February 2

Movies: Recent Kate Winslet roles draw on a deep well of motherhood

The actress, who gave birth to her third child in December, has the life experience to relate to the moms in her movies.

By Jake Coyle
The Associated Press

TORONTO — Before a reporter has barely entered the room, Kate Winslet has defused any formality. After shedding her heels, she announces her exasperation about actors (especially herself) talking about themselves.

click image to enlarge

Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith and Josh Brolin in “Labor Day.”

Paramount Pictures

PREVIEW

“LABOR DAY,” starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith and Tobey Maguire. Written and directed by Jason Reitman. A Paramount release. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality. Running time: 1:45

“Don’t you find yourself nodding off and going, ‘Here they go again’?” she asks. “I know that I love my job. I (expletive) hate talking about how much I love my job because how can you talk about that without sounding really indulgent?”

She may be a regular honoree at awards shows and a constant presence in prestigious projects from “Sense and Sensibility” to “The Reader.” But Winslet, who grew up in a large, working-class family outside London, has an uncommon candor and easy uninhibitedness that has made her both an engagingly down-to-earth personality and a naturalistic actress with quick access to deep emotions.

Winslet was seven-months pregnant at an interview last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she debuted “Labor Day,” a Jason Reitman-directed drama that opened in theaters Friday. In December, she gave birth to a boy, her third child and first with her third husband, Ned Rocknroll, the nephew of billionaire Richard Branson. (Winslet has a child with each previous husband, Sam Mendes and Jim Threapleton.)

Parenthood was a particularly obvious conversation subject for Winslet, not just because she was pregnant at the time, but because she has recently strung together a series of memorable, varied portraits of motherhood. It’s no coincidence, she says.

“I have been a parent since I was 25,” says the 38-year-old Winslet. “That’s a large chunk of my adult life. Mother or father, it transforms you completely.”

In “Labor Day,” based on the Joyce Maynard novel, she plays a single mom, Adele, with a 13-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith) in a small New England town. An escaped convict (Josh Brolin) upends their domestic life when he kidnaps them and hides out at their house. But it’s not terror that follows: The convict is a gentle, welcome presence in a home that has lacked for a man. Left by her husband after several miscarriages, Adele had turned into a virtual shut-in, but is slowly awakened again by an unlikely love.

It’s a clear career pivot toward drama for Reitman. But he also sees a commonality in a tale of a kind-hearted convict following films about a big-tobacco lobbyist (“Thank You for Smoking”), a pregnant teenager (“Juno”) and a guy who fires people for a living (“Up in the Air”). “These apparently are my heroes,” he says.

Reitman wrote the screenplay from Maynard’s novel with Winslet specifically in mind, and waited a year for her schedule to open up. (He filled the gap with “Young Adult.”)

“I don’t know another actress who knows how to deal with this kind of brokenness and vulnerability and make it so sensual,” says Reitman. “There’re a lot of actresses who can play broken people, but she does it without judging them. She does them and allows them to bloom at the same time.”

Though playing a mother in movies often means being relegated to the outskirts of the drama, Winslet’s characters have had lives that aren’t defined solely by children, but remain passionate, complicated individuals.

In “Little Children,” she played an unhappy stay-at-home suburban mom drawn to a neighborhood father. “Revolutionary Road,” too, dealt with a loveless marriage in the suburbs, with a kid on the way. The play-adaptation “Carnage” presented a pair of Brooklyn parents arguing over their sons’ schoolyard fight, an evening that steadily dissolves into chaos. (The parents are no better, or are perhaps even worse, than the children.)

But the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” was Winslet’s greatest examination of motherhood. She played a striving, Depression-era woman separated from her husband and heartbroken by a spoiled teenager daughter.

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