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‘My days of doing nudity are a little numbered’

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Philly’s a tough town. If there’s a quintessential story about the City of Brotherly Love, it’s this one: in 2015, when Canadian researchers developed a child-sized hitchhiking robot with a big smile and yellow wellies, the hitchbot made it across Europe and halfway down the east coast of the United States, offering friendly small talk to anyone it encountered. Then it got to Philadelphia, where it was promptly torn limb from limb and left in an alley.

Residents have pelted Santa with snowballs and hurled batteries and beer at their own quarterback. They flip cars and set things on fire even when they win the Super Bowl and World Series. The unloved cousin of Boston and New York is often overlooked by Hollywood. The accent is so tricky to replicate, most actors won’t go near it. (Even Rocky didn’t even have a proper Philly twang.) So it’s funny, then, that it took a Brit with an elegant voice, creamy complexion and sunny outlook to parachute into the Philly burbs and totally nail the look, feel, sound and salty attitude of the denizens of Delaware County, or Delco, as it’s known.

Kate Winslet gets emotional talking about the end of her Sky Atlantic series, Mare of Easttown, which scored its own Saturday Night Live skit and found a fan in the self-described Philly girl in the White House, Jill Biden. (“You don’t screw around with a Philly girl,” Joe Biden said of his wife last year, after she blocked an anti-dairy activist who bum-rushed him at a campaign stop.)

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

Winslet has said, in the past, that it’s hard for an actor to tell what will wow audiences while you’re shooting, that sometimes you think you’re doing great work and then it turns out to be “a limp biscuit”. Mare Sheehan is anything but a limp biscuit. The police detective exists in a cloud of vape smoke, trysts, flannel, Rolling Rock and Jameson shots – “a very hot grandma”, as Guy Pearce’s character calls her, sparring with a mother (Jean Smart) who loves drinking Manhattans.

Winslet said that she has been bowled over by the way audiences have fallen “in love with this wildly flawed, messy, broken, fragmented, difficult woman. I loved her marks and her scars and her faults and her flaws and the fact that she has no off switch, no stop button. She just knows ‘Go’.

“Not only did I have to hide myself in the character completely, but I had to hide this story, carry the secret,” she says. “I kept it hidden since 2018, when I first read the scripts. My job was to take them on this horrendous journey and hope to God that they’d be prepared to come into the attic with me at the end. It has been agony, agony, agony. You can see I’m still, like…” She sounds as if she might cry, something she would never let Mare do, then pulls herself together and lets fly one of her frequent, merry F-bombs. “I can’t deal with it. It’s ridiculous.”

THE SHOW IS a murder mystery with many motifs: grief, the American opioid crisis, small-town life. Winslet, a mother of three, sees it from this perspective: “It’s about mothers protecting their children at all costs, and the lengths that a parent will go to in order to protect their children,” she says. About the finale’s twist ending, she adds, “Oh God, it’s just unbelievable, it’s heartbreaking.”

Underneath Mare’s facade, she says, “is a woman who is so entrenched in grief for her son that she has not processed, and as she shares it, as she talks about it with a therapist, she will crack. She doesn’t want affection. She doesn’t want to be loved. And she doesn’t want to be cared for, because if she has to experience those things it makes her feel vulnerable, and if she feels vulnerable then she can’t be strong any more, and she can’t carry on.”

Winslet is known for what one producer calls an “insane work ethic”. She prepares elaborate back stories for her characters, and she says she prepped more for Mare than for any other role in her life. (But she is not Daniel Day-Winslet: she is said to be fun once the shooting wraps for the day.)

She is Zooming in from her house on the south coast of England, curled up with bare feet, her blond mane looking much glossier than Mare’s. She’s wearing an old white Calypso T-shirt, a couple of gold necklaces and some black Sweaty Betty pants.

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

The actor often saves something from her sets, and she shifts her camera to show off the sign from the Easttown police station she has hung on a wall. She kept Mare’s jacket and badge, too. She has been harking back to her breakout role as another strong, but more upper crust, Philly girl: Rose DeWitt Bukater. “It’s like Titanic again,” she says, chuckling. “I’m on the side of buses again! It’s like going back in time 24 years where I’m walking down the street and people are nudging and pointing and whispering again.” When the actor was on a bike ride in England recently, a woman ran up to stroke her arm and offer all her theories about whodunit.

Winslet says she knows people are saying, “Oh my God, how can she let herself look so unglamorous?” When Craig Zobel, the director, assured her he would cut “a bulgy bit of belly” in her sex scene with Guy Pearce, she told him, “Don’t you dare!” She also sent the show’s promo poster back twice because it was too retouched. “They were, like, ‘Kate, really, you can’t,’ and I’m, like, ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye. Please put them all back.’”

She says she baulked when she saw an early cut in which her ordinarily luminous skin looked too good. “We tried to light it to make it look not nice,” she says. “Listen, I hope that in playing Mare as a middle-aged woman – I will be 46 in October – I guess that’s why people have connected with this character in the way that they have done, because there are clearly no filters. She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.

“In episode one, she’s having sex on a couch. I said to my husband, ‘Am I okay with that? Is it all right that I’m playing a middle-aged woman who is a grandmother who does really make a habit of having one-night stands?’ He’s, like, ‘Kate, it’s great. Let her do it.’”

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce
Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce

In moments of doubt she tortured herself and her assistant director, wondering about other actors – “three real people were haunting my mind. I will not name them” – who might have done a better job. The show’s costume designer did recon in Wawa convenience stores, finding inspiration for Mare’s flannel, inexpensive T-shirts, Ocean City sweatshirts and “bad jeans”, as Winslet says.

“Whenever we’d find something unflattering,” Winslet recalls, “we’d be jumping up and down like, ‘Yes! We’re wearing this.’”

She would leave her clothes in a crumpled pile on the floor of her trailer after filming, “and they would stay in a rumpled-up ball overnight. We were not washing and drying and hanging those clothes. Never.” They filled in her shapely eyebrows to give her face a heavier look, and left the sunspots and imperfections. “We’re so used to seeing this stuff airbrushed away,” she says. She wanted Mare to reflect the burdens she carried, a physical and emotional heftiness. She borrowed a Peloton exercise bike to work out at night, to make her thighs more muscular. “There’s a sloppiness to her, and there’s a looseness to how she sits and how she walks and just how she holds herself,” Winslet says. “Her body posture is totally different to mine. I actually stand quite upright.”

In one peak-Mare scene, she comes home and scarfs down a cheesesteak that her mother has got her, without taking off her jacket, still clutching her police files. “This is so clearly a woman who does not cook, doesn’t care about what she puts into her mouth, also probably forgets to eat, so that when she does eat, she’s so starving she doesn’t even care what it is that she’s shovelling in,” she says.

Winslet’s father, Roger, also an actor, helped inform this bit. “My dad actually reminds me quite a lot of Mare, to be honest. He was slightly the inspiration,” she says. “He basically moves like Mare and eats like Mare. Well, he does eat with his mouth full. We do tell him all the time, ‘Dad!’ He’s going to be so mad I just said that.”

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

AND YET WINSLET, a vegetarian, could get into character only so much. She sheepishly confesses to a Philly sacrilege: the show’s hoagie rolls contained no meat and, most shockingly, no onions. “I felt really, really bad, because I know onions are a very important part of a hoagie,” she says, “but because we had so many hours of filming scenes with all of this food, it basically wasn’t fair on the crew to have all this stinky onion food on our tiny set all day long.” (She says she was aware of the existence of scrapple but did not try it.)

Even with the counterfeit hoagies, locals are thrilled with Winslet’s metamorphosis. They have even named a hoagie after Mare. Shawn McCreesh, who works with me at the New York Times and grew up, like the first lady, in a nearby town very similar to Easttown, spotted someone he recognised from back home on the show. Patsy Meck, who plays the woman working the desk at the police station, says that Winslet was “genuinely who you would want her to be – she was so real”. Meck, whose three grandchildren were extras on the show, says it was amazing to see Winslet “walk off set, sit down and talk to me in a deep British accent, then pop right back on set and start talking like the rest of us”.

Winslet says she had to change the way the muscles in her face moved – often in freezing weather – in order to emulate Philly’s midatlantic dialect, with its selectively elongated vowels and smushed consonants. “Look, when you’ve done Polish-Armenian and German,” she says, referring to her accents in Steve Jobs and her Oscar-winning turn as a Nazi in The Reader, “frankly, I thought, Delaware County, oh, it’ll be fine: the vowel sounds a little bit different, but it’ll be fine. Honestly, it was just so hard.”

Still, mastering the sound wasn’t the hardest part. Stepping into the shoes of a mother raising a child with severe mental-health issues, as Mare did, was. (Mare’s son, Kevin, had struggled with depression and addiction before taking his own life.) Winslet met parents who had been through it all, and worked with a grief counsellor.

“There’s that moment,” she recalls, “when the therapist says to Mare, ‘Did he frighten you?’ and she just says, ‘Sometimes.’ A huge admission for Mare to even say out loud, ‘My son scared me.’ Of course, you see it in that flashback when Carrie and Kevin take Mare’s money for drugs in the bathroom.” She says the detective strives to fix everything else because she could not fix Kevin.

In order to truly understand the opioid epidemic, how its many tendrils can wrap around a place like Easttown, she went to what Philadelphians call “the badlands” – the north Philly neighbourhood of Kensington and its open-air drug markets. “We would go in an undercovery type of car and just drive around a lot,” she says.

“I remember seeing – and actually it broke my heart – a man with the most beautiful face and a beard. You could see there was a soul right there. He had been amputated from the knee down on his right leg, and he was injecting into the toes of the other foot.

“People are fighting for their sliver of life there. I would see people in these teeny-tiny houses, and they would be not just sweeping their front stoop but sweeping the pavement and the guttering in front of their home. Sometimes, for some people, that’s as much as they can do to keep their pride, to keep a feeling of something that is theirs and that is intact.”

What did the dark heart of the United States’ opioid crisis look like to a Brit? “I have to be honest,” she says, “I was really staggered that there aren’t more of those support networks in place to help with people. In this country we do definitely have better support networks for people in crises like that, we absolutely do.”

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

WINSLET HAS BEEN KNOWN to warn young actors on a set not to confuse social-media fame with the hard work of acting. “I have certainly heard, twice, of certain actors being cast in roles because they have more followers,” she says. “I’ve actually heard people say, ‘She’s not who we wanted to cast, but she has more followers.’ I almost don’t know what to say. It’s so sad and so extraordinarily wrong. I think the danger is not just for young actors but younger people in general now. I think it makes you less present in your real life. Everyone is constantly taking photographs of their food and photographing themselves with filters.”

She leans her face close to the camera, and notes her lack of filters, with an expletive. “What worries me is that faces are beautiful. Faces that change, that move, are beautiful faces, but we’ve stopped learning how to love those faces because we keep covering them up with filters now, because of social media, and anyone can Photoshop themselves, and airbrush themselves, and so they do. In general, I would say I feel for this generation, because I don’t see it stopping, I don’t see or feel it changing, and that just makes me sad, because I hope that they aren’t missing out on being present in real life and not reaching for unattainable ideals.”

The actor is so famous for disrobing in movies that her IMDb profile says her trademark is her “voluptuous figure”. But she says nude scenes may be in her past. “I think my days are getting a little bit numbered of doing nudity,” she says. “I’m just not that comfortable doing it any more. It’s not even really an age thing, actually. There comes a point where people are going to go, ‘Oh, here she goes again.’” She jokes that it’s not fair to camera operators to have to work to get the best angles as her body changes.

Winslet has a daughter, Mia, who is 20, with her first husband, Jim Threapleton, a director whom she met on the set of Hideous Kinky. She has a son, Joe, who is 17, with Sam Mendes, her second husband. And she also has a son, Bear, who is seven, with her current husband, who has gone back to his original name, Edward Abel Smith, from his playful pseudonym, Ned Rocknroll.

Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce
Mare of Easttown: Kate Winslet with Guy Pearce

“He added ‘Winslet’ as one of his middle names, just simply because the children have Winslet,” the actor says. “When we’re all travelling together, to all have that name on the passport makes life easier.” (Bear’s middle name is Blaze, after the fire that Kate and Ned escaped that burned down the British Virgin Islands home of Richard Branson, her husband’s uncle.)

“He’s the superhot, superhuman, stay-at-home dad,” she says of her husband, as she smiles happily. “He looks after us, especially me. I said to him earlier, like, ‘Neddy, could you do something for me?’ He just went, ‘Anything.’” She swoons, noting that his long hair now gives him the look of “an ocean warrior”.

She breaks into song, crooning that they go together like “shama lama ding dong”. “He is an absolutely extraordinary life partner,” she says. “I’m so, so, so lucky. For a man who is severely dyslexic, as he is, he’s great at testing me on lines. It’s so hard for him to read out loud, but he still does it.”

She adds that “he didn’t particularly plan on meeting and marrying a woman who is in the public eye and therefore having been so judged”. She finds it amusing that, instead of being rock’n’roll, he’s very Zen. “He’s vegan, does yoga, breath work and cold-water swims.”

Winslet grew up in Reading, west of London, in a modest house and worked slicing ham in a deli when she was young. “I came from a small community not dissimilar to Easttown in the sense that there were paper-thin walls,” she says. “You could hear the neighbours rowing through the wall. You could hear the verbal grenades that were being hurled at one another.”

She says her father had called to tell her he loved an episode of Mare, then added his usual caution: “But you know, babes, don’t rest on your laurels. You’re only as good as your last gig.”

Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times
Kate Winslet photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth/New York Times

Confirm or deny

Maureen Dowd: Bob Iger approached you about making Titanic II for Disney+.

Kate Winslet: No, never did, and I never would.

You pocketed a few things before you jumped ship from the set of Titanic.

People stole the White Star Line cups and saucers. I was good. I did take a pair of Rose’s earrings, but somewhere I lost one.

Like Mare, you have a gloriously filthy mouth in real life.

(Laughs.) True, yes.

You can’t stop reading about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

What? No! I’ve never read about Jennifer in my life. What are these questions?

Hideous Kinky was neither hideous nor kinky.

I don’t even know how to answer these questions.

You keep your Oscar on the back of your toilet.

I don’t actually know where the Oscar is at the moment. I think it’s possibly in my son’s bedroom. But it was on the back of the toilet for a long time, yes.

You lived in New York for 10 years and never once went to Philly.

That’s true.

You’ve incorporated the Philly slang word “jawn” into your vocabulary.

John, as in a man’s name?

This role is the first time you held a gun, and you didn’t like it.

True.

In John Turturro’s Romance & Cigarettes, you simulated sex with James Gandolfini bouncing on an exercise ball.

I had ripped all the ligaments on the left side of my foot. I’m nursing my son. As I’m bouncing on that ball, I’m actually bouncing using one foot with my leg in the cast, improvising at three o’clock in the morning. We were in hysterics. Oh, God, I loved Jimmy Gandolfini so much. He was just so wonderful, so insecure and just so honest.

Guy Pearce washes cans in the dishwasher before he puts them in the recycling can.

That is true. – New York Times

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HSE working to amend booster system as people receive multiple appointments

Voice Of EU

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The Health Service Executive (HSE) is working to amend the coronavirus vaccine system, as multiple channels offering third jabs has caused challenges for the booster campaign, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor has said.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms O’Connor explained that the booster vaccine was available through vaccination centres, general practitioners and pharmacies.

Some people had gone to their local pharmacy to get their booster vaccine and then had received an appointment at a vaccination centre, she said. She called on people to cancel their vaccination centre appointment if they had received their booster through their GP or pharmacy.

Ms O’Connor’s comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Tuesday that there were 87,000 no-shows for boosters last week, and the chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, Dr Denis McCauley, described the non-attendances as “very disrespectful”.

Ms O’Connor said the priority for the HSE was to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible.

When asked about the lower levels of people in the 60-69 age cohort who have received their booster vaccine, Ms O’Connor said that not everyone in that age group would have had their second vaccine more than five months ago. That was “a natural limiter”.

Ms O’Connor said people possibly were apprehensive or busier, now that many were back at work or were preparing for Christmas, but the vaccine was important as was the booster.

To date more than a million people have received their booster vaccine, she added, and appointments will be offered to people aged between 50 and 59 from Thursday.

“We will also have walk-in centres open to people to get their vaccine and as ever we encourage everybody to avail of the vaccine. It’s really important, especially with a new variant, that we try to protect as many people as possible,” Ms O’Connor said.

‘Be respectful’

Meanwhile, Dr McAuley told Newstalk Breakfast that there were very few no-shows to booster appointments at GP surgeries, because people know their GP personally.

Now was not the time for “messing”, he said in relation to people failing to attend their appointments at vaccine centres.

“If you get a vaccine appointment, make sure that you go there rather than getting your hair done or going shopping – or if it is a work thing, stay on the helpline to get a new appointment.

“Be respectful of the mass vaccination centres. These are people who are working very hard and it is very disrespectful to have over 80,000 people not turn up in one week. It is not appropriate. You wouldn’t do it to your GP so why are you doing it to these healthcare workers.”

There was also a concern that some people were waiting to see what happens with the Omicron variant before getting their booster. Dr McCauley said that the booster would greatly reduce the chances of picking up the virus or having to go into hospital

Dr McCauley said there needed to be “a call to arms” for people to get vaccinated and he warned that when more information about Omicron emerged, booster appointments could be harder to come by.

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All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster

Voice Of EU

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People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.

The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.

Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.

The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.

What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?

It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.

Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?





Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland


10,093,390


8,193,802

In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.

This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.

Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.

The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.

What about the Omicron threat?

While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.

Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.

What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?

Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.

This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.

The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.

It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.

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Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare

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A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.

The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.

The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.

Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.

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