My name is Andy and Kate Winslet is my favorite actress.
From the moment I saw her walk across the rain-drenched moors to see Willoughby's house in Sense and Sensibility, I was hooked. (I watched that movie nearly once a week in high school - a fact I mentioned to her years later when I met her.) After catching up with her mesmerizing film debut in Heavenly Creatures and seeing her follow-ups to Sense and Sensibility, 1996's Jude and Hamlet, there was no question in my mind; Kate Winslet was the greatest actress of her generation. I wasn't the only one that thought so. [More...]
Critics also adored her and with her work in Titanic she soon became an audience favorite, too, and a household name. The Academy was smitten. After receiving her first nomination at the age of 20, she then went on to become the youngest actor in history to receive 5 Academy Award nominations (she was 31 years old at the time. Which means Jennifer Lawrence has 2 noms and 7 years to beat that record). She finally won on her 6th Oscar bid for 2008's The Reader.
That's when everything started to change...
Long before the Hathahaters forced Annie to take a year-long break from acting after her win for Les Miz, Kate suffered a similar fate after winning Best Actress. The public and media suddenly turned on her. The very people who had championed her, asking when she would win an Oscar, were suddenly finding the fact that she openly admitted to wanting one to be desperate and annoying. The British press were especially unkind to her and the very un-English-like why she accepted awards with exuberance and tears (how dare she show emotion! How unbecoming of an actress). Excluding her Emmy-winning turn in Mildred Pierce, her film career hasn't really recovered since. With her work this past year, the horrendous Movie 43, in which she stars opposite Hugh Jackman...and a neck scrotum (Seriously, why is she in that? Did they have blackmail info on her?), and, more importantly, with the critically slaughtered and poor showing of this past weekend's wanna-be Oscar contender, Labor Day, things aren't looking so good for her.
It's not that she hasn't appeared in bad movies before. Remember The Life of David Gale or All the King's Men? It's just that with Labor Day, we can see a clear problem for someone that works so infrequently: repetitive role choices. She has played a suffering mother/housewife several times before and with Labor Day those past roles are practically guest-starring in the film. There's a scene where she speaks to her son about how sex is like a hunger that seems to be almost word-for-word from the book club scene in Little Children. Scenes that deal with pregnancy and the desire to pack-up and move recall her work as April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road (her character in the film, Adele, even shares the same last name). And I can't see Kate Winslet and pies and not think Mildred Pierce.
As the years have past I've also found her recent work to be something that I never thought it would be: stagnant. Her performances now are too studied and too calculated to feel like anything less than, well, just that, performances. With Adele, her lonely single mother in Labor Day, every pursed lip and hand quiver (and there are a lot of them) are measured to feel real. (Although, reality is hardly the word to describe the plot of the film either.) What I loved most about her early work was the passion and spontaneity. She had an electric energy about her even in the most corseted of period pieces. Perhaps that just comes with working for over 20 years in front of the camera, you become aware of it. Interviewers and colleagues have noted how dedicated and hard-working she is, her scripts filled in the margins with notes and details about her characters. I admire the work, but she now feels too beholden to it, too in-her-head, wanting to convey that research with planned moments instead of living in the moment and letting the action happen naturally. She needs to take it all in, then trust herself to know that it'll be there, and just let go.
Additionally, it's possible that her image and career are further affected by her personal life. After divorcing Sam Mendes, she married Ned Rocknroll in 2012. Rocknroll (I just can't with that name) is the nephew of Richard Branson, the billionaire founder and chairman of the Virgin group, and he works in his Uncle's Virgin Galatic company which focuses on space travel. Kate and Ned's wedding present was 2 tickets to space (I'm not joking). This past December, she gave birth to their child, a baby boy...named Bear. It all seems a far cry from the 'I'm just like you' persona the actress was once known for. Now married for a third time with three children each with a different father might not exactly be conventional, but she hasn't exactly entered Elizabeth Taylor territory yet (by the time Taylor was Kate's age, she was already at husband number 5, Richard Burton–the first round). Mentioning all this is a little tawdry and gossip columny, sure, but it would be foolish to think that that it doesn't affect the way people perceive her.
Is it possible for Kate's career to have a second life? And if it does, will she find her way back into Oscar's embrace? At only 38, I hardly think her best work is behind her, but she first needs to get out of this acting rut, mix it up with a performance and character we've never seen from her before like when she surprised us with her spotless work in Eternal Sunshine. Hopefully, it may just come sooner than we think. With this March's film adaptation of the YA novel, Divergent, Kate will play a villain for the first time. The studio is betting on the film being a huge hit, which could certainly boost her career as well. Seeing Kate in manipulative, evil mold may be just the jolt needed.
A darker tone and jolt of interest there could also help her back in Oscar's good graces again when The Dressmaker, which she begins filming this year. Set in 1950s Australia, Kate plays the titular character, described as a femme fatale that returns to her hometown to extract revenge. High couture and backstabbing seem like a welcome break from the mom-mode she's been in on-screen and a chance to remind us, not through repetition, of her past glories.