Twenty years ago, Kate Winslet debuted opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in what was described to her as a big-budget period piece. Today, Titanic is still considered one of her crowning achievements as the film helped launch her to stardom.
In commemoration of the film’s 20th anniversary, the actress — who is seen next in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel — looked back on the making of the film in a 90-minute interview with The Hollywood Reporter‘s “Awards Chatter” podcast. The entire conversation doesn’t focus solely on Titanic, but in it Winslet does get into behind-the-scenes stories, the debunking of certain rumors, and how the experience helped shape her into the actress she is today.
1. She never auditioned
Winslet didn’t think she’d get one of the co-leads in such “a big movie,” but she was looking forward to experiencing an audition with an American accent. She never did get that audition, though.
“Suddenly, I’m told that James Cameron wanted to fly me to L.A. for me to go on camera for Titanic,” she recalled hearing the news when she was 20 while filming Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. “And I’m thinking, ‘Well, hang on, where’s the audition bit?’ Because the bit where you sit and in your own clothes with the casting director — you know, you never meet the director at that point… and you’re put on camera, that bit suddenly got skipped.”
She was asked to prepare a few scenes and was decked out in costume for a series of camera tests. “It was a proper camera test — a proper, proper one in ways that I wish they still did,” she said. After the second camera test, Winslet got the gig. To this day, she still doesn’t know why Cameron chose her.
2. Her thank you gift to James Cameron
Despite what some might think, Winslet did not gift Cameron a single rose with the note, “I am your rose.” “I’m not sure I’d stoop to that level of cheese,” she said. Instead, she sent the filmmaker a bouquet of flowers as a thank you for giving her the role. “I can’t remember what I said,” Winslet mentioned, though she added, “I don’t think I said, ‘I am your rose.'”
3. The negative press before the film came out
Winslet remembers all the negative press that came out about the film before it even hit theaters.
“I think I was aware of all that negativity and I remember being quite upset by that ‘cause all I had done was quite innocently gone off and done a job and worked really hard and I was really excited about this film and all the lovely friends I had made and I was like, ‘Aw, people are being mean about our film and it hasn’t even come out yet,'” she said. “And I remember being quite baffled by that and confused by that in ways that, if I’m being honest with you, I’m still baffled.”
What baffles her is “how sometimes the media can create a story around something before it’s even been given legs… or had a chance to walk or breathe.”
4. The weight rumor
While there had been rumors that Cameron was concerned about Winslet’s figure in Titanic, the actress said no one ever pressured her about it. “I’ll tell you what they did do, and actually I look back on this and they handled it quite well,” she said. “Clearly they were concerned about all of us being strong, being physically strong enough to get through ‘cause it was like being in a bootcamp.”
Even though she had been swimming three-to-four times a week, she said it wasn’t enough. “So they did get a personal trainer for all of us who we all sort of shared, and I just loved that, I just absolutely loved that,” Winslet recalled. “So if they had any concerns that I was slightly curvier than maybe they had wanted, they did a damn good job of hiding it by getting a personal trainer on board.”
The Oscar winner explained she has a better understanding of how Cameron acted on set now that she’s an adult. “I would say Jim is a very different person now and I think as an adult I can look back and I can understand the pressure that he would’ve been under, for sure,” she said. “There were tricky moments but there was nothing that was cruel or what I consider to be in any way shape or form as worthy of some of the stories that were written.”
5. How Emma Thompson helped her with the nude scene
Winslet was “absolutely nervous” to film her famous nude scene in Titanic in a way she still is today. But what helped her in the time was having worked with Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility. “I had worked with Emma Thompson, who is a very physically open and relaxed person,” she said, “and I had seen her do nudity and, you know, it was a part of the story.”
“Plus,” she added, “I think it was handled quite beautifully.”
6. Avoiding the pitfalls of fame
Winslet believes it’s much harder to be a famous person today than it was when she was in Titanic because of social media. “You are so much more vulnerable so much faster because of the widespread nature of exposure,” she said.
When she was first entering the spotlight, a number of factors contributed to her outlook on stardom. “I didn’t live in L.A., I lived in London,” she said. “I had a very, very good family of people who just, you know, there was no way they were gonna let me change.”
She doesn’t believe in “career strategy,” but she said, “I did feel it was necessary to look after myself in terms of how much I felt I still had to learn as an actress.” There were offers to star a big-budget, big-pay-day films that she turned down because, ultimately, she “just wasn’t ready to be a famous person.”
“I didn’t like that feeling and I didn’t know enough, and I also knew that I didn’t want to experience burnout.”