An Interview with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson
By Brad Balfour
October 6, 2006
In "Little Children," director Todd Field's second feature (he garnered Oscar nominations with his debut "In The Bedroom"), the leads Kate Winslet (Sarah) and Patrick Wilson (Brad) grapple with loneliness and loss of identity as they wrestle with being parents and unfulfilled adults. Into the mix enters a third story realm occupied by Larry (a disgraced cop played by Noah Emmerich) and Ronnie (a convicted sex offender played by Jackie Earle Haley); they both intersect with Sarah and Brad as the film arrives at both a disturbing and open-ended conclusion.
Through "Little Children," both Winslet and Wilson have had the opportunity to play around with their conventional images associated with them as hot sexy young actors. Both have tackled roles in other films that defy the stereotypes--Wilson was a suspected rapist in "Hard Candy" and Winslet has been a religious accolyte in Jane Campion's "Holy Smoke" and a vicious murderer in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures." As a result, the film has achieved considerable support--even in being selected as one of the 28 features to make it into the 44th Annual New York Film Festival--held at Lincoln Center.
So though, they have stood expectations on their head--especially Winslet who has collected four Oscar noms as a result--this film has really stirred early Oscar buzz for both of them.
Though you are one of the most beautiful women in the film world you have now played a woman considered less attractive in comparison to Jennifer Connelly. What does it feel like to be considered comparatively plain?
KW: First of all, I absolutely loved the experience. More than anything else, I wanted her to look like someone you'd bump into in the street. You see, I was never a big fan of contemporary movies because they always make actresses and actors look too perfect. Who would believe that they ever really look like that?
So as far as the presentation of my character goes, it was a great opportunity to put my beliefs into action. We did have many conversations about the hair, though. Todd kept demanding, "Big. Big!" But I just loved it. It really felt great to play someone who couldn't care less about her appearance.
Who do you know that defies the stereotypes?
PW: My wife.
KW: His wife is stunning.
PW: No, I mean…
How was it playing the non-typical male role and defying the male stereotypes?
PW: I enjoy doing all those things. I love tackling stereotypes and taking on such roles that enable you to pull the chair out, so to speak. I love the fact that you're in position to discover and explore the other side. In this particular scenario, he was both quarterback and prom king in high school. We get the idea, though, that while he embraces and relishes in his titles, he often feels that these are the only things he has to show for himself.
High school was the one time in his life that he felt self-assured, and for this reason, he continues to play football. The most revealing scenes take place in the end zone of a football field, where he feels most alive. You'll find several stereotypes here, but for a guy who has been emasculated over the years, he's trying to get back what he has lost.
Everyone wants to be someone important, even if it means digging up and reliving the past. We tend to revel in our finest moments. But does he really want to be prom king again? Probably not, but having a sense of identity is something that has eluded him since his glory years in high school. Of course, he's a father and he loves his boy dearly, but I think he feels that he hasn't made anything of himself.
This movie takes on modern suburbia.
PW: Well, most everyone can relate, and modern-day suburbia is no exception. I grew up in Florida and most kids had no clue know what to do with their lives. It's not any different today. There is a lot of pressure to choose the right majors and enter the right fields, and it can be very confusing and overwhelming for a kid.
I mean, how many people genuinely love what they're doing? How many of us can say that our plans from five or 10 years ago have worked out smoothly? Very few. Even the most successful of actors don't always play the roles that they want. You can see how it can apply to any profession or field of interest today.
KW: I knew when I was five that I wanted to act. It was a childhood dream of mine and it ran in my family, so I took it for granted that I would be doing it somewhere down the line. I never really thought about doing movies, and it never even crossed my mind that I would one day be some famous movie star. All I knew was that I loved being onstage. At the time, going for auditions and other particulars were far from my mind.
So yes, I was very lucky. As Patrick said, most people don't know what they really want to do. My brother is 26 years old and he's currently in Thailand trying to figure it all out. He still has no idea what he wants to do and that's absolutely fine. Sarah, on the other hand, is a woman whose fate is predetermined when she suddenly becomes a mother. She immediately feels burdened by her three year old, and she refuses to have her identity shaped by someone that was not in her original plans.
When you first meet Sarah in the beginning, she is struggling to take care of herself, let alone her child. She miserably denies the fact that she is now a mother, someone responsible for the upbringing of another. She wants to hang onto a part of herself that she has lost, but she fears that she no longer recognizes who that person is. That precious core of her identity is lost somewhere within her, and though she wants to uncover it, she is also terrified of finding it. Her ambivalence manifests itself in the conflict between her love for her child and her desire to be unburdened.
As the story unfolds, Sarah begins to figure herself out, piece by piece. She gets a chance at a new life as she has an affair with another man. She experiences and feels things that she never even knew about or thought possible. But as the story reaches its conclusion, Sarah realizes what she has to do in order to be truly happy and content with her life. She has a big enough heart to acknowledge that her happiness will be in proportion to her commitment to her child. She vows to be a proper parent, and at last she is ready to be one. But she really needed to go through all of that to come to this conclusion.
It couldn't have happened without him.
KW: Absolutely. It could not have happened without him. Who knows what she might have done had he not been a part of her life. She probably would have packed up one day and ran off somewhere with the child. God knows where, and it's likely that she would have moved into a new community only to find herself in a similar situation.
It wasn't about the affair.
KW: No, it wasn't about that. They are of course put in a situation where they have to stay with their children, which I felt was the proper way to end the film. I don't think that Sarah would have stayed with Richard. I think she would have gone home, honestly. I'm not sure.
PW: She would have had to be very comfortable with me as I decided what I wanted to do. People get married for different reasons and many couples stay in their marriages for a while; it's a very romantic sort of Hollywood ideal. Of course you always hope for that, and I certainly feel like I've found the one person that I want to be with forever. But you can't help but think of those that marry their high school sweethearts and never experience anyone else. Then you go, wow, that's great, that's what's right for you. But sometimes you can't help but wonder, is there someone else? I guess what I'm trying to say is I think brad and Kathy would be fine. Would it be the greatest love ever, as in soul mates? Maybe not, but…
KW: Can I just say one thing while we're on this subject? I think it's really interesting that you're asking us that question, because I think it's extraordinary how you sometimes wonder what certain characters' lives will be like after the story ends. You walk away from a movie and when you get home you can't help but wonder what will happen to them. It's wonderful to be asked a question like that because it means that you were really engaged by the story.
Did your role provide you with any insights into parenting and family life?
KW: I didn't really have any. It did made me think to myself, thank god I'm not that mother. Thank god I'm in touch with my emotions enough to be able to pick up my children, kiss them all over and say "I love you" over and over. It totally made me feel very grateful to have two happy and healthy children and a wonderful husband. My god, I am so grateful.
Which of the two needs the other more?
KW: Initially, I think Sarah needs him more, but then I think it evens out.
PW: That's a tough one because--and this is going to seem like a cop out--I certainly have feelings about how he views Sarah, and how he views the relationship. I've said it before: someone said that they should be together and I just replied that they could never really be together. It's hard to look at my character objectively, but I will say that I don't think that Brad has ever cheated before and probably never will again. I think they just need each other, that's all.
Funny that you did two films concerned with pedophiles--especially "Hard Candy" where you were suspected to be one.
PW: I did both films there, but I never really thought of them in the same sense. I shot one in about 19 days; this was about 21/2 years ago. And this film...well, we're dealing with apples and oranges here.
Rumor has it that you didn't initially want to do the movie.
KW: It wasn't that I didn't want to do the movie. I was just reluctant to read the script at first. The agent that I'd been with half my life called me and said that it was an absolutely brilliant script. She said that Todd Field had written it with Tom Perotta [who wrote the original novel], and I was familiar with Todd Field. He's amazing. She then mentioned that a convicted sex offender was one of the characters, which threw me off a bit. But she relieved my fears by selling me on the brilliant way in which the material was handled. She also insisted that the sex offender ended up as a sympathetic character.
I had to admit that I was intrigued but I was frightened as well by what I might find in the story. After I read through the script, though, I fell in love with the depth and complexity of the characters and also recognized that the story was in fact brilliantly written. The sex offender eventually became just another part of the story and I wasn't as uneasy as I thought I'd be. And when Jackie was cast, I was elated because I had worked with him before and he is an incredible actor. When you sit down and watch the movie, you wonder how you could actually be pitying this man. You really get drawn into the desperation of his situation, and you can't help but sympathize with him. This is one of the great things that Todd has done with this film.
How important to you are reviews of your work?
KW: I don't read any reviews, so I'm oblivious to what they have to say. I'm completely unaware. It's fantastic.
PW: To be honest, I've only done a few films that have been out. But one of the first things you learn is that the success of your movie is a process. You can't control when it comes out, how it comes out, or who's on the poster. That has nothing to do with what we do for a living.
PW: I am happiest and most "successful" while actually shooting the film, as opposed to theater, where you show up and boom, there's your audience and there's your reaction. With a film you have to wait a year or sometimes more before it's finally out. Of course the reactions of the viewers are all a part of it, but you can't gauge your success by what the critics have to say.
KW: Also, when you're an actor, you're so glad to be invited along for the ride. You're thrilled to be given these opportunities so your focus is just on doing the best possible job you can. The success of a film, that is, whether so and so likes it or not, is not in our hands. You can't pin all your hopes on being a success. That's when you really start to get screwed up. In order to maintain that fire for acting and capture its essence, you can't let yourself be concerned with what people have to say about you. You just can't.
So what's next for you?
PW: I'm shooting a film called "Evening."
KW: I'm taking the year off.
What do you want to do during your time off?
KW: I wish I could tell you. I was going to learn French or take singing lessons or do tap-dancing--they're all on my list. But the truth is I'm going to be on the school run, doing packed lunches. I'mvery much looking forward to having time to think about nothing else but my kids.
What about the struggle between working and having kids?
KW: Being a working parent--mother or father--is tough to juggle for anyone. It's exactly the same for me. You have to be very organized and manage your time well. You need time for yourself, time to prepare for work the next day, and also be there for bed time and bath time and when they wake up in the morning. Those things are incredibly important to me--the most important things in my life. I have the balance going, and I have an amazing husband who helps with all those things. I'm very lucky.
What do you think about doing these nudes scenes at this point?
KW: Every time I do another one, I say, "This is it! No more! I've had two kids, and my body just can't keep up." I tell myself that this is ridiculous, that I have to stop, and then I end up doing it again.
Were they hard to do--did they take any extra effort?
KW: It was hilarious. We focused extra hard in those scenes because we thought that those scenes were absolutely critical.
PW: When they're needed, they're right. it's not an issue.
KW: You go into it knowing that they're there in the back of your mind. Then suddenly that day comes along and you start to panic, but quite honestly, we laughed a lot. We had a lot of fun just trying to get it right.
LITTLE CHILDREN opens on October 6, 2006