Kate Elizabeth Winslet, CBE (born 5 October 1975) is an English actress. She is particularly known for her work in period dramas and tragedies, and is often drawn to portraying troubled women. Winslet is the recipient of several accolades, including three British Academy Film Awards, and is among the few performers to have won Academy, Emmy, and Grammy Awards.
Born in Reading, Berkshire, Winslet studied drama at the Redroofs Theatre School. Her first screen appearance, at the age of 15, was in the British television series Dark Season (1991). She made her film debut playing a teenage murderess in Heavenly Creatures (1994), and received her first BAFTA Award for playing Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1995). Global stardom followed soon after with her leading role in the epic romance Titanic (1997). It was the highest-grossing film of all time to that point, after which she eschewed parts in blockbusters in favour of critically acclaimed period pieces, including Quills (2000) and Iris (2001), which were not widely seen.
The science fiction romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), in which Winslet was cast against type in a contemporary setting, proved to be a turning point in her career, and she gained further recognition for her performances in Finding Neverland (2004), Little Children (2006), Revolutionary Road (2008), and The Reader (2008). For playing a Nazi camp guard in the last of these, she won the BAFTA Award and Academy Award for Best Actress. In the 2010s, Winslet played a single mother in 1930s America in the miniseries Mildred Pierce (2011), joined the Divergent film series, and portrayed Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs (2015). She won a Primetime Emmy Award for the former and a third BAFTA Award for the latter.
For her narration of a short story in the audiobook Listen to the Storyteller (1999), Winslet won a Grammy Award. She performed the song “What If” for the soundtrack of her film Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001). A co-founder of the charity Golden Hat Foundation, which aims to create autism awareness, she has written a book on the topic, The Golden Hat: Talking Back to Autism (2010). Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009, and in 2012, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Divorced from the film directors Jim Threapleton and Sam Mendes, Winslet has been married to the businessman Ned Rocknroll since 2012. She has a child from each marriage.
1994–1996: Film breakthrough
Winslet was among 175 girls to audition for Peter Jackson’s psychological drama Heavenly Creatures (1994), and was cast after impressing Jackson with the intensity she brought to her part. The New Zealand-based production is based on the Parker–Hulme murder case of 1954, in which Winslet played Juliet Hulme, a teenager who assists her friend, Pauline Parker (played by Melanie Lynskey), in the murder of Pauline’s mother. She prepared for the part by reading the transcripts of the girls’ murder trial, their letters and diaries, and interacted with their acquaintances. She has said that she learnt tremendously from the job. Jackson filmed in the real murder locations, and the experience left Winslet traumatised. She found it difficult to detach herself from her character, and said that after returning home, she often cried. The film was a critical breakthrough for Winslet; The Washington Post writer Desson Thomson called her “a bright-eyed ball of fire, lighting up every scene she’s in”. Winslet recorded “Juliet’s Aria” for the film’s soundtrack. Also that year, she appeared as Geraldine Barclay, a prospective secretary, in the Royal Exchange Theatre production of Joe Orton’s farce What the Butler Saw.
While promoting Heavenly Creatures in Los Angeles, Winslet auditioned for the minor part of Lucy Steele for a 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility, starring and written by Emma Thompson. Impressed by her reading, Thompson cast her for the much larger part of the recklessly romantic teenager Marianne Dashwood. The director Ang Lee wanted Winslet to play the part with grace and restraint—aspects that he felt were missing from her performance in Heavenly Creatures—and thus asked her to practice tai chi, read gothic literature, and learn to play the piano. David Parkinson of the Radio Times found Winslet to be a standout among the ensemble cast, and Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle took note of how well she had portrayed her character’s growth and maturity. The film grossed over US$134 million worldwide. She won the Screen Actors Guild and British Academy Film Award for Best Supporting Actress, and received nominations for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award in the same category. Also in 1995, Winslet featured in the poorly received Disney film A Kid in King Arthur’s Court.
Winslet had roles in two period dramas of 1996—Jude and Hamlet. As with her Heavenly Creatures part, Winslet’s roles in these films were those of women with a “mad edge”. In Michael Winterbottom’s Jude, based on the novel Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, she played Sue Bridehead, a young woman with suffragette leanings who falls in love with her cousin, Jude (played by Christopher Eccleston). Roger Ebert believed that the part allowed Winslet to display her acting range, and praised her for the defiance she brought to the role. After unsuccessfully auditioning for Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Winslet was cast for the part of Ophelia, the doomed lover of the title character, in Branagh’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. Winslet, at 20 years old, was intimidated by the experience of performing Shakespeare with established actors such as Branagh and Julie Christie, saying that the job required a level of intellect that she thought she did not possess. Mike Jeffries of Empire believed that she had played the part “well beyond her years”. Despite the acclaim, Jude and Hamlet earned little at the box office.
1997–2003: Stardom with Titanic and small-scale features
Winslet was keen on playing Rose DeWitt Bukater, a free-spirited socialite aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic, in James Cameron’s epic romance Titanic (1997). Cameron was initially reluctant to cast her, preferring the stars Claire Danes or Gwyneth Paltrow, but Winslet pleaded with him, “You don’t understand! I am Rose! I don’t know why you’re even seeing anyone else!” Her persistence led Cameron to hire her. Leonardo DiCaprio featured as her love interest, Jack. Titanic had a production budget of US$200 million, and its arduous principal photography was held at Rosarito Beach where a replica of the ship was created. Filming proved to be taxing for Winslet. She nearly drowned, caught influenza, suffered from hypothermia on being submerged in freezing water, and had bruises on her arms and knees. The workload allowed her only four hours of sleep per day and she felt drained by the experience. David Ansen, writing for Newsweek, praised Winslet for capturing her character’s zeal with delicacy, and Mike Clark of USA Today considered her to be the film’s prime asset. Against expectations, Titanic went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time to that point, earning over US$2 billion in box-office receipts worldwide, and established Winslet as a global star. The film won 11 Academy Awards—the most for any film—including Best Picture and gained Winslet a Best Actress nomination.
Winslet did not view Titanic as a platform for bigger salaries. She eschewed parts in blockbuster films in favour of independent productions that were not widely seen, believing that she “still had a lot to learn” and was unprepared to be a star. She later said that her decision ensured career longevity. Hideous Kinky, a low-budget drama shot before the release of Titanic, was Winslet’s sole film release of 1998. She turned down offers to star in Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Anna and the King (1999) to do the film. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Esther Freud, Hideous Kinky tells the story of a single British mother yearning for a new life in 1970s Morocco. Writing for The New York Times, the critic Janet Maslin commended Winslet’s decision to follow-up Titanic with such an offbeat project, and took note of how well she had captured her character’s “obliviousness and optimism”.
Jane Campion’s psychological drama Holy Smoke! (1999) featured Winslet as an Australian woman who joins an Indian religious cult. She found the script brave and was challenged by the idea of portraying an unlikable, manipulative woman. She learnt an Australian accent and worked closely with Campion to justify her character’s vileness. The film required her to perform explicit sex scenes with her co-star Harvey Keitel, and featured a scene in which her character appears stark naked and urinates on herself. David Rooney of Variety wrote, “Showing the kind of courage few young thesps would be capable of and an extraordinary range from animal cunning to unhinged desperation, [Winslet] holds nothing back.” That same year, she voiced a fairy for the animated film Faeries, and won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for narrating the short story “The Face in the Lake” for the children’s audiobook Listen to the Storyteller.
In Quills (2000), a biopic of the erratic Marquis de Sade, starring Geoffrey Rush and Joaquin Phoenix, Winslet played the supporting part of a sexually repressed laundress working in a mental asylum. Hailing her as the “most daring actress working today”, James Greenberg of Los Angeles magazine praised Winslet for “continuing to explore the bounds of sexual liberation”. She received a SAG Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, she played a fictitious mathematician involved in the cracking of the Enigma ciphers in Michael Apted’s espionage thriller Enigma. Winslet’s character was vastly expanded from a subsidiary love-interest in the novel it was based on to a prominent code-breaker in the film. She was pregnant while filming, and to prevent this from showing, she wore corsets under her costume.
The biopic Iris (2001) featured Winslet and Judi Dench as the novelist Iris Murdoch at different ages. The director Richard Eyre cast the two actresses after finding a “correspondence of spirit between them”. Winslet was drawn to the idea of playing an intellectual and zesty female lead, and in research, she read Murdoch’s novels, studied her husband’s memoir Elegy for Iris, and watched televised interviews of Murdoch. The project was filmed over four weeks and allowed Winslet to bring her daughter, who was six months old at the time, on set. Writing for The Guardian, Martin Amis commented that “the seriousness and steadiness of [Winslet’s] gaze effectively suggest the dawning amplitude of the Murdoch imagination”. Winslet received her third Oscar nomination for Iris, in addition to BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
Winslet’s third film release of 2001 was the animated film Christmas Carol: The Movie, based on Charles Dickens’ novel. For the film’s soundtrack she sang “What If”, which proved to be a commercial hit; she donated her earnings from it to children’s charities. After a year-long absence from the screen, Winslet starred as a headstrong journalist interviewing a professor on death row in the thriller The Life of David Gale (2003). She agreed to the project to work with the director Alan Parker, whom she admired, and believed that the film raised pertinent questions about capital punishment. Mick LaSalle thought that the film had muddled the subject and disliked both the film and Winslet’s performance.
2004–2007: Romances, comedies, and Little Children
To avoid typecasting in historical dramas, Winslet sought out films set in contemporary times. She found it in the science fiction romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), in which she played the neurotic and impetuous Clementine, a woman who decides to erase memories of her ex-boyfriend (played by Jim Carrey). Unlike her previous assignments, the role allowed her to display the quirky side to her personality. Gondry encouraged Carrey and Winslet to improvise on set, and to keep herself agile she practised kickboxing. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proved to be a modest financial success and several critics regarded it as one of the best films of the 21st century. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone considered it to be a “uniquely funny, unpredictably tender and unapologetically twisted romance” and thought that Winslet was “electrifying and bruisingly vulnerable” in it. A journalist for Premiere magazine credited her for abandoning her “corseted English rose persona”, and featured it as the 81st greatest film performance of all time. Winslet considers it to be a favourite among her roles, and she received Best Actress nominations at the Oscar and BAFTA award ceremonies. She has said that the film marked a turning point in her career and prompted directors to offer her a wide variety of parts.
Winslet was paid £6 million to star in her next release of the year, the drama Finding Neverland. It is about the relationship between J. M. Barrie (played by Johnny Depp) and the Llewelyn Davies boys, which inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan; Winslet played the boys’ mother, Sylvia. Despite her reluctance to star in another period piece, Winslet agreed to the project after empathising with Sylvia’s love for her children. Ella Taylor of LA Weekly found Winslet to be “radiant and earthy as ever” and CNN’s Paul Clinton thought that she was “exceptional in a delicate and finely tuned performance”. She received a second Best Actress nomination at that year’s BAFTA Award ceremony. With a box office gross of US$116 million, Finding Neverland became her most widely seen film since Titanic.
In 2005, Winslet took on a guest role in an episode of the British comedy sitcom Extras, starring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. She played a satirical version of herself in it—an actress, who in an effort to win an Oscar, takes the role of a nun in a Holocaust film. She received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series nomination. Within three months of giving birth to her second child, Winslet returned to work on Romance & Cigarettes, a musical romantic comedy directed by John Turturro, in which she played Tula, a promiscuous and foulmouthed woman. The part required her to sing and dance, and it helped her lose weight gained during her pregnancy. She twisted her ankle while filming one of the dance sequences. Derek Elley of Variety wrote that despite her limited screen time, Winslet had “the showiest role and filthiest one-liners”. Winslet declined an offer from Woody Allen to star in Match Point (2005) to spend more time with her children.
Winslet had four film releases in 2006. She first appeared in All the King’s Men, a political thriller set in 1940s Louisiana, featuring Sean Penn and Jude Law. She played the supporting part of the love interest to Law’s character. The film received negative reviews for its lack of political insight and narrative cohesiveness, and failed to recoup its US$55 million investment. Her next release, the drama Little Children, was better received. Based on the novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Sarah Pierce, an unhappy housewife who has an affair with a married neighbour (played by Patrick Wilson). Winslet was challenged by the role of an uncaring mother, as she did not understand or respect her character’s actions. Scenes requiring her to be hostile towards the child actress playing her daughter proved upsetting for her. Having given birth to two children, Winslet was anxious about the sex scenes in which she had to be nude; she took on the challenge to present a positive image for women with imperfect bodies. A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that Winslet successfully “registers every flicker of Sarah’s pride, self-doubt and desire, inspiring a mixture of recognition, pity and concern”. With another Academy Award for Best Actress nomination, Winslet, at 31, became the youngest performer to accrue five Oscar nominations.
After Little Children, Winslet played a part she found more sympathetic in Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy The Holiday. She played Iris, a Briton who temporarily exchanges homes with an American (played by Cameron Diaz) during the Christmas holiday season. The film became Winslet’s biggest commercial success in nine years, grossing over US$205 million worldwide. The critic Justin Chang thought the film was formulaic yet pleasing, and took note of Winslet’s radiance and charm. In her final release of the year, Winslet voiced Rita, a scavenging sewer rat, in the animated film Flushed Away. Winslet’s sole project of 2007 was as the narrator for the English version of the French children’s film The Fox and the Child.
2008–2011: Awards success
Winslet had two critically acclaimed roles in 2008. After reading Justin Haythe’s screenplay for Revolutionary Road, an adaptation of Richard Yates’s debut novel, Winslet recommended the project to her husband at the time, the director Sam Mendes, and her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. The film traces the tribulations of a young married couple in 1950s suburban America. Winslet was attracted to the idea of playing a woman whose aspirations had not been met, and she read The Feminine Mystique to understand the psychology of unhappy housewives from the era. Mendes encouraged DiCaprio and Winslet to spend time together, and she believed that the small set they used helped them to develop their character’s strained relationship. Hailing Winslet as “the best English-speaking film actress of her generation”, David Edelstein of New York magazine wrote that “there isn’t a banal moment in Winslet’s performance—not a gesture, not a word”.
To avoid a scheduling conflict with Revolutionary Road, Winslet turned down an offer to star in The Reader. After her replacement Nicole Kidman left the project due to her pregnancy, Winslet was signed to it. Directed by Stephen Daldry, The Reader is based on Bernhard Schlink’s novel Der Vorleser and is about Hanna Schmitz, an illiterate Nazi concentration camp guard (Winslet), who has an affair with a teenage boy. Winslet researched the Holocaust and the SS guards. To educate herself on the stigma of illiteracy, she spent time with students at the Literacy Partners, an organisation that teaches adults to read and write. Winslet was unable to sympathise with Schmitz and struggled to play the part honestly without humanising her actions. Despite this, some historians criticised the film for making Schmitz an object of the audience’s sympathy and accused the filmmakers of Holocaust revisionism. Todd McCarthy commended her for supplying “a haunting shell to this internally decimated woman”, and writing for The Daily Telegraph, Sukhdev Sandhu considered her to be “absolutely fearless here, not just in her willingness to expose herself physically, but her refusal to expose her character psychologically”.
Winslet received significant awards attention for her performances in Revolutionary Road and The Reader. She won a Golden Globe Award for each of these films, and for the latter, she was awarded the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Actress. At age 33, she surpassed her own record as the youngest performer to garner six Oscar nominations. She also became the third actress in history to win two Golden Globe Awards at the same ceremony. Exhausted by the media attention during this period, Winslet took two years off work until she was ready to creatively engage again.
Winslet returned to acting with the five-part HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce (2011), an adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel from the director Todd Haynes. It is about the titular heroine (Winslet), a divorcée during the Great Depression struggling to establish a restaurant business while yearning for the respect of her narcissistic daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood). Winslet, who had recently divorced Mendes, believed that certain aspects of her character’s life mirrored her own. She was intimidated by the scope of the production, as she featured in every scene of the 280-page script. She was disturbed and upset by the story, and was particularly fascinated by the complex relationship between the mother-daughter pair. She collaborated closely with the production and costume designers, and learnt to bake pies and prepare chickens. The broadcast received a limited audience but gained positive reviews. Matt Zoller Seitz of Salon called the series a “quiet, heartbreaking masterpiece” and described Winslet’s performance as “terrific—intelligent, focused and seemingly devoid of ego”. She received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress, in addition to Golden Globe and SAG Award wins.
The ensemble thriller Contagion from Steven Soderbergh was Winslet’s first film release of 2011. She was cast as a disease detective for the CDC, and she modelled her role on Anne Schuchat, the director of the NCIRD. Contagion was a commercial success, and David Denby of The New Yorker praised Winslet for capturing the essence of an exasperated woman. Her next project was the Roman Polanski-directed Carnage, adapted from the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. Set entirely inside an apartment, the black comedy follows two sets of parents feuding over their respective children. Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz co-starred. The cast rehearsed the script like a play for two weeks, and Winslet brought her children with her to Paris for the eight weeks of filming. Critics found the adaptation to be less compelling than the play, but praised Foster and Winslet’s work. They both received Golden Globe nominations for it.
2012–present: Critical disappointments, a film series, and Steve Jobs
Winslet said that her workload of 2011 helped her get over heartbreak from her divorce, and after finishing work on Carnage she took a break from acting to focus on her children. A short part that she had filmed four years earlier for the anthology film Movie 43 was her sole screen appearance of 2012, and it received the worst reviews of her career. Winslet also performed an audiobook recording of Émile Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin. She was reluctant to accept Jason Reitman’s offer to star in his 2013 film adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel Labor Day, but agreed after Reitman postponed the production for a year to accommodate Winslet’s commitment to her children. Set over a Labor Day weekend, it tells the story of Adele (Winslet), an agoraphobic single mother, who falls in love with an escaped convict. Describing Adele’s character as having “more vulnerability than strength”, Winslet found her to be a departure from the strong-willed women she typically played. A scene in the film required her to make a pie, for which she drew on her baking experience from Mildred Pierce. Critical reception for the film was negative; Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly criticised it as “mawkish and melodramatic” but commended Winslet for adding layers to her passive role. Winslet earned her tenth Golden Globe nomination for it.
The novelty of playing a villainous part drew Winslet to Jeanine Matthews in the science fiction film Divergent (2014). Set in a dystopian future, the adaptation of Veronica Roth’s young adult novel stars Shailene Woodley as a heroine fighting an oppressive regime headed by Winslet’s character. Winslet was pregnant with her third child while filming, and her tight-fitting costumes had to be altered to accommodate the pregnancy. To maintain her character’s intimidating persona, Winslet remained aloof from her co-stars for much of the filming. Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair compared the film unfavourably to the Hunger Games film series, and thought that Winslet was underutilised in it. The film earned US$288 million worldwide. A Little Chaos marked Winslet’s return to the period film genre. Directed by Alan Rickman, it is about a rivalry among gardeners commissioned to create a fountain at the Palace of Versailles. Winslet’s role was that of the fictitious architect Sabine de Barra, someone she believed had overcome extreme grief and hardship like herself. Catherine Shoard of The Guardian took note of the “emotional honesty” Winslet brought to her part, but criticised the implausibility of her role. Also that year, she read audiobooks of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels Matilda and The Magic Finger.
In 2015, Winslet reprised the role of Jeanine Matthews in the second instalment of the Divergent series, subtitled Insurgent, which despite negative reviews earned US$297 million worldwide. Her next film, an adaptation of the Australian gothic novel The Dressmaker, was described by the director Jocelyn Moorhouse as being reminiscent of the western Unforgiven (1992). Winslet starred as the femme fatale Tilly Dunnage, a seamstress who returns to her hometown years after she was accused of murder. She learned to sew for the part and designed some of her own costumes. The production was filmed in the Australian desert and Winslet found it difficult to wear couture dresses in the harsh weather. Despite disliking the film, Robert Abele of Los Angeles Times commended Winslet for underplaying her over-the-top part. The film emerged as one of the highest-grossing Australian films of all time, but earned little elsewhere. Winslet won an AACTA Award for Best Actress.
While filming The Dressmaker, Winslet became aware of an upcoming biopic of Steve Jobs by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle. Keen to play Jobs’ marketing chief and confidant Joanna Hoffman, she sent a picture of herself dressed as Hoffman to the film’s producer. Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender in the title role, is told in three acts, each depicting a key milestone in Jobs’ career. In preparation, Winslet spent time with Hoffman, and worked with a dialect coach to adopt Hoffman’s accent, a mixture of Armenian and Polish, which she considered to be the hardest one of her career. The cast rehearsed each act like a play and filmed it in sequence. Winslet collaborated closely with Fassbender, and their off-screen relationship mirrored the collegial dynamic between Jobs and Hoffman. The film received some of the best reviews of Winslet’s career but was a box office flop. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star commended her for finding “strength and grace” in her part, and Gregory Ellwood of HitFix thought that she had improved on Hoffman’s characterisation. She won the Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards for Best Supporting Actress, and received her seventh Oscar nomination for it.
John Hillcoat’s ensemble crime-thriller Triple 9 (2016) featured Winslet as Irina Vlaslov, a ruthless Russian-Israeli gangster. The critic Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post felt that Winslet had failed to effectively portray her. Her next release of the year, Collateral Beauty, about a man (played by Will Smith) struggling with the death of his daughter, was panned by critics. Writing for New York magazine, Emily Yoshida criticised it as a vacuous remake of A Christmas Carol and wrote that Winslet had “never looked more painted and tired”. It was a modest earner at the box office. Winslet agreed to the romantic disaster film The Mountain Between Us (2017) to take on the challenge of a role requiring physical exertion. It featured Idris Elba and her as two strangers who crash land on an icy, isolated mountain range. They filmed in the mountains of Western Canada at 10,000 feet above sea level where the temperature was well below freezing. Winslet performed her own stunts and described it as the most physically gruelling experience of her career. The Atlantic’s Megan Garber praised the chemistry between Elba and Winslet, and Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times thought that their charisma had enhanced a mediocre picture.
Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, a drama set in 1950s Coney Island, was Winslet’s final release of 2017. She played Ginny, a temperamental housewife having an affair with a lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). She described Ginny as permanently dissatisfied and uneasy, and playing her proved difficult for Winslet, who suffered from anxiety. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times disliked Allen’s writing but credited Winslet for filling her “shabby character with feverish life”. When asked about her decision to work with Allen despite an allegation of child sexual abuse against him, Winslet chose not to comment on Allen’s personal life but said that she was pleased with the collaboration. Several journalists criticised her decision.
Avatar 2, a science fiction sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 film, which required Winslet to work with motion capture technology, will be released in 2020. She learned freediving for her part and was able to hold her breath underwater for seven minutes. Winslet will next star alongside Susan Sarandon and Mia Wasikowska in Blackbird, a remake of the Danish film Silent Heart (2014), directed by Roger Michell; and alongside Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite, a drama about the romance between two British women in the 1840s. She has also committed to portray the model and photographer Lee Miller in an upcoming biopic, and will provide her voice for Moominvalley, an animated television series about the Moomins.