Kate Winslet embraced the ordinary in ‘Mare of Easttown’


By Dave Itzkoff


It had been a decade since Kate Winslet last starred in a live-action television role — the 2011 adaptation of “Mildred Pierce” — when she made “Mare of Easttown,” the HBO crime drama that ran this past spring.


But what a return it was: playing the title character, Winslet fully inhabited the role of Mare Sheehan, a police detective in a closely knit Philadelphia suburb. As she investigates a murder and multiple missing person cases, Sheehan is drawn further into an unsolved murder case and the complex, messy realities of her professional and personal life are laid bare to the viewers.


Two weeks ago, Winslet — who won an Emmy for “Mildred Pierce” and an Oscar for “The Reader,” and who has starred in films like “Titanic,” “Little Children” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” — was rewarded for her immersion into the character. She earned an Emmy nomination for lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie. “Mare of Easttown” picked up a total of 16 nominations, including outstanding limited or anthology series, as well as nods for performances by her co-stars Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart and Evan Peters.


Winslet (who is still occasionally prone to using some of the same down-and-dirty vocabulary as Mare Sheehan) spoke by phone about her work on “Mare of Easttown,” her Emmy nomination and the bucolic surroundings she found herself in when she got the news. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.


Q: This is hardly the first time you’ve been recognized for your acting work. Does it still feel special?


A: I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a nomination — nominations for the show. I feel proud of everybody. I feel that we were all in this together and to have received so much recognition for something that was unbelievably (expletive) tough and hard on all of us. We all stuck together to make it, and to trust in what we were doing. Especially in a year when the limited-series category is just ramped and the writing is exceptional and the acting is outstanding. It’s a very exciting time to be in this community.


Q: Where were you when you learned about the nominations for the show?


A: I’m in the west of England, in a large county called Cornwall, and I’m just visiting down here. Right as the Emmy nominations were being announced, I decided I was going to do an ice bath in the house. So I did that and got out, and then we were coming to meet my dad in a pub, with sketchy Wi-Fi reception all the way here. So Mark Roybal, one of our producers, and Brad Ingelsby (the “Mare of Easttown” creator and writer) were messaging me together. And I’m, like, reaching for reception out the window. Then we got to the pub and all I could see out of the window was a huge herd of cows being moved from one field down to the milking shed. As all of this is happening. I have all of it on video. I’m like, this is mad. I’m staring at this colossal load of dairy cows going down the track, while trying to tell my dad what has happened. He was so excited he was trying to message all my siblings.


Q: So the novelty has not yet worn off for you?


A: It doesn’t ever get old for me. I’ve been doing this job now for such a long time now, almost 30 years, and I think the reason it doesn’t get old is because I care more all the time and the stakes get higher all the time. We live in our world where there are just such extraordinarily talented people now, and it’s just incredible to feel like, oh my God, I’m still doing it! How did I manage to pull this off?


Q: A lot of discussion around the show focused on the normalcy of your character and all the ordinary things we see her do. What did you make of that conversation?


A: It was really thrilling, because we did concentrate a lot on making sure that we were honoring the authenticity of the character that Brad Ingelsby had written. So often I think those things can be adapted for the screen, so to speak. We were not doing any of that. When she gets out of bed in the morning and she’s wearing disgusting sweats and a T-shirt with a hamburger on the back, we’re like, no, obviously she’s not wearing a bra underneath. Making sure that we paid attention to those things — the massive regrowth of roots in her hair. For us that was such an emotional thing — it symbolizes how, from the point that (Mare’s son) Kevin died, she never went to a beauty parlor ever again and probably never will. Everything about how she dresses, how she functions, how she lives, were all part of her emotional past.


So I was really glad those things were appreciated and noticed. But for my part, quite frankly, but that’s just me with a bad wig and a bit of stuck-on eyebrows. That’s how I really look and I felt excited to showcase my realism. (Laughs.)


Q: Do you think at all about what happened to Mare after the events of the series — the further details of her relationship with her mother, Helen (Jean Smart), or with her friend Lori (Julianne Nicholson)?


A: I think about it almost every day. I promise you. I think about what happened, how might it be if — dot dot dot. Who knows? We’ll see.


Q: So will it be less than 10 years before you’re back on TV again?


A: I really hope so. Because for me, certainly this time around, I felt so keenly that thing of contributing entertainment for all, week on, week off. Because of COVID, it felt like such an event every week, for seven weeks of our lives, for all of us who were a part of it. And the debate and the discussion — the outrage and the excitement — those emotions that people went through each week, that’s what we felt reading each episode. To be able to connect with people in that way was really special. And we had more screen time to tell our story. Seven hours of television — a movie is 108 minutes. It felt pretty special and indulgent.


Q: I think you get a bit more time when you work with James Cameron, but point taken.


A: Exactly. He’s in a league of his own.