Sunday 4 December 2016

From English Rose to 'trashy slut' - Kate Winslet

Long used to period dramas, Kate Winslet gets in touch with her darker side for her role as a ruthless gang boss in her latest movie, she tells our reporter

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

Nasty piece of work: Winslet plays cold-blooded mob boss Irina Vlasalov in Triple 9
Nasty piece of work: Winslet plays cold-blooded mob boss Irina Vlasalov in Triple 9

Red tights, red boots, back-combed brassy blonde hair, long nails and metallic blue eye shadow. Despite what you might think, this is not a drag queen's shopping list, but Kate Winslet's costume for her role in Triple 9.

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In contrast, at the interview in the Corinthia Hotel in London to promote the film, Winslet is immaculate in a sharp black suit, with perfect make-up, stud earrings and her highlighted hair pulled back into a high ponytail.

In fact, she's possibly never looked better. At 40, she really does have a glowing complexion and seems at ease in her own skin, one of the few Hollywood A-listers who hasn't resorted to botox or plastic surgery. It helps that she is also the much-photographed face of Lancome, but there's more to it than that.

She married Ned Rocknroll in 2012, her third marriage, about which she says, "In my personal life, I really can't say why, but I've never felt more confident and happy."

In any case, having three children, Mia, 15 (from her marriage to director Jim Threapleton) Joe, 13 (from her marriage to director Sam Mendes) and two-year-old Bear, certainly hasn't taken its toll on her face or figure.

Now, after a busy few weeks in the US - she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for her role in Steve Jobs (where she was notoriously pictured at the awards ceremony touching Susan Sarandon's decolleté) and appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel talk show - she seems relaxed and happy to be back in the UK and is keen to chat about her jump into the realm of action movies.

And there's no doubt that Triple 9 belongs in the action category. This edge-of-your seat thriller, directed by John Hillcoat, features Winslet in a way we've never seen her before. The halcyon days of Sense and Sensibility and Titanic with a buxom Winslet in fetching Empire-line dresses are a long-distant memory.

Here, she plays cold-blooded Russian-Israeli mob boss Irina Vlaslov, adopting a Russian accent and leaving destruction in her wake as she controls heists and murders, even using her own son as a pawn in her evil games.

It has to be said that Winslet is not the only star of the show: Casey Affleck features as a straight-arrow cop, Woody Harrelson his alcoholic flawed detective uncle and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a special forces soldier-turned-gang leader. Aaron Paul and Anthony Mackie also play gang members. As Hillcoat said in advance of the London screening last week, there are "eight main characters in the film".

In fact, Winslet doesn't appear that frequently, but her presence as the mob ringleader is strongly felt throughout. Her character is certainly multi-layered: in one scene we see her with her son in her arms, tenderly reading him a story and in the next, she's throwing a ziplock bag of bloody teeth into the boot of a car containing two bound and gagged prisoners, who are writhing in agony.

Winslet says: "It's nothing like anything I have done before. I have long been an admirer of John's work as a storyteller, his work is often bloody and very violent but what he does, quite unashamedly, is throw in the violence and everything he wants visually and then takes out all the noises and sound effects and just tells the story for what it is. There is an honesty in that, which I've admired since seeing John's film The Proposition, so I felt excited to do something very different."

And it may surprise you to learn that there was an Irish link in Winslet's thought process when deciding to act in the film.

Hylda Queally, a native of Barefield, Co Clare, is her agent. Queally is a former AIB cashier who started a talent agency in Dublin in the Eighties before moving to Los Angeles. She is a top rep at talent giant CAA and is rated as one of the top 100 most powerful people in Hollywood.

Of Queally, Winslet says: "I'm very fortunate that I do have an agent with exquisite taste. I'm happy that she was involved. She was very supportive of me wanting to be a part of this."

Queally is one of Hollywood's famous "ten-percenters", as movie power agents are dubbed because of the big slice of income they net from the talent they represent. Forbes estimates Winslet's earnings at around $15m a year.

Winslet doesn't mention money as her motivation for appearing in the film, but more personal reasons.

"I felt excited to do something very different. This film was made quite a while ago and I had just had a baby who's now two. He was only six months old at the time and I have to be honest, just from a selfish acting standpoint I just wanted a short, sharp jolt back into reality. I wanted to feel terrified, I wanted to feel out of my comfort zone."

How did Winslet feel playing such a vicious woman? In the movie, Winslet's character uses her son as bait to make his father Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) commit heinous crimes.

Of the experience of playing Irina, who she describes as a "trashy slut", she says: "It was one of those rare situations that I couldn't identify at all with this woman, let alone make peace with anything she wore! But it was fun to have that big hairdo and wear those terrible costumes."

So are we likely to see more of her as a villain in future? To this, she replies, "I haven't thought about it. Probably yes - it didn't feel comfortable and I had to keep repeating to myself, it's not real! But yeah, I'd love to."

For Winslet, it remains to be seen if it's a case of goodbye to the English Rose roles she has favoured up to now, but certainly an exciting new step into the genre of the thriller.

Triple 9 is in cinemas from February 19.

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