Published On: Fri, Oct 6th, 2017

Kate Winslet on the real cold, real heights, real cougar behind making of new survival movie

Kate Winslet is used to acting in extreme conditions.

Her most famous role, co-starring in Titanic opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, had her shivering in a giant tank atop a floating piece of wood in an uncomfortable recreation of the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.

Now the Oscar-winning British actress is playing an air-crash survivor, stranded on a high peak with co-star Idris Elba and a friendly dog, in The Mountain Between Us. She really did ascend into the frozen heights to make it, brought to the set by helicopter every day of the shoot.

The romantic thriller opens Friday, following its world premiere last month at TIFF, where she spoke to the Star:

So which was the chillier experience for you: the waters of Titanic or the ice and snow of The Mountain Between Us?

I just can’t compare the two! They were such different experiences, but we really did everything that we did on that mountain. It really was -38 C, we really were at 10,000 feet, and you really can’t breathe at that altitude, especially when running through snow. And so it was brutal, it was. It was incredible, but it was brutal and freezing.

Titanic was logistically difficult for a whole set of other reasons. It was a complicated shoot, a very difficult film to be a part of, but we were much younger then and there were lots more people (in the filmmaking team). This one had a small crew of incredible Canadians, some of the same people who had made The Revenant with Leo, and I am going to go on record as saying: I love Canada! I love Canadians, and I am obsessed with (Justin) Trudeau. I met his mother, actually, at a recent event in England called WE Day, which is a Canadian event, is a Canadian organization. I spoke in front of 20,000 children about confidence and how social media can have a negative impact on your life. It was amazing, Margaret (Trudeau) was there, and she was talking about mental health, and she was actually extraordinary.

How was it working with Idris Elba at such a high altitude and in such cold weather?

When you work so closely with one other actor, you get very good at giving bite-sized chunks of information that you know they’re going to need for the thing they’re about to shoot. So sometimes we’d be filming a piece which is just Alex (Winslet’s character) making her way down the mountain, and Idris would be 10,000 feet down at base camp waiting to come up and essentially swap with me, because we’d have to shoot in such a regimented way.

So I would be hunkered down, waiting to get into the helicopter that he was about to get out of, and the first thing he’d do, he would come to me, and we’d be huddled head to head, and I was shouting at him: “The cameras! You’re going to be 400 feet up the slope . . . make sure that you take water in your pockets, because no one else will get to you for at least two hours!” We would stuff candy in each other’s pockets and be like, “Go! See you later!” It was amazing how we went into a mode of just accepting that that was how it had to be.

You and Idris make a good match, but you both really seemed to get along with the dog in the film. That pooch has so much personality.

He was wonderful, actually, and his name is Riley. He was just terrific. He was very sweet and wanted to be everybody’s friend, so he had a lovely disposition, in terms of being a companion, which is of course what a dog is supposed to be and what that dog in the film is supposed to be. And he really was that. I developed my own way of communicating with him. I could really get him to totally do things, just by talking to him. And just having him trust me was really wonderful . . . although Idris kept saying (if the situation were real), “I so would have eaten this animal by now!”

Was the cougar in the film real or CGI? It certainly looks real.

The cougar was real. We had three different cougars and I was in the space with the cougar, but they did have to use — for insurance purposes, which I was really bummed out about, actually — they did have to use a double for the back of my head for the shots when the cougar is actually coming into the plane. But the cougar did come into the plane. It was all very, very real.

It sounds like being an actor is a lot harder than people might think.

I do find it really hard, actually. I do still find it really hard, but that’s why I love it. Because it’s not just the challenge, it’s the absolute commitment to not f—ing up that you have to make on a daily basis. You have to. And sometimes you do f— up, and sometimes you might pick a good card, and not f— up at all, and somehow that thing that you didn’t f—up makes it into the movie, God willing.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Wonder Wheel’s ‘white-knuckle ride’

Kate Winslet’s new movie, The Mountain Between Us, has people talking about her willingness to work in a very tough physical environment.

But people are also talking, and making Oscar predictions about, her work in her other 2017 film: Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, which reportedly made a lot of emotional demands. She wrapped Wonder Wheel just three weeks before heading to Vancouver and the Rockies to make her current movie, the shortest gap she’s ever had between films.

Wonder Wheel is set in the Coney Island of the 1950s, with Winslet playing Ginny, the bored wife of carousel operator Humpty (Jim Belushi). She falls for handsome lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake). Things really get complicated when Humpty’s estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up, and also shows interest in Mickey.

Wonder Wheel doesn’t open until December — although it closes the New York Film Festival on Oct. 14 — and there’s one scene in particular that Hollywood insiders have been buzzing about as Winslet’s ticket to another Oscar nomination. That would be the eighth of her career, with one win for Best Actress (The Reader).

Winslet says she’s not sure exactly which Wonder Wheel scene it is that people are talking about, but she has a good hunch:

“There is a quite pivotal scene between myself and Justin Timberlake where my character Ginny gives him a gift which he does not know how to accept. Ginny really believes that he’s going to be brought to his knees with gratitude and overwhelmed with thanks and surprised by this generous extraordinary gesture that she makes. He just doesn’t receive it in that way, and it does make Ginny respond in a very loud, irrational, hotheaded manner. That’s how I can describe it.”

The whole film was quite the ride, she says, more so than she expected.

“Making Wonder Wheel was definitely, I think, the most emotionally and psychologically stressful I’ve probably played, and it’s difficult to talk about it without sounding like one of those a–hole actors who talks about their craft. It’s so hard to describe it, but just the sheer volume of dialogue and the size of the character that I was playing was enough to make me feel like I was on a white-knuckle ride for the entire shoot.

“It was just extremely full-on, and we shot a lot every day. True to Woody Allen form, we shot almost everything in one long continuous take, and sometimes that’s 13 pages of dialogue, with almost entirely myself talking. It’s the most exhilarating feeling in the world when it all comes together and when it actually works.”

Winslet is the main character on the poster for Wonder Wheel, the trailer for which dropped this week.

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Kate Winslet on the real cold, real heights, real cougar behind making of new survival movie