(5 of 5)
At some point during a movie, Winslet will usually turn to her director and ask, "Why did you want me to play this part?" "I'd really like to know!" she says, laughing. "Is it because of my jawline, or is it something else? Please tell me it's something else! It's really important for me to know why I'm there, because then I know what's expected of me."
The insecurity, says Daldry, is "incredibly charming. She's not panicking. She's already done tons of research. But she's genuinely seeking an engagement with you. She feels great responsibility for bringing what's needed to whatever the circumstances around her demand. That's one of the things that a proper leading lady does."
That sense of responsibility has always been part of Winslet's makeup, although she says that in her 20s, she had to balance it with her dread of being thought an "arrogant young actor." Between 1993 and 1998, she kept a journal chronicling those uncertainties. "I've always been very, very aware of wanting to be understood as being the person that I really am," she says. So, partly in order to figure that out, she started to write, detailing the years-long arc of her relationship with a man 12 years her senior that began when she was still a teenager, her first trip to the Oscars, their breakup, her grief over his death in 1997, the making and release of Titanic, a list of every movie she turned down in its wake (she's too discreet to name them), the beginning of her first marriage and her bewilderment over what Hollywood wanted her to become. (Interested publishers are advised not even to bother asking.) Several years ago, worried about leaving the diaries behind as she globe-hopped from one job to the next, she locked them in a safety-deposit box in London. The morning after she won the British Academy Award for Best Actress, she decided to retrieve them and revisit her younger self, a girl who was "absolutely desperate to be out in the world on my own two feet."
"I was struck to discover that I was truly the same person back then. But in the diary, I write several times, 'I'm not sure I should really be working. I've got to learn more. I have to catch up with myself.' Well, I feel I've caught up with myself now," Winslet says. "With these roles, I've just closed a big chapter in my life. I feel that only in the last two years could I look someone in the eye and say, 'I know how to act' and really maybe mean it." She hesitates for a hairsbreadth. "Notice I said maybe."
Mark Harris is the author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
Star Turns For a gallery of Kate Winslet's 10 best roles, go to time.com/kate