Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan ‘planned emotional beats and love story’ for lesbian-themed ‘Ammonite’

Kate Winslet didn’t hold back. Okay, she wouldn’t admit to actors who were difficult. “We’re not going there,” she told Variety’s Jenelle Riley with a laugh. But the lively half-hour exchange on October 9 covered her early career; the tough moments of her latest film, “Ammonite”; and promoting movies during COVID. The Zoom interview began streaming on the second day of the Hamptons International Film Festival, a scaled back, makeshift drive-in affair that runs through October 14.

Working in Philadelphia for an upcoming HBO series, Winslet said she doesn’t mind the cyber world. “It’s just wonderful, actually. I prefer the longer conversations. Sometimes when you do press for a movie it’s these quick sound bites for journalists from all over the world and it’s quite frantic.” From there it was a deep dive into her early career, including a revelation about her life just after “Titanic.” She chose smaller films after that blockbuster. Yes, managers and agents wanted another mega hit. But she opted for things like “Hideous Kinky” and “Quills” instead.

“I wasn’t ready. I turned 21 on ‘Titanic.’ I was still learning how to act,” she explained. She has been asked about the time just after that film and she came to a new conclusion recently. “Honest answer? I actually didn’t cope very well. I didn’t like being so famous so suddenly. I was learning to be a young woman and learning how to be in the spotlight. It was frightening. But being afraid teaches you how to cope.” She says no social media at the time helped, but she was “bullied by the British media, which is really brutal.”

The difference, she says, is that “it’s ‘fish and chips’ paper — it’s gone the next day — but social media goes on and on and on.” Other tidbits from the discussion: she loved doing “SNL” in 2004 and would go back in a second. “It’s scary, but God I love that show.” Of her childhood she revealed, “I really wanted to act but I didn’t know how you could build a life around that passion. To me, films were something Judy Garland and Jodie Foster were in.” She also said of her early years, “When you’re young you only know what you fear in that moment.”

Flash forward to the script for “Ammonite,” which was sent to her by her agent while she was making “Blackbird” last year. She had to act fast. Something about a “weather window” for the shoot. “I stayed up until 3:00am reading it,” she admitted. She was immediately drawn to the lesbian drama about a real-life scientist, but had concerns. “I was scared because I didn’t know how I was going to play this part. I just knew I wasn’t going to sit back and watch someone else play it.”

Her connection with director Francis Lee was instantaneous. “He’s from very deep working-class roots as am I. People never believe that because I speak nicely. They think English actors are classically trained and have diplomas and ribbons coming out of their backside. I left school at 16 and got lucky.” File that under “understatement of the year.” She and her “Ammonite” co-star Saoirse Ronan “planned the emotional beats and the love story. We’d help each other out and give each other ideas, and it’s lovely as actors when you can do that.”

But she admitted that some dramatic roles are tough to shake. “I do try very hard not to take it home, but some days you just can’t help it.” And about the world of make-believe in general, she still says it excites her. But with an asterisk: “I wake up with the same enthusiasm to do it for 27 years now. But I still get it wrong, even after all these years.” The entire interview can be seen at HamptonsFilmFest.org. It’s part of a series called “In Conversation With…” that also features cyber chats this year with Leslie Odom Jr. and Steven Yeun.

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