By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Roman calls, Kate goes to work. Holidays can wait.
That’s Roman, as in Polanski, and, Kate as in Winslet, whose new film “Carnage,” a satirical comedy of manners that skewers overbearing parents, opens on Friday, one day after earning Winslet a Golden Globe nomination for acting.
“I had planned not to work,” Winslet told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But that notion just went right out the window the second I heard the name Roman Polanski.
“One doesn’t think of oneself as being ever sort of Roman Polanski-worthy,” said Winslet about the director of such classics as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” “So you’d have to be kind of stupid, really, not to change your plans.”
“Carnage,” which also co-stars Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz, is based on Yasmina Reza’s biting Broadway satire of two sets of parents who meet one afternoon to discuss their sons’ playground fracas.
Set smack in the middle of smug self-righteousness that is one of the hallmarks of upscale Brooklyn neighborhoods, the film chronicles in real time the couples’ downward spiral as polite overtures give way to Scotch-and-cobbler-fueled invective — a sort of “Virginia Woolf lite.”
“What’s so brilliant is that Yasmina was able to make this scenario funny, because if it wasn’t funny, it really wouldn’t be a very pleasant film to watch,” Winslet said.
“She lets us laugh with them, and at them, but more importantly, at them,” she said of the four characters — a liberal writer (Foster), her plumbing fixtures salesman husband (Reilly), a shady lawyer (Waltz) and an investment broker (Winslet) — who are all in virtually every scene.
Winslet, who won an Oscar for “The Reader” after six nominations, laughed heartily when recalling “Carnage”‘s “rather ridiculous set-up, where they eat cobbler and drink whiskey — in the middle of the day! It’s just so absurd.”
UNFAZED BY DEMANDING DIRECTOR
But while Winslet said the eight-week Paris shoot was “a really terrific time for all four of us,” it wasn’t full-on fun and laughter.
Polanski, after all, has a reputation as one of the film world’s more autocratic and meticulous directors.
That didn’t faze Winslet, who shot to fame on the strength of performances in small, independent films such as “Heavenly Creatures” and “Sense and Sensibility” before striking box office gold with “Titanic.”
Winslet, after all, is a woman who recently braved a raging inferno at Richard Branson’s private island villa in the Caribbean to rescue his elderly mother and who took on Britain’s notorious tabloids in a 2009 libel case — and won.
“I’ve never come across such energy in a man, maybe ever,” she said of Polanski. “He has such incredible charisma … and the naughtiest, cheekiest energy.”
As to his working style, she called Polanski “incredibly direct. He is really blunt, really frank, which I love.”
“He can be cutthroat,” she continued. “But at the same time I was surprised by how collaborative he was,” telling the cast to “try it your way,” before adding after a pause: “My way will be better, but try it.”
“Bless him, he would let us have a go,” she laughed.
Winslet allowed that in order to work with such a perfectionist “you have to be, as an actor, very tough. For a younger actor who isn’t so experienced, I could imagine how Roman’s directing style could be very overwhelming.”
The actress said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed the theatrical nature of the film shoot, which was preceded by two full weeks of rehearsal and the cast having to learn the entire script — the way it’s done on stage.
“People think because I’m English I’ve done so much theater. But I’ve hardly done any,” she said. “It was surprising to me, how much I did enjoy the process of repetition, repetition, repetition.”
So did it whet her appetite to return to the stage, which she hasn’t visited professionally since age 18?
“I have my children. They are my world and absolutely my priority, and the idea not to be able to put them to bed for three months and have weekends with them for three months … I’ll keep fantasizing about it, but will have to park the idea for now,” she said.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)