As a young actress struggling to make her mark, Kate Winslet would have read countless scripts featuring vague and unexciting female leads who often had little to no control over the narrative. Sadly, this is a part of the Hollywood game that sees older women cast aside in favour of fresh faces. Thankfully she found a way of bending the film industry in her favour.
Winslet always knew that being an actor meant facing rejection every single day. “When I was younger, when I was 14, I was told by a drama teacher that I might do OK if I was happy to settle for the fat girl parts,” Winslet told The Guardian in 2016. “So what I always feel in these moments is that any young woman who has ever been put down by a teacher, by a friend, by even a parent, don’t listen to any of it. Because that’s what I did. I kept on going, and I overcame my fears and got over my insecurities.”
Winslet soon learned that casting directors could be equally lazy in their assumptions, which led her to the conclusion that if she wanted to make work she was truly proud of she would need to develop a reputation as a character actor: “I was slightly carving out a place for myself that was someone you know, who could play characters,” she told the Intelligence Squared podcast. “Who didn’t have to be the in-your-face leading lady who is looking immaculate all the time. You know, that’s not me. And I am more of a character-y actor. I feel much more comfortable when I don’t have to sort of look good on-screen. I always felt like that was a huge pressure.”
That quest eventually bought Winslet into the orbit of French filmmaker Michel Gondry, who cast her as Clementine in his film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, a role that she would later describe as one of her absolute favourites. “I think a favourite for me is Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” she began. “But you see, the period from Titanic till then, which is about six or seven years, that period of time, making those choices to do smaller films and take risks and be in things that sometimes barely even saw the light of day, I think all of that instinctive behaviour on my part as an actor in making those smaller choices, I think all of it paid off. So I think Clementine is probably one of my favourites, yeah.”
Written by the acclaimed Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is undoubtedly Winslet’s best film and it also features the best performance of her career. Unlike the period pieces she mostly featured in, this 2004 work of art conducts a surreal psychological examination of the nature of a romantic relationship. Kaufman won the Academy Award for his screenplay, and Winslet earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Winslet said, “It’s really fun to take risks and it’s really fun to play lots of different characters. Clementine was the most eccentric part that I’ve ever played. I just had so much fun doing her. What an unlikely pairing. I mean, you wouldn’t imagine that Jim Carrey and I would ever do a movie together.
“When I was sent the script and was asked to do it, I just thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I’m not going to do this’ because I knew that it would be a totally new experience and very challenging, which it was both of those things.”