Considered by many to be one of the greatest actresses of her generation, Kate Elizabeth Winslet was already an established talent before she starred in Titanic, the most expensive and highest-grossing film of its time.
Despite her fame, here are those things that you maybe didn’t already know about the 45-year-old star, whom Time Magazine named in 2009 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
20. She was given the nickname ‘Blubber’ at school because of her weight
Winslet has described herself as being overweight when she was a child, revealing that this led to her being bullied and given the nickname ‘Blubber’ by some of her schoolmates.
Since becoming a world-renowned actress, Winslet has refused to allow Hollywood to dictate how much she weighs and often takes a stand against body-shaming.
In a speech to children at a We Day UK Charity Event in 2017, Winslet recalled that she was bullied at school. “They called me Blubber. Teased me for wanting to act. Locked me in the cupboard. Laughed at me.”
“I wasn’t the prettiest,” she said. “I was even told that I might be lucky in my acting if I was happy to settle for the fat-girl parts. [Casting agents] would say, ‘You’re just not what we’re looking for Kate.’ I’d hear that a lot.”
She didn’t allow such comments to shake her confidence, and is outspoken about the importance of positive body image.
In a 2017 interview with Jimmy Fallon, she said she hadn’t weighed herself in 12 years – “top tip: it is a great move!”
19. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was the first to hire her for a film
After appearing in British TV shows including Dark Season, Get Back and Casualty, Winslet was given her first film role by The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.
An 18-year-old Winslet was chosen over 174 other girls to play Juliet Hulme in Jackson’s 1994 psychological thriller Heavenly Creatures.
This film was based on the real-life murder of Honorah Rieper by her daughter in 1954.
Jackson decided to film every scene in the most accurate locations possible, including a local teashop frequented by Honorah and the murder scene itself on a secluded dirt track.
Winslet and co-star Melanie Lynskey, performing as teenage best friends with murderous intentions, were so engrossed with the project that they would often remain in character with each other off screen.
In Entertainment Weekly, critic Owen Gleiberman described the young Winslet and Lynskey as “extraordinary actresses.”
18. She turned down a role in The Lord of the Rings
Heavenly Creatures wasn’t the only time that Peter Jackson offered Winslet a role in one of his films.
He wanted her to star in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the Return of the King.
Winslet was offered the part of Eowyn, a warrior and noblewoman eventually played by Miranda Otto.
Winslet most likely refused the role as she was taking respite from massive franchises following the success of Titanic.
She would not participate in a major commercial film franchise for the following 17 years, eventually appearing as the antagonist Jeanine in the Divergent series.
Unused to playing villains, Winslet said in an interview with USA Today that she pretended to be horrible on her first day on the Divergent set. “I wanted to break [the tension] and say, ‘It’s OK, I’m really fun. I promise.’ But I thought, just for today, I’d let them think that I am a complete b****.”
17. She turned down Shakespeare in Love
Rather than continuing to pursue roles in major Hollywood productions post-Titanic, Winslet instead starred in a number of independent films.
She turned down a number of major roles, including the part of Viola in Shakespeare in Love.
Instead, the female lead in this period romantic comedy went to Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998.
She also rejected the role of Anna in Anna and the King, with the part instead going to Jodie Foster. The film received a mixed critical response and was banned from cinemas in Thailand, the country where it was set.
Winslet’s only film in the year following Titanic’s release was the low budget drama Hideous Kinky.
Based on a book of the same name, Hideous Kinky was actually filmed before Titanic, and saw Winslet play a single mum in the 1970s who decides to make a new life in Morocco.
16. She fled for her life when Richard Branson’s private island home was going up in flames
In 2012, Winslet married Ned Rocknroll, the nephew of billionaire Richard Branson.
Winslet and her family were staying on Branson’s private Caribbean island, Necker, in 2011 when a fire engulfed the 14-bedroom Great House.
Guests fled from the home and stood on the beach watching the site burn down to the ground.
Among the people fleeing was Branson’s elderly mother Eve. The media widely celebrated Winslet’s bravery as it was reported that Winslet carried Eve from the burning building.
But in an interview with the Guardian years later, Eve Branson laughed off claims that Winslet “saved” her.
“I’d just about got outside and the rain was pouring down and I didn’t have my contact lenses in, but I was making my way out and Kate and her two children were behind me,” she recalled. “Then she just sort of picked me up and took me down four steps and that was it… I suppose I might have been a bit slow for her.”
15. She almost drowned shooting Titanic
It’s well known that the Titanic shoot was an arduous one for many of the film’s cast and crew.
This was no different for Winslet, who was left feeling completely drained by the experience.
She filmed the water scenes without a wetsuit beneath her costume and developed pneumonia, all the while working on about four hours’ sleep each night.
While filming a scene in the sinking ship, Winslet accidentally snagged her coat on a gate as she ran – and she was dragged underwater, almost drowning.
Among the cast, there were broken bones and ruptured organs as the actors fell onto parts of the shipwreck.
Since she filmed no scenes in Canada, Winslet avoided being hospitalised with eighty Canada team members when an unknown prankster poisoned their clam chowder with PCP.
14. The Holiday was the first film where Winslet used her natural voice
Winslet has performed wide-ranging accents to varying critical reception – but in 2006, The Holiday marked the first film where she did not alter her voice or accent in any way.
This romantic comedy also saw Jude Law performing in his natural voice. He commented to Hollywood One on One that the lack of accent can be “trickier because there aren’t so many layers to hide behind… it feels a little more vulnerable.”
For both Holy Smoke and The Dressmaker, Winslet perfected her Australian accent with coach Victoria Mielewska, who has also trained Michael Fassbender and Elizabeth Moss.
For Titanic, however, Winslet says she finds it unbearable to listen back to her American accent.
“I can’t listen to it. It’s awful,” she said to the Telegraph in 2012. “Hopefully [my American accent] is so much better now.”
“It sounds terribly self-indulgent but actors do tend to be very self-critical. I have a hard time watching any of my performances, but watching Titanic I was just like ‘Oh God, I want to do that again.’”
13. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was her favourite film to star in
At a talk in the Lincoln Center in 2017, Winslet confessed that she enjoyed playing Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more than any other character.
“She’s one I’d love to play again because it was just so much fun,” Winslet said. “And the possibilities for the hair colours were just endless. Wouldn’t you like to see Clementine as a 42-year-old woman? I’d love to know what happened to her.”
As the scenes of Sunshine were filmed out of sequence, there wasn’t time for Winslet to dye her hair to create each of her character’s looks.
Instead she had a collection of wigs for the role, her favourite being the bright red one.
The studio was keen to cast a recent Oscar winner in this role, but Winslet persuaded them to take her instead.
Reportedly she was the only actress who was willing to criticise the script rather than just praising it in her audition. Her honesty was the tipping point that secured her the role.
12. She has written a book about autism and mutism awareness
Winslet’s involvement with autism dates back to a documentary which she narrated in 2009.
A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism was a documentary on the relationship between Margret Ericsdottir and her autistic and non-verbal son Keli.
As Winslet and her young daughter Mia sat watching the documentary for the first time, Mia commented on how upsetting it must be for parents and children who can’t communicate their love through words.
Mia’s words inspired Winslet to start a charity with Margret called The Golden Hat Foundation. The name comes from a poem written by Keli, in which the hero discovers an enchanted hat that cures his mutism.
In her book The Golden Hat, published in 2012, Winslet wrote: “I simply couldn’t conceive of how devastating it would be not to be able to hear my children’s voices. Not to be able to communicate with them, to hear them learn, grow, and express themselves verbally… this overwhelmed me.”
The actress also collaborated with Lancôme to create a cosmetics line that raises funds for her charity.
11. She has an ‘almost telepathic connection’ with Leonardo DiCaprio
Winslet shares a very close relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio, whom her three children even refer to as Uncle Leo.
The pair shot to stardom in Titanic and have often praised each other’s supportiveness and passion for their craft.
“We’d unload the stresses of the shoot to each other, vent to each other, watch out for each other,” DiCaprio said in a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, reflecting on their work in Titanic.
“Kate was just the perfect person to work with because she was very much one of the guys, and it would have been much harder without her. We were partners.”
When they starred together for the second time in the 2008 film Revolutionary Road, DiCaprio bought her a gold ring which carries an inscription she has so far kept a secret.
Speaking to Parade Magazine, Winslet commented, “Leo and I do have an almost telepathic connection, because we’ve known each other for such a long time and have remained friends consistently over all of these years.”
10. She has appeared on over 300 magazine covers in her lifetime
A favourite among glossy fashion publications, Winslet’s face has featured on over 300 magazine covers around the world.
Her covers include Time Magazine, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, Elle and countless others.
The actress has made clear her dislike of photoshopping and its impact on consumers. In 2003, after her cover on GQ was heavily altered, she commented: “The retouching is excessive. I do not look like that and more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that.”
She attracted controversy when, despite her stance, her 2013 Vogue cover appeared highly edited.
She has claimed digital retouches are often performed without her permission – and in 2015 she signed a contract with L’Oréal forbidding them to retouch her face in their adverts.
“I can only ever speak for myself and I can only ever do things that are important to me and it’s a hope that other people might follow suit,” she told E! News. “But it does feel important to me because I do think we have a responsibility to the younger generation of women.”
9. She’s won one Oscar out of seven nominations – for a ‘wildly uncomfortable role’
After receiving Academy Award nominations for her performances in Sense and Sensibility, Titanic, Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Children, Winslet finally went home with an Oscar statuette in 2008.
The Best Actress win was for her performance in The Reader, a film that tells the story of Michael Berg, a German lawyer who became romantically involved with Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz when he was 15 years old.
Years later, Hanna Schmitz becomes a Nazi concentration camp guard, and is eventually put on trial for war crimes. Berg becomes embroiled in her legal battles.
“Of course, one struggles with that debate of whether you’re supposed to feel sympathy for this woman,” Winslet said in an interview with Indie London.
“And in order to get to any place of sympathy I had to allow myself to feel that for one split second, because I just really had to understand what the hell was going on in her mind that she just thought she was doing her job.”
“And that’s not easy,” she noted. “It’s wildly uncomfortable to play those types of things.”
8. She once sold a house to Gwyneth Paltrow
Winslet has always been keen to remain in England despite her Hollywood stardom.
“I am not into the Hollywood image thing,” she said in an interview with Berks and Bucks Life. “I am English and I love England. You have to have a home near the hub of the movie industry but I am really at home living in the English countryside.”
Winslet and her then-husband Sam Mendes used to own a house near Belsize Park, an affluent area of north London.
The couple sold the property to Gwyneth Paltrow (Winslet’s co-star in The Holiday) and Chris Martin for £2.5 million.
Paltrow and Martin then bought the neighbour’s house too, breaking down the separating walls to transform the two houses into a mansion with 30 rooms.
A decade later, the quiet road’s fame grew further as James Corden and his wife Julia moved into a neighbouring house, worth £3 million.
7. A failed Frankenstein audition won her the role of Ophelia in Hamlet
When Winslet auditioned for a part in the 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, she was unsuccessful, but caught the eye of director Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh instead decided to cast her in a different adaptation: his film of Hamlet.
She starred as Ophelia alongside Branagh as Hamlet, Derek Jacobi as King Claudius and Julie Christie as Queen Gertrude.
Aged 20, Winslet often struggled with the feeling that she wasn’t intellectual enough alongside her more seasoned co-stars.
But her performance received critical acclaim, despite the film’s disappointing box office earnings.
Critic Mike Jeffries, writing for Empire Magazine, noted that Winslet performed Ophelia with a gravitas “well beyond her years.”
6. She begged James Cameron to cast her in Titanic
After starring in the period dramas Sense and Sensibility, Jude and Hamlet, Winslet landed the life-changing role of Rose DeWitt Bukater, passenger on James Cameron’s Titanic.
Reports at the time of casting suggested that James Cameron preferred Gwyneth Paltrow or Claire Danes over Winslet.
Winslet pleaded with the director to hire her instead, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
She told Cameron, “You don’t understand! I am Rose! I don’t know why you’re even seeing anyone else!”
Aged only 19, she also fought off competition from Winona Ryder and Uma Thurman for the starring role.
Critic Leah Rozen from People Magazine said of the blockbuster, “DiCaprio and Winslet both deliver star-making performances.”
5. She’s one the youngest actors ever to receive so many Oscar nominations
Winslet is only the third person ever to win two Golden Globe Awards in the same year (Best Actress for Revolutionary Road and Best Supporting Actress for The Reader).
She is one of only 13 actresses to have won the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA Award, Critics’ Choice Award and SAG Award for the same performance (The Reader).
Perhaps even more impressively, at the age of 40 she became the third youngest actress ever to have received seven Academy Award nominations, beaten only by Meryl Streep at the age of 38 and Bette Davis at 34.
After Titanic, however, the young star recognised the importance of avoiding burnout and selected smaller independent films to star in.
“The point was I could choose,” she said in an interview with the Guardian. “That was the luxury Titanic afforded me.”
“There was tremendous pressure on me to do something ‘big’, but I ducked it all. I had to. If I hadn’t, I would have burned out by the age of 25. So I ran a mile – back to where I felt safe again.”
4. She comes from a family of actors
Raised in Reading, England, Winslet came from a family of actors – and times were often financially challenging.
Her father Roger Winslet struggled to find roles following an injury from a boating accident. The family received charitable support and free meal benefits.
“He did whatever he needed to do to make ends meet,” Kate Winslet said. “He was a jobbing actor, like most actors. I didn’t have a privileged upbringing, so I didn’t have glamour in my face at all. If my mum brought home a lipstick, it was gone within a week because me and my sisters were all so f***ing thrilled that there was a lipstick in the house!’
Her maternal grandparents ran the Reading Repertory Theatre Company, and Winslet began training at the Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead.
Winslet’s sisters Anna and Beth also pursued careers in acting. Anna performed in Empty Mirror, Somnolence (above) and Red Rose.
Meanwhile Beth appears in Bodywork (above), Exitz and The Real Jane Austen. Despite their sister’s fame, Beth and Anna were always determined to develop their work independently and not to receive roles just because of Kate’s stardom.
3. She went down in Oscar history with two double-actress nominations
There have only ever been two occasions where two actresses are nominated in the same year for playing the same character in the same film – and both cases include Winslet.
In 1998, she was nominated for Best Actress for playing Rose in Titanic, alongside Gloria Stuart, nominated for Best Supporting Actress as the elderly Rose.
Neither won, but Titanic still bagged 11 Oscars that year, including Best Picture.
Just two years later, Winslet was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a young Iris Murdoch in the lesser-known film Iris.
Meanwhile Judi Dench, playing the older Iris, was nominated for Best Actress for her work in this biographical drama about an English author.
Jim Broadbent, playing Iris Murdoch’s husband John Bayley, won the award for Best Actor that year.
2. She is slightly obsessed with her feet
Rather bizarrely, in 2007 Winslet revealed to Good Housekeeping magazine that she tends to fixate on her own feet.
“I’m a little bit obsessive about my feet,” she said. “I pick at my feet. I’m sure that’s what everyone wants to know!”
The unusually large-footed actress was asked to wear socks while filming an intimate scene with Idris Elba in The Mountain Between Us.
The request came from Elba himself, who reportedly has “a thing” for feet. In an interview with Graham Norton, Winslet said, “They’re not particularly beautiful feet, either,” to which Elba replied, “They’re alright, they’re alright!”
After a Vanity Fair photoshoot in Yves Saint Laurent silver heels, Winslet donated her shoes to Small Steps.
The charity auctions off celebrity’s shoes to raise money for emergency aid projects.
1. Her first co-star was the Honey Monster
In one of her earliest acting jobs, Winslet danced alongside the Honey Monster in a Sugar Puffs cereal commercial.
Decades later, when Winslet appeared on Good Morning America to promote The Holiday, the presenters brought up a clip supposedly of the same commercial.
But the clip didn’t show Winslet at all – the producers had mistaken another girl for Winslet. Too polite to point out their mistake, Winslet said nothing about it for the rest of the show.
The star has worked widely in advertisements since that first job, particularly for cosmetics and jewellery.
In an advert for American Express, Winslet jokingly narrates her life in reference to her films.
“At 17 I went to prison for murder,” she says. “By 19 I was penniless and heartbroken. I almost drowned at 20… My real life doesn’t need any extra drama. That’s why my card is American Express.”