Both up for Academy Awards this Sunday, Winslet and DiCaprio reunited for a 2008 cover story interview with EW.
“Where is that little f—er?” says Kate Winslet. Leonardo DiCaprio, her beloved costar, is running late.
Flopping down on a sofa at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, fanning herself and wondering if a spot of deodorant is in order, Winslet eyes the tray of coffee on the other side of the room and shakes her head. When her friend arrives, she wants him to focus. “I better bring that over or trust me, he will be up and down five times,” she says with a motherly cluck.
These two know each other well. Twelve years ago they strapped on a pair of harnesses and leaned innocently into the prow of a doomed ship. The Titanic sank, box office soared. Then what was the most expensive movie ever made went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time. Suddenly the young stars couldn’t escape their sudden fame. “We did Titanic and then Leo went off, and I thought, ‘Oh, dear Lord, protect him,'” says Kathy Bates, who played the Unsinkable Molly Brown. “Because Hollywood can be so destructive. I guess I worried less about Kate, because she was in the English system and I knew she’d have wonderful parts that would keep her feet on the ground. But I knew through it all, they’d be truly, truly friends to each other.”
Hollywood has been panting to rekindle their romance on screen ever since. However, the duo decided long ago that their days of star-crossed swooning were behind them. It wasn’t until Winslet read Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road, a classic tale of ’50s suburban regret about a young married couple desperate to escape the dreariness of their lives, that she figured a reunion was in order.
When DiCaprio enters the room, still looking boyish in his jeans and black Nikes, Winslet can’t help but beam. (On the set of Revolutionary Road, the pair would sometimes pretend to interview each other, each posing as a journalist giddy to know what it’s like for the Titanic stars to be back in each other’s arms.) Winslet, 33, married with two young children, has racked up five Oscar nominations. DiCaprio, 34, still single, still reliably in the company of a supermodel, has three nods to his name. “The thing that is amazing for me is they started off on equal footing and they’re still on equal footing,” says Winslet’s husband, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, who took the helm of Revolutionary Road. “If you think about Star Wars — there’s an example of a movie that was seismic in the culture at the time — there’s a big difference between what happened to Harrison Ford and what happened to Mark Hamill.”
When Winslet talks of luck, DiCaprio bends toward her and barks in a creaky patrician accent: “Key word, dear. Lucky! Keep using it.” She elbows him as if he’s her rascally little brother, and they’re off. Enjoy their banter while you can. “I think they’ll go on doing a movie together only once every 10 years,” says Mendes.
NEXT PAGE: “We have a level of understanding which I really don’t have with another actor that I’ve ever worked with at all,” says Kate on reteaming with her Titanic co-star.
EW: People have been wanting to see you two back together for over a decade. How scared were you to mess with that original magic?
DiCaprio: Over the years, I would find myself stopping and saying, “I don’t know if we should do this again.” And then I’d think, “What are you, an idiot? Why wouldn’t I want to work with the best actress of her generation? Am I going to be prejudiced against a project just because Kate’s in it?” I think we both had been actively looking for something else to do together, but we fundamentally knew that we couldn’t tread on any sort of similar territory.
EW: Which eliminates what?
DiCaprio: Any type of love story imaginable. [Laughs]
Winslet: Known to mankind!
DiCaprio: So what we have here is a profoundly well-written, character-driven story about the dissolving of a relationship. Certainly in Kate’s character there’s that great pursuit not to have her life be predigested— Winslet Predetermined.
DiCaprio: Yes, better word. You’re right. Good one.
Winslet: [Gagging] Oh, we’re so cute, we finish each other’s sentences. Cutesy, cutesy!
EW: Your characters have big, go-for-the-jugular fights. Were either of you nervous that those scenes could slip into hamminess?
DiCaprio: We were both relishing those moments. Reading those sequences where these people are at each other’s throats and having these suburban knockout, drag-out fights? Look, there’s not many actresses like Kate Winslet who you know can endure anything you give them and give it right back.
Winslet: We have a level of understanding which I really don’t have with another actor that I’ve ever worked with at all.
DiCaprio: [High-fives Winslet] Yeah, homey!
EW: Did either of you hear from James Cameron when it was announced you’d be starring together in another movie?
DiCaprio: Did you?
Winslet: No. Did you?
DiCaprio: No. But I don’t think there’s any real reason for him to call us about that.
Winslet: No, not necessarily. [Pauses] There really isn’t any residual weirdness. Making Titanic was very, very hard, and Jim Cameron is an absolute visionary. Because there was a lot of press around the experience of making Titanic, it’s been very hard for us to talk objectively about it.
DiCaprio: Because anything that’s said feeds into the “Ooh, the controversy surrounding that movie!” I think we have nothing but respect for Jim when we look back at that experience. And it was tough for us to get our heads around. Jim had to be a certain type of director to make that film work. He literally had to command an army of people every single day.
Winslet: And now that I’m married to a director I absolutely can understand the frustration that if you spent years of your life planning something and somebody shows up to work that day and they’re simply not doing their job, my good God, I can understand how disappointing that would be.
Winslet: No, I just think it is important to stress that I didn’t walk away from Titanic and think, I’m never speaking to Jim Cameron again. Anyways, that just seemed like a good opportunity for a statement I never get a chance to particularly say.
EW: There are countless examples of how sudden fame can permanently destroy a young person in Hollywood, and yet somehow the two of you emerged intact.
Winslet: I look back on that time now and I remember thinking, “I’m doing okay, I’m absolutely fine. My life hasn’t changed. I won’t let it! I can just walk to the grocery store and buy milk in my pajamas still. Ahhhh, right, no, I can’t. I have no idea what the hell is going on or how I’m supposed to deal with suddenly having 10 paparazzi there. Oh, okay, ohhhh, I get it. Anonymity, that’s gone.” I look back and think, “Jesus, I was seriously ill-equipped emotionally to be able to cope with all of that stuff.”
EW: Is there any way for a young person to equip oneself for fame?
Winslet: No, I don’t think so.
Winslet: But it did affect my choices as an actress, definitely. In a good way. It really made me sit and think, “Okay, you know what? Don’t worry about the fact that there’s 10 paparazzi outside the door, don’t worry about the fact that people may be expecting completely different things from you right now just because you’re suddenly so famous. This doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of what you love about your job.” So in a way, Titanic has played a very big part in being able to hang on to a sense of who I am, because I felt that I had to fight for it then at a very young age.
DiCaprio: Honestly, it was so bizarre. I just didn’t work for a couple years. I think I did one small cameo? [Looking at Kate]
Winslet: You did [Woody Allen’s] Celebrity.
DiCaprio: Then I did Man in the Iron Mask, but that was before Titanic had been released. I think?
Winslet: Yes, you did Man in the Iron Mask and then you did Celebrity.
DiCaprio: Thank you, Kate! [Laughing] I think it’s hilarious that I need to ask her.
Winslet: May I? [Reaching over and rubbing her finger over DiCaprio’s nose] You’ve scratched the top of your nose! Oh, no, we’re literally doing everything we said we wouldn’t do.
DiCaprio: I know, this is a little too cute. It’s like out of one of those — Winslet: Don’t say it! DiCaprio: — one of those scenes from When Harry Met Sally… with the old couples. “And I met her in the park in 1992! And she was…” “Eating a hot dog!” “And I was scratching my butt!”
Winslet: Oh, my God, and look at me fussing over your face. I’ve literally turned into a combination of your mother, your sister, and, I don’t know what, your wife!
DiCaprio: By the way, I really hate talking about post-Titanic because it always sounds to me in print like I’m complaining when I have nothing to complain about. That movie gave both of us tremendous opportunities for what we wanted to do as actors.
EW: Kate, it’s refreshing to meet an actress who’s comfortable admitting, “Hell yeah, I’d like an Oscar!” Do you feel the same way, Leo? [Kate lays her head on the sofa and peers up at him.]
DiCaprio: What’s wrong with you?
Winslet: I just want to know what you have to say. [Leans into him with a grin]
DiCaprio: I’m going to be very honest.
Winslet: I’m just being curious!
DiCaprio: Listen, I think Kate has been nominated a lot. I think I would probably be somewhat frustrated if I were her, too. [Laughs]
DiCaprio: No, no, I’m not saying you’re frustrated, no. But come on, the girl has been nominated a lot. I mean, what’s that figure that she’s going to be the most nominated actress without winning?
Winslet: [Fake grimaces] Most nominated loser.
EW: Hey, you’ve been nominated a few times yourself. Do you cop to wanting an Oscar?
DiCaprio: I don’t want to jump into the whole cliché about the honor of being nominated, I’m not going there, even though that’s the truth. I don’t know how to answer—I feel like some people are titled as Oscar-hungry and I would not say that I’m hungry for one. It’s not something I’ve got to have in my life.
EW: At what point did you both finally grow comfortable with fame?
DiCaprio: You never get used to it. Post-Titanic, it was more intense than anyone our age has ever dealt with in the history of…anything. It was the modern era of media and paparazzi where they’re organized, with multiple SUVs following you around. I didn’t know it would at the time, but it has way calmed down in my life.
Winslet: Also, neither of us court the attention. We don’t go to every red-carpet event, even though we sometimes might actually quite like to go if it was a movie a friend was in. We live in a time now where the world has so much access to celebrities and their lives and the color of their underwear.
DiCaprio: If Titanic came out now, it would be nuts, right?
EW: With websites and camera phones…
DiCaprio: Camera phones are, I think, harmless. [Dabbing his nose and holding up his blood-splotched napkin] By the way, I’m bleeding profusely. Look at all this blood!
Winslet: Don’t pick.
DiCaprio: But then I’m going to have a bloody, clotty thing on my nose.
Winslet: By rubbing and pressing it you’re making the skin raw.
DiCaprio: Yes, Mummy. What is unique now is the full-fledged news cameras. They’re hilarious.
Winslet: Or even just the little DVD cams. I had an experience last year where I was walking my son back from nursery school. I was giving him a piggyback, and literally the whole walk home there was a guy on the other side of the street with a video camera. And I thought, “I have no protection. There’s literally nothing I can do. But I know that what that man is doing is sick because I have a child with me, and I don’t want my children to grow up feeling watched. Ever.” So I got home, luckily Sam was there, and he took my son inside. And I went back out and approached this guy and I said, “Listen…”
EW: In your fiercest or your most charming voice?
Winslet: In this exact voice. [Eyes lower, voice deepens.] “I need you to hand me that footage right now.” And he said, “I can’t, I’m just doing my job.” And I said, “No, in this moment right now, you are not just doing your job. You are taking my child’s privacy away and that is definitely inappropriate in the grand scheme of the way the world works. Please, would you hand me that footage?” And you know what? He did!
DiCaprio: No way, that’s nuts. I don’t believe you. I think you’re making that up.
Winslet: I promise I’m not!
EW: Do your hearts swell at the sight of someone like Zac Efron or now Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson being shot out of Hollywood’s cannon?
DiCaprio: That’s the interesting thing about being an actor. You are also a public figure. Early on I made it my policy that a certain amount of publicity is good—you promote your job, you do your movie, you retain your private life, you don’t divulge everything about yourself. And when I see younger actors getting a tremendous amount of publicity, I say to myself, Well, they’ve been given an unbelievable opportunity, and I hope they know within themselves that all that really matters at the end of the day is the work. All this noise and attention will absolutely deteriorate and there will be a new, fresh piece of meat for the media to focus on within less than a year’s time. So what they should do at this moment is work their asses off to prove to the public and prove to themselves that they can absolutely have a long-term career.
EW: Speaking of your private life, do you ever look at Kate and just think, “Damn, she’s the one who got away.” [They look at each other and burst out laughing.]
Winslet: Say it!
DiCaprio: [With a weary groan] We’ve always been completely platonic.