The actress clung greedily to the emotional powder keg of a screenplay until Mendes, slightly gun-shy after having covered similar ground with his 1999 Oscar winner "American Beauty," signed on and DiCaprio came aboard. The Golden Globe-nominated result, dubbed "blistering" and "brutally unnerving" by critics, features shouting matches of such intense fury, it will likely leave stunned Titanic fans pining for the days of spitting tutorials.
As the interview continues, the two gently steer inquiries away from the doomed cruise liner of their youth and toward the sinking lifeboat of a relationship drama sailing into theaters now.
An admittedly not-very-original observation is proffered that if Titanic was the ultimate romantic tragedy, Revolutionary Road is the ultimate anti-romantic tragedy.
Winslet, anticipating the worst, decides to stop such nonsense from escalating by revealing how she and DiCaprio would entertain themselves on the set of their current movie.
"Leo and I would play this silly game of 'Guess the press questions,' " she says, knowing that awkward comparisons between their two films are inevitable. "We would do versions of the questions and versions of the answers between ourselves."
She would rather not strain to pit the escapist fantasy of Titanic against the devastating reality of "Revolutionary Road." "They are two completely different stories and, in our minds, they are totally separate. The relationships between Jack and Rose and Frank and April literally bear no comparison whatsoever."
Too bad. We really did want them to rate the comfort level of "Revolutionary Road's" lusty kitchen-counter quickie vs. Titanic's steamy grappling in the vintage Renault. But when it comes to praising the quality of each other's work, neither has any qualms.
Winslet, given to passionate monologues, starts right in. "The thing that I felt that Leo did absolutely brilliantly and was able to embrace, because he's such a (expletive) incredible actor …"
"Thank you, honey," DiCaprio interrupts with a whisper.
"It's true," she insists, before continuing. "I remember Leo turning to me and saying, 'You know what I love about this guy? He is so weak.' A lot of actors would have said, 'Well, he seems a little bit of a (wimp) here, can we take a little bit of that edge off?' Leo really relished the fact that this man expressed every single side of himself and he was unafraid to do that."
It's his turn to gush. "I can't name another actress who would have been able to convey the complexity of April. You go too far to one extreme and the woman seems like an absolutely insane housewife, and not somebody who feels trapped within her own surroundings and feels unsatisfied. Who is actually a heroic character because she is willing to sacrifice everything to live the life she wants to live. Kate brilliantly navigated her way through all that."
That it is these particular actors playing these often disagreeable characters does make it easier for the audience to give a hoot about the Wheelers, especially those once-teen girls who repeatedly went to Titanic for a Leo fix.
As DiCaprio notes: "I think there could be a certain disjointedness for the younger generation. They might not understand the confines of the time period. Here we are, white people in the suburbs, talking about our problems."