One day before Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel closes out the New York Film Festival, the film’s star, Kate Winslet, took the stage at Lincoln Center to discuss the past, present, and future of her Oscar-winning career.
Winslet stars in Wonder Wheel as a 1950s waitress named Ginny, who works on the Coney Island boardwalk and is married to a carousel operator played by Jim Belushi. (Belushi was in the audience Friday night to support his on-screen wife.) The film has been met with mixed early reactions, but Winslet’s performance has been almost universally hailed, with critics calling it a “career high.”
On stage, Winslet opened up about the challenges that came with playing Ginny and how, when Allen first sent her the script, she immediately fell in love with the character — but thought there was no way she could do her justice.
“She felt so far out of my grasp,” Winslet told the audience. “She felt so far away. She’s living a life that is so full of not shattered dreams, but proper mistakes that really made a difference to the course of her life and all of her choices. She has no choice. One day she did, and now she doesn’t. And to play this character who throws it all away at the possible chance or the hope of something new somewhere else, but it’s an impossible, unreachable, ungraspable fantasy… To play a woman like that, who also drinks and shouts and has a son who lights fires and has a different accent to me, I just thought to myself, ‘Well, I just don’t know where to begin.’ And then I looked at myself and the mirror and said, ‘Oh for f—’s sake, just get your act together. Of course you’ve got to do it. Shut up.’ And so I did.”
Over the course of the hour-long talk, Winslet also discussed her wide-ranging career and some of her personal favorite roles. At the top of the list was Clementine, the wild-haired girl who falls in love with Jim Carrey in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
“Actually, she’s one I’d love to play again because it was just so much fun,” Winslet said. “And the possibilities for the hair colors were just endless. Wouldn’t you like to see Clementine as a 42-year-old woman? I’d love to know what happened to her. I love the idea that she just let herself get really fat and just totally let go of her hangups about her body and just indulged in everything that made her feel happy. And more hair colors and more crazy clothes! I just think that could’ve been fun.”
Winslet added that she really only watches her own performances once and then never revisits them — with few exceptions. She recounted the story of how two years ago, she visited New Zealand with her family, and after visiting Peter Jackson, who directed Winslet in her breakout film Heavenly Creatures, her teenage daughter encouraged them to all sit down together and rewatch the film.
“Peter kept turning to me and saying, ‘You know, this is a bloody good film! This is really a bloody good film we made! I mean, bloody hell! When you think about some of the s— that’s out there, Christ! This is a really good film!'” Winslet recounted, laughing. “I was like, ‘Calm down, Pete, calm down!’ And I think he had a moment of allowing himself, beyond The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, to just be very, very proud of a film he’d made, this tiny film that we’d made 25 years ago.”
The actress also teased her upcoming reunion with Titanic’s James Cameron: She’s joining the cast of his upcoming Avatar sequels as a mysterious character named Ronal. Cameron is currently in production on all four sequels, with the first set to hit theaters on Dec. 18, 2020. Winslet said she expects to only spend about a month filming, but her character is an important one.
“I’m not really allowed to say anything,” she told the audience. “But it’s a pivotal role.”
As for her latest in Wonder Wheel, you can catch that when it opens Dec. 1 in limited release.