LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Ichthyosaur - it's a marine reptile that lived some 200 million years ago. British paleontologist Mary Anning unearthed one in 1811 when she was only 12. It was one of the first of many contributions she made to her field. And yet we know so very little about her. Kate Winslet, who plays Anning in the film "Ammonite," wants to change that. And she joins us now. Welcome.
KATE WINSLET: Hello. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pleasure to have you. So Mary Anning was digging and sketching when Charles Darwin was just a baby. He was 2, I think, when she dug up that ichthyosaur. And she was completely self-taught. What did you learn about her preparing for this role?
WINSLET: Well, it was very important for myself and Francis Lee, our director, to really honor the hardship that she faced because this is a woman who not only had all of her extraordinary finds and historical successes covered over by powerful, rich men who, frankly, weren't as clever as she was. But this is a woman who - you know, her hands were raw from digging. You know, she made so little money. She was completely impoverished. And yet she was remarkably uncomplaining. You know, this was a stoic, kind, compassionate person.
The only thing we weren't able to include, sadly, was she actually had a dog named Trey. And I think if we'd given her a dog, it would have just given her a little bit more cushioning that I think he wanted Charlotte to provide.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Charlotte, of course, is played by Saoirse Ronan, who is the young wife who comes and sort of stays with your character Mary and helps her. And then things develop between the two. It's not based on a real relationship and the real Mary Anning's life. This film isn't really a biopic. But it is meant to show how someone like Mary could find refuge in that companionship.
WINSLET: That's absolutely right. And, you know, the time was so different back then. I mean, between the period of particularly 1760 and 1880, you know, women really were thrust into marriages that they didn't really want to be in, often with men who were older than them and who they didn't particularly know or even really like - is the truth of it. And one of the things that I was able to do in my preparation for playing Mary was to - I read a lot of historical letters. And so often, female friendships back then were really - they depended on them. They needed those sisterhoods. And, sometimes, those friendships did spill over into more intimate, passionate connections. And it was those letters that were the most helpful and powerful for me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think about looking at this film in terms of how LGBTQ relationships have been portrayed? So often, we don't see those, you know, women, you know, in sexual relationships with other women, especially in that era.
WINSLET: Yes. I know. It's interesting, isn't it? You know, we need more films like this so that the world can reach a place that is much more equal and compassionate and where relationships, LGBTQ relationships, are simply normalized and shown without fear or hesitation and just become part of the mainstream. And it's about conditioning, isn't it? It's about how we present these things to youth, to our children and how we, as an audience, I think, are willing to receive stories like this within the mainstream. And I've always felt very strongly about making sure that same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals are absolutely recognized, embraced and accepted for exactly how they choose to live, who they choose to love and what is important to them. You know, with films like "Ammonite," I hope that we have been able to contribute to that conversation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've spoken recently about lessons you've learned, looking back on your career and how you regret having worked with directors like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, who have both been accused of sexual assault. Is embracing these kinds of roles part of sort of coming to terms with those past decisions?
WINSLET: I wouldn't say specifically embracing this role in "Ammonite." But no, I just think that, you know, life has to go on and we have to hold ourselves accountable for past regrets. And it's something that I have spoken about because it's just that important to me and because maybe other people can come forward and say similar things.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there any other sort of decisions that you would take now that you didn't as an emerging actor when you look back on your career?
WINSLET: I think certainly one thing I did learn through doing "Ammonite" - you know, I'm learning how, I guess, not to be objectified on film. And I - you know, I feel proud of myself now as a 45-year-old woman to have just played a role in which my age really shows on my face. I think it shows in my physical self, and I feel tremendously proud of that. I'm not trying to hide my age. I'm not trying to cover up who I am or the fact that I've had three children. And that, to me, is part of wanting to really lead with some degree of integrity because I think when I look back at having played certain roles in films where I have fallen too easily into stereotypes that surround heterosexual romance on screen, I think I have perhaps felt a little bit objectified but very automatically so in ways that I think we've all been guilty of a little bit.
And actually, you know, to be honest, I've never felt forced to do anything I haven't wanted to do, not remotely. I've never felt I've had pressure put on me. I've never felt manipulated. But within that, have I really used my voice? Have I really said, hang on a minute, why would you position my character in the corner of the room by that nice flattering light that's coming through the window just because you want to see the curves of my breasts there? Like, why? That's objectification, isn't it?
You know, and I never felt that at the time I was there. I was part of the choreographing of whatever fictitious scene I just described right there. But, you know, I want to hold myself accountable and make sure that I am leading on the front foot and being sincere and setting a good example and hopefully doing something that might be a little bit inspiring along the way to a younger generation. You know, that's really important to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what does that look like in terms of your career moving forward when you say you want to be able to push that message across?
WINSLET: Yes. I think one way I can already tell you that it has made a difference is that I've already gone back and reshot a scene on the project that I'm working on now with HBO. We went back. And we reshot the scene because on reflection and having been a part of "Ammonite" and seeing how it made me feel when I saw the final cut and made me question all of these things - you know, I turn to the writer and the director. I said, we have to redo this. This is not how this would have played out. You know, guys, we've all lost our way here a little bit, just even in the way that things are sometimes written.
You know, it will often say in a script the woman gets on top, dominating now or taking control now. But why do we have to use those words? Why can't it just be that the woman knows what she wants or that she's playing an equal part in that scene. It's even the way these things are worded. And people often do it completely unintentionally. But again, it's because we all tend to fall victim automatically to these sort of heterosexual stereotypes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It sounds like "Ammonite" has been - had a profound impact on you, actually.
WINSLET: Yeah, it really, really has. It brought up so much about how - same-sex relationships and how they're perceived and debated about in film. For me, it just brought up so much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've enjoyed talking about it with you. That's Kate Winslet. Her new film "Ammonite" is out now. Thank you so much.
WINSLET: Thank you. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.