Reality TV

Kate Winslet on Mare of Easttown and Creating a Real Heroine for Tired Times

Kate Winslet had plenty of research to do for her starring role on Mare of Easttown, the new HBO limited series that premieres Sunday and marks Winslet’s first venture as an executive producer.

To play a hardened detective, Winslet rode along with undercover Pennsylvania cops—devouring the details of their day-to-day so fully that, toward the end of filming, Winslet was reminding production to include dialogue about yellow tape and bullet paths. To portray a native southeastern Pennsylvanian, Winslet studied the Delaware County dialect with her longtime coach, Susan Hegarty, and binge-listened to recordings from a “Delco” local on her AirPods. To depict a woman overcoming the death of her mentally ill son, Winslet spoke to bereaved parents, specifically parents whose children struggled with mental illness. 

She went so deep channeling Mare’s unresolved grief that one weekend, mid-filming, the actor erupted after her husband, Ned, suggested that the family try out a new brunch spot. “What?!” Winslet replied, with a Mare-esque incredulousness that was completely disproportionate to her husband’s innocent suggestion. They ended up staying home to eat.

“I became, like, this really strange version of myself,” Winslet recalled of her time filming Mare of Easttown, which stretched before and after COVID. “I could cook meals, but I couldn’t really settle in myself. It was really not very nice for people around me.”

If there was one part of Mare that came naturally to Winslet, it was the harried fatigue of being a working mother. Granted, Mare’s fatigue is far deeper than Winslet’s—in addition to investigating murders and ignoring deep grief, Mare also raises her teenage daughter and toddler grandson. As such, the character does not have an extra iota of energy for vanity; her roots are grown out to her ears, and her clothes look like they’ve been worn for weeks straight. Though the circumstances of Mare’s tiredness are unique, the character’s just-get-through-it attitude seems especially apt for end-of-quarantine days, when we’ve all been stuck in a strange routine for too long.

On Wednesday evening Winslet’s face popped onto my laptop for our scheduled Zoom. Immediately, the Oscar winner grimaced at her reflection.

“Sorry I look like complete shit,” Winslet said, recapping the chaos that came moments before. Usually her husband helps her with all things computer-related, but he was busy putting their son to bed. So it was up to Winslet to log into her interviews. “I just thought, You know what? I’m just going to press some buttons and hope that I don’t kill everyone and that it doesn’t blow up. It didn’t blow up, and here we are.”

Winslet felt very close to Mare, the woman she inhabits for seven hour-long episodes. “The thing about her that I loved the most—that she’s this heroic, flawed, middle-aged woman, like all of us, and she makes no apology at all for who she is,” she said. “She can’t. She’s just too tired. She’s got too much to do. She’s just got to keep going. As a woman, sometimes there’s nothing else you can do but just keep going. That resonated with me.”

For her past projects Winslet has gone to great lengths in the name of authenticity—ordering, for example, a crate of chickens to practice butchering for her starring role in Mildred Pierce. But as an executive producer on Mare of Easttown, Winslet was able to apply her exacting nature to all departments on the series—establishing, right off the bat, the look of Mare’s Chevy Tahoe (a holy mess), the state of Mare’s diet (beer and anything in reach, including “the horrible Cheez Whiz in the can”), and the dreaded ponytail dent Mare is left with when she finally lets her (unwashed) hair down for a night.

“That’s no accident, babe!” Winslet said. She’s proud of the dent—a grim reality of long-haired people heretofore rendered too grotesque for a Hollywood close-up. “With hair, makeup, wardrobe, we would say, ‘We can’t make her look real. She just has to be,’” said Winslet. “She was in her jacket that’s melded together with the hoodie that lives underneath it. Everything had little holes in it. We’d be constantly breaking things down so they looked well lived-in, even to the point that the kid who plays my grandson, Drew…he would wear actual clothes from my own son that I’d already boxed up. Everything about her life had to just be human, because that’s who she is.”

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