through, really, really helped me.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 4th, 2008

 

Click here to read our our review of Miz Winslet's Revolutionary Road.

 

 

© 2006-2017 The Diva Review.com

 

Photos

Film stills courtesy of  The Weinstein Company

Exclusive candids by LMD

 

Director Stephen Daldry and co-star David Kross

Co-star Lena Olin

(It's Irina Derevko, y'all!)

Screenplay by David Hare

 

 

 

 

 

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