Twenty years after her role in the blockbuster Titanic, renowned British actress Kate Winslet still knows how to steal our hearts. But how did she land the part and what has she done since?
Kate Winslet: the Road to Titanic
Kate Elizabeth Winslet was born in Reading, Berkshire on October 5th, 1975. Both her grandparents were actors and her two sisters, Anna and Beth, also pursued acting careers.
When she was 11, she entered the Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead, which also took on the role of agency and sought parts for their young wards. Her first role was in a Sugar Puffs commercial. She also dubbed children’s parts for foreign films, took part in school productions and played children’s parts in the Starmaker Theatre Company, which had a cooperation agreement with Redroofs.
In 1991, she landed one of the main roles in Russel T. Davies’ Dark Season, a sci-fi series that aired on BBCOne. There she played Reet, a young girl who, with two of her friends, uncovers a sinister plot by a company distributing free computers in the school.
Unfortunately, the job did not pay much and she had to leave Redroofs at 16. There followed a series of small roles, from the television film Anglo-Saxon Attitudes in 1992 to the sitcom Get Back (1992-1993).
Kate Winslet’s Move to the Big Screen
In 1994 she landed a part in the New Zealand-based production Heavenly Creatures, directed by Peter Jackson. There she plays Juliet Hulme, a girl who helps her friend murder her mother. Her performance was well-received critically, though Winslet was psychologically much affected by the role.
Sense and Sensibility
While promoting Heavenly Creatures, she auditioned for the part of Lucy Steele in Emma Thompson’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility. She had originally wanted to audition for the second leading role, Marianne Dashwood, a somewhat reckless young girl who learns that Romance needs to be peppered with a dash of sense. However, director Ang Lee had not liked her performance in Heavenly Creatures, so she showed up for the audition for a secondary part but pretended she thought it was still for Marianne. She was hired on the spot.
Though it was love at first sight (or so she thought) for the younger Dashwood sister, her first love, rakehell John Willoughby (played by Greg Wise) soon drops her in favour of a rich heiress. Marianne must learn to overcome her sensibility and depression to find that love can also come from calmer, more sedate places - for example, in the form of an older man such as Colonel Brandon (played by Alan Rickman).
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Once more, her acting was widely praised and she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the Oscars and the Golden Globe Awards and won the awards in that category for the Screen Actor’s Guild and the BAFTA.
1996: The Return of the Period Drama
Two period pieces that came out in 1996 featured Kate Winslet:
- Jude, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure. Winslet played opposite Christopher Eccleston of Doctor Who fame as the title character’s cousin, a suffragette who falls in love with Jude.
- Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where she plays the role of the doomed Ophelia.
Titanic: Kate Winslet’s Iconic Role
It is said that, although director James Cameron was considering more established movie stars such as Claire Danes, Winona Ryder, Reese Witherspoon or Gwyneth Paltrow for the main character of Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic, Kate Winslet was so insistent that she was Rose that Cameron was finally convinced to cast her.
The film recounts a love story aboard the doomed ocean liner Titanic, using the historical background and the great divide between the first and third-class passengers to tell a tale of love and social inequality.
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Rose comes aboard the Titanic with her mother and her fiancée Cal Hockley. Disillusioned with her life, she contemplates suicide but is dissuaded by Jack Dawson (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), an artist who had won his tickets in a poker game. Her fiancée seems indifferent to her plight, but at her suggestion invites Jack to dine with them first class as thanks for saving her life. After the stuffy formality of that dinner, Rose discovers a new joie de vivre in an impromptu party down below decks.
The two enter a relationship. When Cal discovers the necklace he had given Rose for their engagement - a precious piece with a rare diamond called the Heart of the Ocean - next to a nude drawing Jack had done of her, he chases the two throughout the already sinking ship, trapping Jack belowdecks. By the time Jack manages to escape to the upper decks, all the lifeboats have gone. Rose, realising she couldn’t be separated from Jack, abandons her place on a lifeboat and they await rescue together in the freezing water.
Only Rose survives. She takes on Jack’s name, calling herself Rose Dawson and living the adventurous life she had always dreamed of in memory of her dead love.
The story on board the Titanic is framed by that of an oceanic research ship, where a man called Brock Lovett is searching for the Heart of the Ocean in the wreckage of the Titanic. After finding the drawing of Rose - which has survived in the silt in its leather folder - he brings Rose, now an old woman, aboard to hear her account of events. At the end of the film, we realise that Rose still has the diamond - which she surreptitiously drops into the ocean at the wreckage site.
Titanic was the highest-grossing film of all time, a title that wasn’t superceded until James Cameron’s Avatar hit the screens. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet became international stars and Jack and Rose are considered among the most iconic star-crossed lovers in film history.
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Kate Winslet: Away from Stardom
After Titanic, Kate Winslet turned down several potential blockbusters such as Shakespeare in Love and Anna and the King, choosing instead to focus on smaller-budget independent films.
- Hideous Kinky (1998), in which she plays a single mother trying to find her way in 1970s Morocco.
- Holy Smoke! (1999) Winslet starred as Ruth Baron, an Australian woman who visits India and joins a religious cult.
- Quills (2000) is a biopic on the life of the Marquis de Sade, starring Geoffrey Rush and Joaquin Phoenix. Co-star Winslet plays a laundress in a mental asylum.
Though he is well-known for his part as a psychopathic killer, Sir Anthony Hopkins did not play in Quills.
The Two Thousands for Kate Winslet
The 2001 espionage thriller Enigma was adapted from the book by Robert Harris and details the life of codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. Though generally acclaimed for its filmography, it has been criticised for failing to mention the contribution of either Alan Turing or the Polish cryptographers in deciphering the code used to encrypt the Enigma machines.
Winslet played Hester Wallace, a fictitious code-breaker.
Kate Winslet received her third Oscar nomination along with a BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of young novelist Iris Murdoch. She shared the role with Judi Dench, who played the novelist later in life. She prepared by reading Murdoch’s novels and her husband’s memoir.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
In this science fiction film starring Kate alongside Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson, she plays Clementine, a woman who, after having all memories of her boyfriend erased, meets him and falls for him again.
She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Eternal Sunshine is considered one of the best movies of the 21st century.
Finding Neverland is about the author of Peter Pan, J.M.Barrie - played by Johnny Depp - and his relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys. Kate Winslet plays the boys’ mother.
Recent Films With Kate Winslet
Winslet returned to the small screen with the British comedy Extras, starring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, in which she played an actress desperate to win an Oscar.
Various more recent films:
- Romance & Cigarettes in 2005, a musical comedy where she sang and danced.
- All the King’s Men, starring Sean Penn and Jude Law, plays in Louisiana in the 1940s.
- Little Children, based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, in which she plays Sarah Pierce, a housewife who starts an affair with her neighbour. She received her fifth Oscar nomination and won in the category Best Actress.
2008: Revolutionary Road and The Reader
Kate Winslet had read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and recommended an adaptation to her then-husband, Sam Mendes. She reunited with her old co-star DiCaprio as a 1950s couple in suburban America. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were both praised for their performance. Winslet won a Golden Globe for her role.
After turning down The Reader, a film about an illiterate concentration camp guard who has an affair with a teenager she brings in to read to her, her replacement Nicole Kidman became pregnant and Winslet got the role after all. The film was quite controversial, as having a Nazi in the main role offended many. She won yet another Golden Globe, an Academy Award and the BAFTA award for Best Actress.
After a two-year hiatus to escape media attention and focus more on her children, she came back to acting in 2011 as overprotective mother Mildred Pierce, a hardworking Depression-era woman trying to survive without her husband and earning her spoiled daughter’s respect, in the eponymous HBO mini-series. This earned her yet another Golden Globe as well as an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress and a SAG award.
Yet another Golden Globe nomination was for Carnage in 2011, where she starred next to Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz.
The Return: Take Two
After another hiatus, she starred in Labor Day, a film about a single mother who falls for an escaped convict. In the 2014 sci-fi movie Divergent, an adaptation of a Young Adult dystopian novel, she took a leaf out of actor Gary Oldman's book and plays a villain as the head of an authoritarian regime. Despite lukewarm reviews, she returned for the sequel Insurgent.
In 2015, she took on the starring role in the Australian film The Dressmaker, as a seamstress accused of murder who returns to her hometown years later. She won an AACTA Award for Best Actress.
Another project to come out in 2015 was a biopic on Steve Jobs with Michael Fassbender in the title role. She played Joanna Hoffman, marketing chief of Apple. She won yet another Golden Globe and BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for the Academy Awards for the seventh time.
Recent films include Triple 9 (2016), Collateral Beauty (2016, alongside Will Smith), The Mountain Between Us and Wonder Wheel in 2017.
Kate Winslet was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012.
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