The only frustrating thing about roll-ups is that you can’t smoke them at parties,” muses Kate Winslet, crafting her own cigarette with a deftness that belies her words. ”It’s just too much trouble standing there and fiddling.”
In a lime green trouser suit, her blond tresses dangling, telling tales of her tobacco travails, the 20-year-old English actress seems a kindred spirit to Marianne Dashwood, the romantic teen who flouts the conventions of courtship in Sense and Sensibility. Winslet has already bagged a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her rain-soaked, tear-streaked performance in the Jane Austen adaptation — and an Oscar nod may be in the offing. As poetry-powered Marianne, Winslet is all sensibility. The middle Dashwood sister swoons, flutters, brightly burns, and bawls her eyes out over the caddish Willoughby (Greg Wise) at the expense of steady old Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman).
”I certainly think two years ago I was absolutely a Willoughby girl,” Winslet muses, ”but now I’m the more serious Brandon type, a bit more solid. But it was great. Cor! Two men, and they were both lovely.”
A native of Reading, England — and from a theatrical family that includes the late stage actor Robert Bridges, her uncle — Winslet entered a local drama school at age 11, left at 16, and made her feature debut in 1994 as the refined, depraved Juliet Hulme in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. For this dramatization of the true story of Hulme and Pauline Parker, who conspired in the 1954 murder of Parker’s mother — a case that caused a sensation in New Zealand — Winslet turned up the chill. ”Her intensity,” says Jackson, ”made everybody else auditioning for the part pale in comparison.”
When the real Hulme was revealed to be living in Scotland, forging a successful career as a mystery writer under the name Anne Perry, ”I just really felt for her, really deeply,” says the actress, who has yet to meet Perry. ”But I think it was absolutely the best thing for her to do, to say, ‘Yeah, I did this,’ because it has closed the book. She doesn’t have to carry it so much anymore.”
Winslet landed Sense and Sensibility soon after, which turned out to be another movie tinged by extracurricular scandal when its star and screenwriter, Emma Thompson, split with hubby Kenneth Branagh (”Emma and I shared a hell of a lot, so I wasn’t surprised, to be honest with you,” says Winslet) and a fellow costar got caught with his pants down.
”Oh, Hugh [Grant] and Divine Brown,” Winslet says, laughing. ”That happened after he’d finished. But we were shooting in London and someone came up to me and said, ‘Heard about Hugh?’ I mean, it did make me laugh quite a lot, poor guy. But it’s really not fair. Guys get up to that kind of thing. I hope he had a good time.”
The actress hopes to meet other kinds of temptation in Hollywood, but for now everything’s on hold, including her love life and living arrangements. ”I was in a relationship for a long time and I was kind of living with that person,” she says, ”but that has since fallen apart.” Now she splits time between Reading and London while she plays Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh’s screen version of Hamlet. After that she might ”throw away the corset and do something contemporary,” she says, half teasing. ”I really want to be a Valley Girl in a feel-good American movie. I’d love to do some big action number.”