The Unsinkable Kate Winslet
Regarding the bathroom logistics of filming in a water tank, Winslet speaks only for herself. “Yes, I admit to sometimes peeing in that water,” she says. “Because you wanted to get it right. You didn’t want to have to get out and go to the bathroom, which would take half an hour with corsets and dresses and all that sort of thing. So, yeah, I peed. I mean, it’s the same with a swimming pool — do you really think about what’s in it?”
Winslet lights us cigarettes and settles in on distracting me with more messy details. “There were some instances where we were literally swimming through corridors,” she allows. “And I didn’t like that stuff because my feet would get tangled in the chiffon dress that I sink in. But at one point Jim said, ‘Fuck it, I’m not gonna have my actress drown. Scissors!’ And my dress was cut this short, almost like a T-shirt. You could see my bloomers underneath it. We called it the Bo Peep dress.
“I’m not saying it was all happy-clappy,” she insists. “There were days when you’d just think, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got my period and I can’t get in that freezing-cold water today.'” Think of it — seven months, seven periods. “I remember standing up and saying to everyone, ‘Listen, if it suddenly looks like Jaws, the movie, it’s my fault.” Winslet pulled a corresponding male gag a few weeks later. “There’s the flooded-corridor scene,” she explains, “when I go into the water, an ax in my hand. Well, the water was so cold that my reaction was completely genuine. And I was the only woman down there. Here I was, surrounded by all these men on the crew, in all this freezing-cold water. What did that mean for their genitals? So I turned around and said, ‘So — little dicks, then?'”
Titanic wrapped in early April, and within a week Rosarito was a ghost town. “I was packing my stuff to go back to England, and there was a part of me that couldn’t believe it was all over all of a sudden,” says Winslet. “And I thought, ‘I’m not going to be speaking Rose’s words anymore.’ I had that moment of, ‘Oh, she’s gone now. I’ve lost her.'”
Three years ago, Winslet bought a flat in London. She’s kept it filled with the young people you meet on sets assistant directors, makeup artists sharing food and swapping clothes. “I don’t particularly like being on my own,” Winslet says. “I like people around, just talking and having a laugh.” On a normal day, Winslet goes for a swim, reads scripts, “might see a film in the evening. Pick my feet. Brush my teeth — I floss very rarely.” It’s been a long time since Winslet had that kind of day. “For six months after Titanic, I never quite unpacked my suitcases,” Winslet says. “I don’t want that to happen again.” During the summer, she made several trips to Los Angeles to record Titanic dialogue. With her mix of masochism and perfectionism, she revoiced the DiCaprio death scene lying on a flat board in the sound studio. In the fall she flew to Marrakech, Morocco, to begin shooting the drama Hideous Kinky.
In a sense, the knowledge of a friend’s illness sharpened Winslet’s performance more than bobbing in cold-water tanks or using a board on a recording stage. Winslet has had other boyfriends — she dated Rufus Sewell (or as Winslet puts it in her press voice, “actor Rufus Sewell”) for three months, “a fling until we both decided, ‘This is just a friendship, really, isn’t it?'” But her closest connection has been to Stephen Tredre. “He was the person most important to me in my life, next to my family,” Winslet says. “We were together for four and a half years. I spoke to him every day.” A few years ago, Tredre was diagnosed with bone cancer. “Her sorrow was her light,” Billy Zane tells me. “She gives you a peek into her pain. It’s a generous gesture.”
Winslet and I are discussing Tredre at Starbucks when her throat seizes, and her eyes shimmer and go wet. “He lost his battle against cancer,” she says. “He died on the eighth of December. So, y’know, I’ve got a lump in my throat now.” Winslet lifts a recycled-paper napkin and dabs at her eyes. “Sorry. God, I’m really sorry — that’s such a surprise. Don’t worry about it. Don’t feel bad for asking or anything. Stephen was such an extraordinary person.”
Winslet flew from Marrakech to sing at Tredre’s memorial, a song whose title she won’t reveal: “Um, do you mind if I don’t tell you that? It was a song that he always loved me singing. I felt like Elton John must have felt singing at Di’s funeral. It was so hard. I knew that if I said a few words beforehand, I would start crying and I wouldn’t be able to sing. So I sang, and the second I stopped I started to choke.”
You know what I was saying to you the other day about not being recognizable?” Kate Winslet asks four days later. “Changed, Changed. It’s all changed.” A weekend has passed, Winslet has done another TV appearance, Titanic has grossed another $30 million, so sitting down with the actress is like spending time with an ascendant stock. We’ve picked a small Italian cafe in New York’s Greenwich Village primarily because the owners have let us smoke. (When I suggested we could do without in other restaurants we passed, Winslet laughed: “No, we bloody well can’t do without smoking, what are you talking about?”) “It’s all changed,” Winslet repeats. “There were heaps of autograph people outside the hotel, and photographers. It’s incredibly flattering.”