“I look really pulled together, I know, but I’m wearing the t-shirt I had on the school run, I’m wearing a pair of leggings and sandals. And then I thought, well I’ll put on a black jacket, a quick lip, and make it look like I’m one of those film star people who does a press junket.” [laughs] So begins my Zoom video interview with the iconic Kate Winslet, who looks every bit like the film star that she is. Throughout the course of our delightful conversation, she charms me with her infectious laugh, candid demeanour, and warm relatable chatter about her kids and childhood crush Guy Pearce (who just so happens to be her Mare of Easttown co-star). Early on in our talk, when she inquisitively wonders about my opinion of the HBO show (having seen the first five episodes), she eagerly asks, “it’s addictive, isn’t it?”. When I reply that it is, she lets out an emphatic and relieved “yessss!”. It’s not difficult to see why Guy Pearce and so many co-stars and cinema lovers have fallen for Academy Award winner Kate Winslet.
The following is a condensed and edited version of my wonderful conversation on Zoom with Kate Winslet.
How do you view Mare?
Kate Winslet: Mare, for me, was the definition of the multi-tasking woman. She’s the kind of woman I admire more than any other, to be honest. This diligent, hard working, juggling a thousand things, trying her best to be a good friend, a good mother, a good grandmother, you know? And desperately not wanting to fail and not wanting to let people down. Even though she has unorthodox methods of doing things, her morals are so intact and she will put her family and the people she loves above and beyond everything else, and in particular, before herself. That affects everything about how she is, how she moves, how she talks, how she functions at home and in her work and in the community, but also in how she looks. We decided that this was absolutely a woman who has not coloured her hair since her son died, hence the four inches of regrowth that you see, and who doesn’t look in a mirror because, guess what, she doesn’t have time to look in a mirror. She’s busy taking care of everybody else. And that, to be honest, is like most people I know. She’s living with this crisis that she hasn’t processed or dealt with in any shape or form because the guilt that she feels is so enormous that if she does deal with it, it’ll consume her and she’ll crack, which is ultimately what happens. But look at her! She’s Mare Sheehan! There’s no one like her. I’d never read a character like this, never. I was very excited to be the person they asked to play her, very excited.
I’m in my mid-forties now and I’m much more interested in playing the unglamorous roles. I have no interest in playing characters who look a particular perfect way. You know, I don’t believe in unattainable ideals in the characters that I play because I just want to play real people. I want to play out human stories and real emotions, and for me, that was the biggest pull in playing Mare.
The biggest challenge for me in playing her was creating that trauma around the loss of her son. I can barely even talk about it, actually. I had to create such grief and such pain, and sustain it for twenty months. I mean we started shooting in September of 2019, we were shut down in March of 2020, but I still had to carry on keeping Mare inside of me because we hadn’t finished. We came back in September 2020 and we just finished this December, so I feel like I only just finished playing her.
I worked alongside a grief therapist to really understand what that process is like. I did spend time with a lot of people who have lost either children or a loved one to suicide, which was obviously extremely upsetting. But I also spent time with people who have dealt with mental illness, and there is a bit of that in my family, not directly my own specific family, but in the past. So connecting with those family members on what that was like was hard too, because that’s not necessarily something that those family members would ordinarily share. And sustaining that all the time, layering it up and charging myself up with this trauma in order to play those scenes. The actor who played Mare’s son Kevin, Cody Kostro, he’s an absolutely brilliant New York actor, I couldn’t even look him in the eye. Every single time he was on set, for any little scene, I could not even look at him, I had to be somewhere else. It was terrible! Crazy. I can’t even talk about it now. [starts crying] But that’s just the job, isn’t it? It’s just the job. And it sounds very indulgent to talk about these things in such great detail. [tears start welling in her eyes] Sorry. I’m still dealing with it, it’s so stupid. And my kids will be like “Mum, it’s not real. He’s not even real, he’s an invention.” And I’d be like “no, it’s real. It’s real! Shut up, shut up.” [laughs] But yeah, that was the hardest part of the role for me.
Would you say you’re more drawn to dramas than to comedies?
KW: Well it seems to be, but I do love laughing, by the way. [laughs] I do love to laugh and love comedy. I’ve actually just recently read a terrific comedy script. So those things do come along but yeah, I don’t know why… And I am constantly laughing on set. It’s usually me that brings the humour and there was no shortage of that on Mare of Easttown, that’s absolutely for sure. Especially with me and Jean Smart, because sometimes we would just improvise. You know those scenes with Helen and Mare where they are just so rude to each other? There’s that scene at the end of episode two where they’re screaming in the kitchen when Lori (Julianne Nicholson) comes over and she says “can we talk in private?”, and I say to Helen [in Delco accent] “that’s your cue to fuck off”, that was completely ad libbed! We were improvising all of that. [in Delco accent] “Fuck you!” “Fuck you too!” Absolutely improvised and made up on the day. And so being able to have that sort of looseness and fun with another actor is always such a privilege.
And to work with Jean, I mean she’s incredible, and her comic timing is hysterical. Wherever we could sort of inject a little brevity into the story, we would try to. There are moments of lightness, there are things that you find a little bit funny in the middle of it, you know? We really worked for those moments because you have to have them. Otherwise it could have easily turned into a small town crime drama, and it’s actually not that. It’s about community and it’s about personal grief and mercy and forgiveness. It’s about so much more than just the crime that was committed and an unsolved murder, and I loved that about the script. The brilliantly, brilliantly written script by Brad Ingelsby was just amazing.
What was it like working with this incredible ensemble?
KW: Well rehearsal was a lot of conversations in rooms. We would all gather and sit for hours and just talk. A lot of it was really about creating this family and their backstory and their history. With the show, what you do feel is the sense of connection between all these people and their shared history. So we really created that and talked about that. In some cases, a lot of the details that we needed were in the script and on the page, but sometimes they weren’t. So we absolutely added things. For example, Jean Smart, who plays Helen, and myself, we would talk about what their relationship would have been like when Mare was a teenager because of course her father dies when she is thirteen years old, and how that would have affected the mother-daughter dynamic, especially with her being the only child. So all of those things really add to the depth and the history of the relationship. And every character did that.
Very interestingly, Julianne Nicholson, who plays Lori Ross, is married to my son’s godfather and I’ve known Julianne for a very long time. She lived in New York in the same time that I was living in New York, her OBGYN who delivered her son also delivered my son. I held Julianne’s son, Iggy, when he was less than 24 hours old. So the depth of that connection that we have, the sort of key moments in any woman’s life that you can share with a friend, we had them in the same way that Lori and Mare would have had those as well. I mean Lori and Mare had all of them – their lives were completely interwoven. But because Julianne and I had a few of those things that we had shared, that was quite meaningful and made us realize that when Lori’s children were born, Mare would have held them and would have been there. And the same goes for Siobhan (Angourie Rice) and everything that Mare went through in terms of having custody of Drew (Izzy Young), Lori would have been there through all of it. So it really made a big difference to Julianne and I to have a bit of shared history like that. But the whole experience was very real.
I think because our shoot wasn’t ten weeks, it was a total of 125 days or something, and because it was so long and broken up with COVID in the middle, it meant that we really were able to form friendships and relationships with everybody. We built this town, emotionally and with all the people in it, we built those characters and we built that community and we built that town. It was a completely wonderful experience. And every time we would have a new actor come in or start work, someone like Mackenzie Lansing, who plays Brianna, a brilliant young actress…so whenever anyone would join us, I would make sure that immediately “so you feel good about your part and your backstory and where we’re at episodically?”, because we didn’t shoot in chronological order, not at all. But the very last thing I shot of the entire show was a small piece from episode five. One day I’ll tell you the exact piece it was and you won’t believe it.
I think because I was an executive producer as well on the show, I very much did that job, it wasn’t in name only. So I very much felt like I had to be the welcoming committee when anyone new came in. I mean I tend to do that anyway, to be honest, but I really felt an obligation to do that so everyone would feel important and equal. I made sure no one was in a different sized trailer, for example. That was very important to me, actually. On day one, our producer, Mark Roybal from wiip studios, I sent him a text and said “just so you know, when we start shooting next week and there’s a trailer for me that is bigger than everyone else’s, I will actually cry.” And he’s like “what are you talking about?”, and I said “it doesn’t matter what is in my contract, everybody has to be absolutely equal and the same because that is the energy of the show.” You can’t just sort of pretend it, you have to actually do it. So everyone had exactly the same – whether it was me, Sosie Bacon, or little Izzy, who plays Drew – everyone had the same. And I swear to God, it made a difference. It just meant that everyone felt equal and included and considered, you know? That was a very important part of it.
Since Guy Pearce mentioned it, what were some of your favourite memories of living with Guy, Jean, and Angourie Rice while filming this show?
KW: Well we had about six weeks all together because this was part of the COVID part of our shoot where we all had to be really safe. I like to think that we took it in turns to cook but it was mostly me cooking, although Angourie is a great baker. So she and her Mum made incredible breads and cakes, and we’d come home and go “oooh, pie!”. There would be some elaborate thing waiting for us that they had made so Guy and I would sit down, have a glass of wine, and start eating. Guy is very obsessive about recycling. He was my childhood pinup, he was my crush when I was eleven years old. I was in love with Guy Pearce in Neighbours. I was absolutely obsessed with him! I knew that we shared the same birthday because I had read it in a teen magazine. So Mike from Neighbours, he was going to come and get me on a white horse one day; it was a foregone conclusion and I had it all planned. Years later, when I ended up working with Guy in 2010 on Mildred Pierce, I had to come clean and say “look, I’ve been in love with you since I was eleven years old.” So then to find myself actually living with my childhood crush was unbelievable. And we had our birthday while we were living together! So dreams can come true! However, he takes his recycling so seriously that he would even go through the trash and take out things that he decided should have gone in the recycling and had not been cleaned properly, and he would put them through the dishwasher. So he would put an empty tuna can, for example, in the dishwasher and then that would go in the recycling. I mean fantastic, I’m not going to knock it. But I am going to knock the fact that I was going through the bins with my childhood crush. I turned to him and would be like “I’m just going to say, this was not in the fantasy. Why are we digging through banana skins and onion peels? This is not what I imagined when Guy Pearce was coming to get me on his white horse. He wasn’t going to bring me a bag of rubbish at the same time.” So I do have some pretty funny memories and stories. It was brilliant though, you know? It really was. Very unusual circumstances but really brilliant.
Mare of Easttown premieres tonight at 10pm ET on Crave and HBO