A 'Revolutionary Road' for 'Titanic' Friends DiCaprio, Winslet

The "Titanic" couple reunites in potential Oscar nominee "Revolutionary Road."

Dec. 24, 2008 — -- He sweetly pours cream into her coffee without being asked.

She casually touches his knee in mid-conversation.

He's exceedingly polite, likes to fortify himself with caffeine and wears Nikes.

She'll drop the occasional F-word, rolls her own smokes and prefers spike-heeled boots.

Oh, those rosy-cheeked "Titanic" kids, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Shipmates for life. How ironic that, as children, they began acting in commercials for products that naturally go together — he for milk, she for cereal. Now they are all grown up and ready to confront perilous waters of the marital kind in "Revolutionary Road," opening Friday.

It seems destined that they would reunite on the big screen. Survivors of history-altering events do tend to remain emotionally tethered. Especially if an over-budget cinematic disaster in the making manages to instead shatter box-office records (still king of the world at $1.8 billion), tie for the most Academy Award wins with 11 and catapult its stars to privacy-depleting fame.

The pair have squeezed in a lot of living into the decade or so since their careers exploded. Winslet, 33, has had two children (Mia, 8, and Joe, who turned 5 Monday), one divorce and a model marriage of five years to director and fellow Brit Sam Mendes. DiCaprio, 34, continues to enjoy his bachelorhood with regular upgrades in supermodel girlfriends and has grown into an avid eco-activist.

They have remained best-friend close, both following paths away from "Titanic"-sized blockbusters and toward challenging if not necessarily commercial fare with esteemed directors.

DiCaprio was once considered for pal Tobey Maguire's "Spider-Man" role but has ended up hitching his professional wagon to a guy named Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York," "The Aviator," "The Departed") while raising his Oscar-nomination ante to three.

Winslet turned down both "Anna and the King" (a flop for Jodie Foster) and "Shakespeare in Love" (a winner for Gwyneth Paltrow) to do "Hideous Kinky" and hasn't flinched from veering off the beaten path since, racking up five Oscar nominations in the bargain.

"To be honest, I think that's kind of who we always were," DiCaprio says about their uncompromising natures. "If anything, doing Titanic was very much a departure for both of us. It was an attempt to do something different from the string of very independent films that we had done up until that point."

Winslet says they regularly solicit each other's opinions on work choices. "In fact, I don't really talk to anybody apart from Leo about what I am thinking of doing. Including Sam sometimes, actually."

In the meantime, both had been seeking the right vehicle for a second collaboration. Main requirement: something that did not involve an iceberg and a seagoing vessel.

"We were very aware that if we were to work together again, it would have to be a specific type of project," DiCaprio says. "And it couldn't tread whatsoever on any similar territory."

Winslet was given the script for "Revolutionary Road" by her agent about four years ago. It was based on a 1961 cult novel about a "golden" couple known as the Wheelers, disillusioned Frank and desperate April, adrift in '50s suburbia. Hailed as a masterpiece among literary types, the book would set the standard for all the savagery of post-war domesticity that would follow.

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."

Prettier people do make for prettier problems, though. There are several stunning shots, especially during the opening scenes when they first meet, in which DiCaprio and Winslet seem to have stepped out of one of the era's Douglas Sirk melodramas, flush with Technicolor allure.

Dark and dashing. Blond and sleek. They are the very essence of masculine and feminine. If Frank and April aren't quite as special as those in their idolizing circle would believe, the actors who play them certainly don't disappoint.

Kathy Bates, Titanic's Unsinkable Molly Brown who once more is entangled in the pair's affairs, this time as a nosy real estate agent, acknowledges the impact of seeing Leo and Kate together again: "It was just a thrill. It was sort of like the animal wrangler brought these two rare white tigers on the set. You were fascinated and wanted to watch them every minute, but you weren't allowed to pet them. It just raised every element of the working experience."

Winslet, never one to indulge any vanity onscreen, cares not a whit about all that. She prefers their haggard looks when everything starts going to hell.

"It was important to Sam that the story would largely be told in close-up," she says. "So you could see every single scar, every single mark, every wrinkle on everyone's face. Particularly, Frank and April. So you don't feel as an audience alienated by that sort of '50s glossy image."

Still, they can't help but exude old-fashioned movie-star glamour even under the most harrowing of circumstances.

"I would have to be clinically insane not to want to direct these two people in these two roles," Mendes says. "I'm on record as saying that I love the fact that an American audience brings an existing relationship to bear on an actor's performance. I like that when you see Paul Newman in a movie, you're not just seeing Paul Newman, but you are seeing Hud, Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie and Cool Hand Luke. Actors are the sum of everything they bring to the screen."

He sensed their pasts resonating as they inhabited Frank and April. "That is what is so exciting about Leo. You remember that boy. He still has the vulnerability and beauty of that child in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Kate has that same thing. She somehow retains that little girl, that innocence and naïveté. And that sense of play, no matter however serious she gets."

Once they stop doing their sell job on "Revolutionary Road," the Kate and Leo show can be quite amusing. When asked to name his favorite movie of hers, DiCaprio instead fears he has been asked to relate an anecdote.

"Please don't make me give an anecdote," he protests. "I'm terrible at those. 'Tell me something that happened on the set.' My mind just goes —" (He makes a noise that sounds like an appliance on the fritz.)

"I remember everything," Winslet brags. "You do," DiCaprio confirms.

"You know I do," she adds for emphasis. "I remember (expletive) everything. So many Titanic stories I won't tell."

Once assured that only a movie title is required, he says, "I really love her in —" (he imitates a drum roll) "'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.' It's a different side of Kate in that movie. That element of you nobody really knows about."

For her pick, she considers "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "The Basketball Diaries," but then she decides to go with something recent: "You were incredible in 'The Departed.' So laser-like focused. You seriously delivered every single moment. It was bloody difficult to play, and I was blown away by it."

Now that they have No. 2 under their belts, will they consider teaming up a third time?

DiCaprio: "I don't know, dahling. Shall we?"

Winslet: "Maybe we should just do something when we are really old and disgusting. Total has-beens. You know, 'Oh, there they are again. Bless them.' "

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