Kate Winslet: 'I Don't Want to Be the Most-Nominated Loser'

Oscar nominee opens up about awards season, telling the truth and being a mom.

February 3, 2009, 1:28 PM

Feb. 6, 2009— -- Kate Winslet, who has been nominated for an Oscar six times, says that she "knows what it feels like to lose," and would like to take home the golden statue one day.

"It would be nice to know what it feels like in that situation to win sometime," she told "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden when they sat down to talk in Burbank, Calif., earlier this week.

Winslet is nominated for best actress for her portrayal of Hannah Schmitz, a Nazi prison guard in the film "The Reader."

If she doesn't win this year, Winslet will hold the dubious honor of being the most-nominated non-winner.

"I don't really want to be the most-nominated loser, that doesn't kind of sound nice," she said.

"I'm tremendously lucky that in my life, I have received these nominations and got to play these extraordinary parts. But I think this year, more than any other year that I have been aware of, it feels very, very special," she said.

Fellow best actress nominee Meryl Streep said in a recent interview with "Nightline" that in some ways it's more difficult to be nominated and lose than not to be nominated at all. Winslet concurred.

"I would be inclined to believe anything that Meryl Streep says, quite frankly. Just period," Winslett said. "And I do think that is true. I mean, it is hard to lose, actually. ... But having been through it the times that I have done, I have known that I wasn't going to win on those occasions ... you can sort of feel it. You have a radar for it. But this year I would say I can't actually tell."

It has been an extraordinary year for the 33-year-old star. Not only was she nominated for the Oscar for her performance in "The Reader," she also starred in "Revolutionary Road," a film directed by her husband Sam Mendes and made with her "Titanic" co-star and friend, Leonardo DiCaprio. Winslet won Golden Globes for both performances, the first time an actress has won Golden Globes for both best actress and best supporting actress in the same year.

She was so startled to win, she said, that she had no remarks prepared. Her rambling and emotional remarks were widely criticized. Winslet says she was surprised by the reaction to her acceptance speech, which she called "unkind."

"I thought that people just reviewed the films. I didn't realize that they reviewed speeches, too," she said. "I really didn't think I was going to win and I was genuinely overwhelmed."

Asked if she had prepared an Oscar acceptance speech, just in case, Winslet said, "I haven't thought about it because there's so much else going on. ... So, I'm not quite at the point of, OK, if I won, what would I say? I haven't gotten there yet."

Winslet on 'The Reader': 'We Weren't Asking for Sympathy'

Winslet says she read "The Reader" in novel form years ago and was riveted by it, but when the role of Hannah Schmitz was offered to her she was reluctant.

"I can't do this. I mean, I really don't think I've got the stuff to do this. I don't have enough tools with which to play this part," she said.

But after researching the Holocaust and that period of history, she says she finally felt she was able to inhabit Hannah's isolated world. The love story helped her get through the difficult parts of the film, she said, and she feels she eventually came to "understand [Hannah] fully."

"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."

Winslet on Covers: 'We Don't Look Like This'

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."

Juggling Movies and Motherhood

Winslet has talked openly over the years about being, in her words, "a fat girl" when she was young, and her figure has often been a topic of conversation over the past decade. She says she's decided to embrace her own body, in part to set an example for her daughter, though it should be noted Winslet appeared for the interview sleek and slim in black pants.

"I don't know a single woman who doesn't stand up and check the tushie before she walks out the door," she said. "I've decided I am going to start loving my backside, really just saying, yes. Because I don't know anyone who does that, you know? And for my daughter, I want to be able to say to her, I love this.

"[Young women] look at all of us, myself included, on these magazine covers and they think, 'my God, how does she get skin like that?' And I can tell you, I have so many blemishes under this makeup that have been so fabulously covered. I promise you. I promise you," she said. "But I did realize a few years ago that no one actually talks about this retouching thing. It's like a secret or something. I'm damned if it's going to be a secret anymore. I really want these young women to know we don't look like this."

In addition to the challenging material in the film, Winslet says she found it very difficult to be away from her children while shooting "The Reader" overseas. While the separation only lasted a few weeks, she says it was the longest period she has gone without her two children, Mia, 8, and Joe, 5.

"In those moments of being away from them, you know, that was very new to me," she said. "And they were fine, of course. I was the one falling apart, going, 'OK, I've unpacked my things, and now I don't know what to do because I'm in a hotel room by myself, which I can't remember what that feels like.'"

Winslet also says she's determined not to let her career and celebrity affect her children's upbringing and her role in their lives.

"I mean, it's a massive juggle, you know, without question it is," she said. "You know, you jump through hoops. ... I'm on a plane tonight. I'll be home at 5 in the morning. And I will be on that school ground tomorrow morning. I absolutely will be. ... It's crucial for our kids that we are the key people in their life. And I wouldn't want to have it any other way."

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