By Douglas J. Rowe
The Associated Press
The last time Kate Winslet played an American in a movie, it went on to become Hollywood's biggest blockbuster ever. Since that Titanic success, she spent six years defying expectations that she would "go Hollywood" and do big commercial films.
So it's notable that she's playing an American again, this time as hard-nosed journalist Bitsey Bloom in the commercial Hollywood film The Life of David Gale, starring Kevin Spacey.
"I knew it would be an enormous departure for me," says the British actress, pointing out that she's done her share of period pieces.
In this movie, Winslet leaves the petticoats behind to wear jeans in modern-day Texas, where her character is assigned to interview a death-row inmate, just days from execution, who had been an activist against capital punishment. Convicted of raping and killing a fellow activist, he ostensibly wants to convince her he's innocent and to save his life.
The 27-year-old actress says she approached director Alan Parker about doing the movie because she was eager to play "a contemporary American woman as strong as Bitsey."
Of course, the Philadelphia socialite she played in Titanic, Rose, was willful, too. But that was 1912.
"Still to this day, actually, I can't believe that I'm in that movie. It was extraordinary, and it was a phenomenon, and an epic piece ... and I'm in it, and I'm just Kate ... ," says the three-time Oscar nominee.
"But after Titanic it would have been completely foolish for me to go and try and top that. I'm an English girl, I've always loved England, I've never felt the desire to leave it for any particular reason. And whilst I'm ambitious and care very much about what I do, I'm not competitive. I also don't want to act every day of my life. ... So it was important to me after Titanic to just remind myself of why it was that I was acting in the first place, which is of course because I love it.
"Even when I did Titanic there was really no agenda. I wasn't thinking, `OK, this is my big break. I'm going to do a great big American movie.' I just loved the script, and I loved the character. Maybe I was naive but I had no idea it was going to be that big."
Winslet's subsequent roles included another spiritually adrift woman in Holy Smoke, a laundress who helps the imprisoned Marquis de Sade smuggle out his work in Quills and the young novelist Iris Murdoch in Iris, for which she earned her third Academy Award nomination (as supporting actress, after ones for supporting actress in Sense and Sensibility and lead actress in Titanic).
Gale director Alan Parker notes that personal considerations weighed at least as heavily as professional ones for Winslet.
"She chose to stay at home," he says. "She had her baby and wanted to make British films."
Winslet's daughter, Mia, was born in October 2000. But by December 2001, Winslet divorced husband James Threapleton, an assistant director she met during the 1997 filming of Hideous Kinky, and the split led to what she felt was some harsh tabloid coverage at home.
"It was quite tough on me," she says. "I was always held up as, you know, `Our Kate,' `Down-to-earth, British Rose,' blah-blah-blah, and they'd always really kind of been very supportive and celebrated the fact that I was a young British actress who was doing well for herself."
Despite the Fleet Street flak, she's still doing well for herself.
"I have an incredible relationship with my child," she says, adding that she's happily paired now with Sam Mendes, who won a directing Oscar for 1999's American Beauty.
She also has two more films in the offing - Neverland about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which she co-stars with Jim Carrey as a couple trying to rescue their relationship by having their bad memories erased.
To preserve real-life memories, Winslet takes Polaroids on each picture she does. She recently was cataloging them and thought: "God, I've worked with some really special people!"
"And it just reminded me of how incredibly blessed I've been."
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