"She was an S.S. guard. You know, she contributed to some of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. So I can't say that I liked her, no," Winslet said. "I do think it is crucial as an actor to understand the role that you're playing, really, and to empathize with them and the choices that they do or they don't make."
When asked if she thought her character was evil, Winslet replied, "She was a normal person who did evil things. And in a way, I think that's almost different. You know, one of the things in researching the film and getting ready for it and to play Hannah that I discovered [was] ... the Holocaust was created by ordinary people."
As for criticism that Hannah is too sympathetic, Winslet said, "We certainly weren't asking for sympathy, not at all.
"I can absolutely understand anyone having whatever reaction they should choose to have to this film," she said. "First of all, you can't make an audience feel one thing or another. You just can't do it. It's not -- you know, it's not what the job is about. The job is about telling a story and telling the truth."
Remarkably, Winslet plays Hannah over a 35-year span. While her young lover, Michael, is played first by an 18-year-old German actor, David Kross, and then by Ralph Fiennes, Winslet plays Hannah throughout. It is a stunning transformation for which Winslet credits her hair and makeup artists. It was a seven-hour process, but a fascinating one, she says.
"It was exhausting," she said. "But I cannot tell you how much I loved that process. I loved it. I loved seeing the changes as it would go. I would never tire of it at all."
In the film, Winslet's middle-aged character has a love affair with a teenage boy, and she says that she never "found it weird."
"I just thought it was the most mesmerizing love story, because it is, and they do love each other. They do. You know, there's nothing predatory or sort of unsavory about it, because you do, you do really believe that these two people -- they need each other in some way."
She added that the actor who played Hannah's lover was 18 at the time, and said that a relationship she once had with a man who was 12 years her senior informed her work in the film.
"That was and will remain one of the greatest loves of my life," she said. "So, it was -- to me, it was always very genuine. It was a very genuine relationship, and with that level of love does come intimacy, and there were some very difficult scenes to shoot."
Winslet has said in the past that she no longer intended to do nude scenes in films, but decided it was important for this role, though she confesses it was nerve wracking.
"I knew that I had to be the cool, calm stewardess for [co-star Kross]. I had to be like, it's fine, it's fine, I promise you, don't worry about a thing," she said. "The hardest thing, I think, about doing a thing of that nature, where you're extremely naked, is it's acting. And there is so much acting that we have to do just emotionally between the two of us in those scenes, but if you are afraid, you can't really do it anymore. You can't."