A handful of actresses carry such a wellspring of inner grace and presence that they appear destined for celebrity from birth. Natalie Wood had it, as did Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly; many would doubtless place Kate Winslet among their ranks. A tender 11 when she commenced her formal dramatic training, 19 when she debuted cinematically, and 20 when she received her first Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, Winslet never "ascended" to stardom; she became a star overnight. The possessor of an hourglass-figured, full-lipped beauty that lends itself effortlessly to costume dramas, Winslet was roundly hailed by the press for standing in stark, proud contrast to her more conventional Hollywood peers.
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Born on October 5, 1975, and raised in Reading, England, as the daughter of stage actors and the granddaughter of a repertory theater manager, Winslet inherited the "drama bug" from her folks. After training exhaustively as a child and securing professional representation she went on the air as a spokesgirl for a popular British cereal, and later attended a performing-arts secondary school. Following an early graduation in 1991 (prior to the age of 16), Winslet launched her regional stage career, highlighted by roles in adaptations of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and Peter Pan. It would be difficult to imagine a more auspicious film bow than the role of Juliet Hulme in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures -- or a more difficult one. This characterization -- that of an extroverted adolescent who constructs an incestuously exclusive fantasy world with her best friend (Melanie Lynskey) -- put Winslet on the map, and opened the door for follow-ups in international megahits such as Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility (1995), as the willfull, passionate Marianne; and James Cameron's Titanic (1997), as the object of Leonardo Di Caprio's affections, Rose DeWitt Bukater. She received dual Oscar nominations for those roles, but, surprisingly, failed to net either one.
Meanwhile, Winslet concurrently shied away from the high gloss of Cameron and unveiled her stage origins, traveling the arthouse circuit with such productions as Michael Winterbottom's Jude (1996), as Sue Bridehead; and Kenneth Branagh's disappointing, overbaked, four-hour Hamlet (1996), as Ophelia. Hideous Kinky embodied a turn on a much smaller scale. Directed by Scottish helmer Gillies MacKinnon (and scripted by his brother, Billy), the film casts Winslet as a freewheeling young hippie who takes her children to Morocco in order to pursue spiritual enlightenment. Beyond the positive reviews gleaned by the film and the praise that critics lavished onto Winslet's performance, one of the most alluring sidelights happened off camera, when Winslet dated and then married James Threapleton, the third assistant director on the MacKinnon film. The couple divorced in 2001.
During 1999 and 2000, Winslet dove into two roles that required her to cut loose and break free of all inhibitions. First, she played another young woman in search of spiritual enlightenment, this time in Jane Campion's Holy Smoke. Starring as an Australian girl who joins a cult on a visit to India, and is then "deprogrammed" by Harvey Keitel, Winslet's role pushed her beyond the limits of propriety and embarrassment (one scene has her standing naked and urinating in front of Keitel). Unfortunately, one or two brave performances did not an unequivocal masterpiece make; the picture sharply divided critics, falling far short of the praise heaped onto Campion's The Piano six years earlier. Even gutsier (though more successful on a dramatic level) was Winslet's turn as a laundress who delivers the Marquis de Sade's manuscripts to the outside world in Phil Kaufman's Quills. Winslet reentered the Oscar limelight with yet another Academy-nommed performance as a youthful Iris Murdoch in director Richard Eyre's Iris, but the gold statuette eluded her a third time when Jennifer Connelly netted it for A Beautiful Mind. In early 2003, she hit a low point as Bitsey Bloom, opposite Kevin Spacey in The Life of David Gale. Based on the experience of a University of Texas professor -- an avid anti-death-penalty activist faced with execution after a false conviction -- Winslet portrayed the reporter who broke the story in a desperate attempt to discover the truth behind the mysterious and brutal crime for which Gale was convicted. As scripted by Charles Randolph and directed by Alan Parker, the picture opened and closed almost simultaneously, to devastating, brutal reviews.
Winslet fared better in 2004, as the love interest opposite Jim Carrey in Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This humorous and poignant mindbender, with a tender romance at its core, scored on all fronts, as did Winslet's performance, earning her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. She followed it up with a return to period film in Finding Neverland (2005), a movie about Victorian author J.M. Barrie, played by Johnny Depp. Playing the inspiration for the character of Wendy in the beloved novel Peter Pan seemed only natural for the charming actress, who had long since proven herself a similarly charismatic onscreen force.
2006 found Winslet in a quintet of back-to-back projects. In the CG-animated Flushed Away -- from Aardman and Dreamworks -- she voiced Rita, a scavenging sewer rat who helps Hugh Jackman's Roddy escape from the city of Ratropolis and return to his luxurious Kensington origins. That year, she also headlined the political drama All the King's Men, opposite Sean Penn. Written and directed by Schindler's List's Steven Zaillian, the picture cast Winslet as Jude Law's childhood sweetheart; while overflowing with talent, the long-gestating remake was a major misfire with critics and audiences. Perhaps more fortuitously, Winslet joined the cast of Todd Field's Little Children, an ensemble comedy drama about fear and loathing in an upper-class suburb in New England. The film would net her her fifth Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actress. More financially successful was her involvment in Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy Holiday, as Iris, a Britishwoman who temporarily "swaps homes," as part of a vacation ploy, with Cameron Diaz's Amanda, and has an affair with Jack Black. Meanwhile, Winslet and Johnny Depp reunited for the first occasion since Finding Neverland as narrators of the IMAX documentary Deep Sea 3D (2006), filmmaker Howard Hall's lavish exploration of the aquatic depths, designed for young viewers.
After taking some time off in 2007, Winslet returned in 2008 with a pair of award-winning performances. Playing opposite her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road earned her Best Actress nominations from both the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press, as well as a healthy number of year-end critics awards. But it was her work in Stephen Daldry's adaptation of The Reader that provided her with the sixth Academy nomination of her career, as well as Best Supporting Actress nods from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press made history that year selecting her the winner in both the Best Actress in a drama and the Best Supporting Actress categories at that year's Golden Globes.
In 2011, Winslet would win an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award for her performance in HBO's 5-part miniseries Mildred Pierce, and take on a lead role in Contagion, a disaster film directed by Steven Soderbergh. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi