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Kate Winslet: Last year I worked for seven weeks - the rest of the time I'm a mum

Interview by Katja Hofman

Kate Winslet, 27, started acting on TV when she was 11. She attended Redroofs stage school and won her first big role in Heavenly Creatures when she was 17. In 1997 Titanic made her an international star. She became the youngest actress to win two Oscar nominations and has since won a third, for Iris. In The Life of David Gale she plays a journalist campaigning to save a prisoner on death row. Divorced from James Threapleton, she lives with their daughter Mia and director Sam Mendes in the Cotswolds.

Kate Winslet, 27, started acting on TV when she was 11. She attended Redroofs stage school and won her first big role in Heavenly Creatures when she was 17. In 1997 Titanic made her an international star. She became the youngest actress to win two Oscar nominations and has since won a third, for Iris. In The Life of David Gale she plays a journalist campaigning to save a prisoner on death row. Divorced from James Threapleton, she lives with their daughter Mia and director Sam Mendes in the Cotswolds.

Apparently you were very keen to be cast in The Life of David Gale...

It was the first thing that I read coming back to life and getting a normal brain back after giving birth to Mia and I loved it. I got straight on the phone to my agent and said: "Look can we get a phone number for Alan Parker?" I could see it was a wonderful opportunity and I knew it would be great fun to tear around in jeans and biker boots, and not to have to wear a corset.

Where do you stand on the death penalty?

I swore that when doing press for this movie I would never say how I felt, but it's one of those things when you can't say nothing. If anyone touched my child, I would want them dead and I would want to kill them myself. So that makes it hard to say what I feel – it really does depend on circumstance.

How close did you get to death row?

I never walked death row. Alan Parker did, but I don't think I would have been able to stomach that. We watched lots of tapes of interviews with priests who had read the last rites and held hands with prisoners as they were being injected. These are things that you just don't want to know about – it was really hard.

Has playing a journalist changed your perception of the press?

It has – I am intrigued now by what you do! Because even though you might claim to be just listening to what I say, you probably have an agenda and had planned what you were going to ask me and how you would present yourself to get more out of me. I know!

Are you ambitious?

I am in that I like to play parts that are challenging but I wouldn't say I have an ambition to win tons of awards or specific things like that. I've never wanted to get to the "top". The wonderful thing is that the level of success that I have achieved (not patting myself on the back at all, I'm trying to be as humble about it as possible) means that I don't have to work if I don't want to. In fact I don't work very much. Last year I worked for just seven weeks, and the rest of the time I'm a mum and that's wonderful. I think it must be very hard for parents who have to go out to work every day. I just can't imagine – I would hate it. There is too much I want to do with my baby.

The British press has been very harsh on you at times – how do you deal with that?

I think emotionally, I'm not very good at dealing with it. I get very pissed off and very upset. I'm only human. If any of it was true I would take it on the chin and say "fair enough", but none of it is. Only my ex-husband and I know why we separated, and it had nothing to do with meeting other people. To be honest, I had the ideal divorce. It was completely mutual and a totally amicable situation. My ex-husband and I get on great. He is very present in Mia's life and I want him to be.

So it does get to you?

I know I shouldn't care either way and just get on with my life but when you read things that are so profoundly untrue, like I'm not around my daughter and she lives with her dad, it's really upsetting. I spend every single day making sure that I'm with my child, to the point that other people say: "It's all right, you actually can go out and see a movie tonight." There is a feeling in me of having to justify what I'm like as a mother, and no one should have to justify what they're like as a parent. It's an instinctive thing.

What would you say if your daughter decided to be an actress?

I would support her in whatever she decided she wanted to be. I think she will be an actress. You can already tell which way your child is going emotionally and she's got a wild imagination on her.

You're in good shape – have you given up refusing to conform to Hollywood standards of how you should look?

I have been doing nothing to alter my appearance, lose weight or get fit, anything like that. I would say that after having Mia, metabolically my body changed. I'm just pretty stable and I have been for a year now. And I think it's also because I'm tearing around after Mia.

Do you enjoy the dressing up part of your job?

No, I'm much happier in jeans and a jumper than I am in a beautiful dress. I always find them such a headache to wear – what if it creases or the strap breaks? I hate to think about what I'm wearing. You have to enter into those occasions with the spirit of absolute fun and it's just dressing up and I don't completely despise it.

Did you always know you wanted to be an actress?

Always. It was a matter of fact: that's what I will do. I imagined that I'd be very much a jobbing actor, a strolling player. Because to this day a lot of the members of my family work very intermittently and are always looking for work. And sometimes have to earn money in other ways – such as waitressing. We've all been there! No one was more shocked than me when I was suddenly in a movie when I was 17. And the level of excitement that I feel when I get a job that I really want is still present in me today. When Alan called me, there were tears and joy and dancing and immediately calling my mum! I'm still like that.

'The Life of David Gale' is on general release from 14th March

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