"It really is a remarkable thing to be nominated for an Oscar," actress Kate Winslet said. "It's unbelievable. I mean, these are childhood dreams."
Winslet is no stranger to the red carpet. At age 33, she is the youngest actor ever to have earned six Academy Award nominations, but she is still looking for her first Oscar.
"I know what it's like to lose - kinda sucks, ya know?" she laughed. "I've got a good 'losing face' now. You kind of sit there and you hear your name not being read out, and you just smile and clap."
But this year the British-born Winslet is being tipped by many to be the favorite for Best Actress, after she recently scored a clean sweep at the Golden Globes for her performances in "The Reader" and "Revolutionary Road," the latter directed by her husband Sam Mendes.
"You got two Golden Globes, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress," Mason said.
"That was a real head-spinning moment," she said. "I went into the Golden Globe ceremony feeling incredibly nervous. I was sort of actually shaking. And Sam kept saying to me, 'Babe, are you all right? I've literally never seen you like this.' And I don't know, I just think because being nominated for two different things in two different categories, I just have never known pressure like that."
"What was the pressure, though?"
"Winning none of them, probably," she laughed.
She called winning two Golden Globes "just incredible. Just absolutely incredible."
"It's still not an Oscar," Mason said.
"No, it is not!"
Winslet's Academy Award nomination is for her role in "The Reader" (left). She plays Hanna Schmitz, a German tram conductor who has an affair with a boy half her age. Only later does the young man discover Hanna had been a prison camp guard for the Nazi SS.
Winslet says it is the most challenging part she has ever played:
"There was nothing about her as a character on the page, when I first read the script, that I related to, at all. Nothing. Not a single thing."
"How do you connect with a character, if you have no connection with that character?"
"I knew that I wouldn't necessarily like her all the time," Winslet said. "And I knew that I wouldn't necessarily sympathize with her. And I also knew it would be wrong to try and make an audience sympathize with her. But I did feel strongly about two things: One was that I actually had to understand her, and the other thing I felt very strongly about was that if an audience member found themselves empathizing in any way with Hanna Schmitz and that they felt morally compromised as a consequence of feeling that sympathy, that was going to be interesting."
In Winslet's other acclaimed role this year, as suburban housewife April Wheeler in "Revolutionary Road," she's reunited her with her old friend and "Titanic" co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. It's also the first time she's been directed by her husband, Sam Mendes.
"It must have been difficult, though, having romantic scenes with your husband behind the camera?" Mason asked.
"I found it difficult," Winslet said. "Sam didn't. And neither did Leo - which really annoyed me."
"Why is that?"
"I don't know," she laughed. "I was furious with them both. And I would say to them, 'Can you just please don't pretend that this is completely normal. Because there's absolutely nothing about this situation that is normal. I'm really freaked out by it. Don't put it all on me! Don't make it my problem,' you know?' And Leo was just, 'What's the big deal? It's completely fine. Come on, we've known each other for years!'" Winslet laughed. "That's not the point. The point is we've known each other for years, and I'm married to him.
"And Sam would just say to me, 'Oh baby, come on, you've done this thousands of times before.' I know. But not with you in the room!"
It's been a dozen years since "Titanic" made DiCaprio and Winslet international stars. The biggest box office blockbuster ever grossed nearly two billion dollars.
The costars found themselves on top of the world. For Winslet the heights were dizzying:
"I didn't really want to be that famous," she said. "I didn't know how I was supposed to deal with it. And I think I was really frightened that I might stop loving acting. I might stop loving my job. Because everything else was so weird. You know, all of a sudden it just wasn't easy to go and buy a pint of milk and a newspaper. That was a half-an-hour ordeal that usually involved a body guard and, you know, 25 paparazzi. Literally, from one day to the next, [it] all changed completely. I sort of, in a way, wanted to run away a bit, just because I was overwhelmed."
"You just wanted to get away and let it all cool down a bit?" Mason asked.
"Yeah, yeah. I just needed to figure out what it all meant really. And also who I was."
She was Kate from Reading, a small town west of London. Growing up in an acting family, she won her first screen role at 15, in a kid's sci-fi TV show called "Dark Season" (left).
Two years later, she won her first film role in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures." One critic called her "a bright-eyed ball of fire who lights up every scene she's in."
In 1995, at age 19, she barged into an audition for the part of Marianne Dashwood, in Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," a role the producers insisted she was too young to play.
"They didn't try to stop you?" Mason asked.
"No, they were too embarrassed. And it was great!" she laughed. "They were too embarrassed. I sort of walked in and said, 'The thing I love about Marianne Dashwood is, oh God, I mean, she's so like me!' I remember doing it all. I look back on it now and I just think to myself, 'Oh, God, Kate …' But that was what I did. You know, you gotta do what you gotta do. And, you know, luckily for me in that moment, it worked, and I got the part."
It earned Winslet her first Oscar nomination. Over the next decade she'd be nominated again for "Titanic," "Iris," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (left) and "Little Children."
Despite that impressive resume, she grimaced when Mason referred to her as a "movie star."
"You don't like that word?" he asked.
"It just makes me really uncomfortable."
"But it's a fact."
"Is it? I mean, really, is it? I don't know. To me people like Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan are movie stars."
"Well, if you're not a movie star, I don't know who is."
"Okay. All right."
"But I mean, you didn't come in here with a swarm of guards around you."
"No, I came in by myself!" she laughed.
"You came alone. So what is that telling me?"
"I like being me. I need to have normality."
Normality for Winslet is spending time with her two kids, daughter Mia and son Joe.
"Are you a good Mom?" Mason asked.
"I'm a great Mom!" she laughed. "I do my best, you know? It is the absolutely the toughest role of all, being the parent. That's why for me now, when I go to work, work is almost like a holiday, it really is. Get to sit in the trailer, have a cup of tea, oh, put my feet up. Oh, wow! I think I will have a piece of toast." She laughed. "It's like a holiday. It's fantastic!"
A few years ago, on the HBO comedy "Extras," Winslet, in a cameo, joked about making a World War Two film:
"I don't think we need another movie about the Holocaust, do we? I mean, how many have there been? We get it - it was grim, move on. No I'm doing it because I've noticed, if you do a movie about the Holocaust you're guaranteed an Oscar."Now, a film with a Holocaust theme has earned her another nomination, and Kate Winslet, who insists she's not competitive, finds herself wrestling with the desire to win:
"And is it okay to be able to say yourself, 'Oh, I would actually like to win.' Does that then make you competitive? Does it? Or does it just make you want to win? And is that different to being competitive? Do you know what I mean? It's a little bit confusing," she laughed.
"But you wanna win?" Mason asked.
"Why are you so determined to get me to answer this question?"
"I'm just curious! Because everybody always says, 'It's an honor to be nominated.'"
"Which is true!" Winslet laughed. "I mean, it is true. It would be rough to lose, this year, I think it would be rough, only because having gone and lost so many times now, it would really suck, I think."
(Left: Winslet demonstrates her "losing face.")
Whatever happens, the actress who many consider the finest of her generation knows it doesn't get any better than this.
"The cherry on the cake moment is pretty looming," she said. "You know, it would just be incredible. And I just don't take any of it for granted. I really don't. I might never get nominated for an Academy Award ever again in my life. That might be it! I might be absolutely terrible in everything I do from this day forth," she said, screwing up her face.
"It's very important to know when the cake is in front of you, that it's there," Mason said.
"Yes, I know," Winslet said. "And it's also very important to eat the entire thing!"