Some actors draw the line at mixing art and commerce, but Kate Winslet isn't one of them.
"In the last few years, there don't seem to be any rules around it anymore," said Winslet during an interview about her role as the new face of Lancôme's venerable Trésor franchise, her first beauty deal. "I remember five or six years ago, it was really a big deal to be the face of a campaign or a spokesperson for a particular brand name. Now, it just doesn't seem to matter so much."
Not that Winslet would particularly care if it did. Like many of the characters she has portrayed, Winslet is fiercely independent and marches to the beat of her own drummer — she has even recorded a duet with Weird Al Yankovic entitled "I Need a Nap."
Still, she doesn't take her status for granted. "I do feel unbelievably privileged that I'm in a place where I get to choose," she said. "It's a position that people dream of being in, and I don't take it lightly."
What she cares most about: "As an individual, to hang on to some sense of mystery — which in this world that we live in now that is so obsessed with celebrity, I think it's harder to hang on to who you really are," she said.
And Winslet has a sensible way for avoiding that type of neurosis: She refuses to read anything written about her. "First of all, I don't really know what's written about me because I don't look at any of it," she said. "I don't read reviews or other things. How would you survive in this crazy world if you read everything that's written about you? I'm blissfully unaware. Maybe I'd be a different person if I did listen to what they were saying."
That conviction has made it easy to say that a Kate Winslet-branded fragrance is highly unlikely. "I wouldn't like to have a Kate Winslet fragrance, no. It's just not my style. It's not my thing," she said.
"As an actor, it's an enormous privilege to be asked to be a part of things like [the Trésor campaign], and I guess it just felt like the right time for me," said Winslet. Print advertising began running in September books; a TV campaign will follow for the holiday season. Sources say Trésor's business has risen 20 percent since Winslet's ads began appearing. Trésor's sales in the U.S. have been estimated at $40 million retail for this year. None of the executives would discuss what Winslet is being paid for the campaign or what Lancôme is spending to place it, but industry sources estimated that Winslet is being paid at least $5 million over three years for her work on the campaign, and that Lancôme is spending upward of $10 million to place it in the U.S. alone."Kate is an exquisite ambassador for Lancôme because she truly embodies what Trésor is all about," said Odile Roujol, global president of Lancôme. "She is romantic, feminine and modern. At the same time, we love that Kate is an accomplished woman with heartfelt convictions about beauty and appearance, about her family and about her work. There is a truthfulness and a sincerity to Kate Winslet that women around the world find immensely appealing."
Adds Eric Lauzat, president of Lancôme in the U.S.: "Femininity, luxury, good taste — that's what Kate brings to the brand. Kate plays a lot of romantic leads — and romance is what Trésor is all about."
Like other celebrities — including Clive Owen, who is the face of Lancôme's Hypnose Homme — Winslet approaches the Trésor campaign as she would any film project.
"In a strange way, it felt like committing to a film, as opposed to committing to a fragrance line. It's such a stylish project, in many ways. With Peter Lindbergh [who shot the Trésor campaign and with whom she's worked on editorial shoots] and also filling the shoes of Isabella Rossellini, it's a pretty big deal."
Born into a family of actors — her father, Roger Winslet, is an actor, as are both of her sisters, Anna and Beth — Winslet said acting is "the only thing I felt like I ever wanted to do." Her first big job was in an Eighties-era Sugar Puffs cereal commercial; later, she landed a role as an obsessive teenager in "Heavenly Creatures." After winning the role of Marianne Dashwood in "Sense and Sensibility" (and racking up her first Academy Award nomination) Winslet went on to star in 1997's "Titanic," the box-office blockbuster (for which she earned another Academy Award nomination). Since then, Winslet's films have included "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (her favorite role to date), "Hideous Kinky," "Romance and Cigarettes" and "Finding Neverland."
During a recent visit to Manhattan's Chelsea High School to speak to student members of the Epic Theatre Ensemble (which is partially financed by Lancôme), Winslet admitted to the classic actorly affliction of insecurity. "Every single thing I do, I always think 'I could have done that better,'" she told the students. "I always try every idea I have and I always experiment with those things to see what works the best until I've exhausted all the alternatives. Then there's that feeling of 'Oh, that's so obvious. Why did I forget that?' And you're kicking yourself for not having pushed yourself that little bit further. I feel that all the time."You learn on the job, as you go," Winslet told the students. "You need more than anything to have the confidence to take yourself to the very vulnerable places where you have to go to as an actor. Those emotions and life experiences are part of the toolbox. Take those experiences and keep them for later. There is no right or wrong, and you have to try everything. You have to be brave enough to stand up in front of other people, just rehearsing or running scenes. You can't be afraid of what you sound like, what you're looking like, what you're walking like. You have to get that self-conscious thing and get it gone because it's only going to get in the way."
Of all her roles, Winslet says the one specific scene she'd choose to do over would be one at the end of 2006's "Little Children."
"There's a scene at the end of that movie where my character thinks for a brief moment that she has lost her child," Winslet remembered. "Her daughter was in a swing one moment and she turns around and [her daughter is] gone. And in this moment, my character has an enormous realization of what a useless mother she has been. She finds the child, but I realized later that there are so many different ways I could have played this scene where she breaks down — she loves this child, and this moment of possibly losing her has changed her forever. Often, emotional scenes are the ones I would like to go back to."
And there's one other thing she'd like to make clear. Published reports have Winslet turning down Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar-winning role in "Shakespeare in Love," an allegation she denies.
"That isn't my quote — I never said that," she said firmly.
But she is quotable on her choice of a dream co-star.
"My favorite actress in the world is Meryl Streep, and I haven't had a chance to work with her," said Winslet, who added that she has met her. "She's a goddess."
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