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Kate Winslet on "Ammonite," and life during COVID

Kate Winslet on "Ammonite" and life during COVID
Kate Winslet on "Ammonite" and life during COVID 08:31

A day at the beach isn't what it used to be in these COVID times. But as places to be stuck during lockdown go, you could do worse than the wind-swept strip of sand just up the lane from Kate Winslet's place. Although Winslet can no longer just walk along this shore.

"I know there are no fossils here, it's not a part of the world, and I'm still like this – I do it!" she told correspondent Mark Phillips, bending down.

Actress Kate Winslet on a windswept English beach with correspondent Mark Phillips.  CBS News

Winslet's habit comes from spending a lot of time looking down while shooting her latest movie on a beach not that far from her home on England's south coast. "Ammonite," which had a recent theatre run and is now streaming, tells the story of Mary Anning, a fossil hunter in the 1800s.

Anning was a real person who scoured the shoreline on what's known as Britain's Jurassic Coast, which, because of a quirk of geology, is laced with fossils. Anning, it turns out, made several major discoveries, including the fossilized skeleton of what we now call the Pterodactyl, the flying dinosaur. But being a woman, she wasn't credited at the time. Only men could be scientists in the 1840s.

"I knew who Mary Anning was, but I knew, shamefully, very little about her," Winslet said. "She was living in a patriarchal society. The world of geology and science was entirely dominated by men who would reappropriate her work and claim it as their own. Actually put their names on it."

"And some pretty significant work, too," said Phillips.

"Yeah, yeah."

In the movie, Winslet's Mary Anning is not only a repressed paleontologist, she's a repressed lesbian, who has a love affair with co-star Saoirse Ronan's character. The story bends history to modern sensibilities – there's no evidence the affair ever happened.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in "Ammonite." Neon

"It felt as though pairing Mary with a woman who had a similar sensibility to her in terms of how they viewed the world, it felt worthy of Mary," Winslet said. "I feel the lack of same-sex love stories in our mainstream and I often feel that the narratives are underpinned by fear, secrecy and shame. And I think that in 'Ammonite,' it's about two people who fall in love, and the fact that they are both women is very much secondary to that."

Winslet has been promoting her film close to home, because of COVID travel restrictions. A socially-distanced walk along the beach, an interview in an open-sided, converted barn … she's kind of hoping things may have changed forever.

She said, "I do definitely feel that we're all doing our bit for the environment in terms of not flying here, there and everywhere. I mean, you know – you would be flying everywhere interviewing people.

"And it does definitely make one feel just that little bit better about just walking across the lawn and not having to pump so much crap into the atmosphere!" she laughed.

Phillips asked, "Are we in a place now where you think, "Wait a minute, I don't have to fly to New York to do a late-night talk show?'"

"Yeah, I mean, in the good old days, you know, I remember getting on a plane, going and doing 'Letterman,' turning around, getting on a plane and coming straight home again. And I do think those days probably are a little bit gone because it has actually been working."

Actually, because of another twist of movie-making fate, Winslet saw this pandemic thing coming. She had a major role in the 2011 film "Contagion," where an imaginary virus runs rampant.

Contagion - Fomites and R-0 by Wheat Pilgrim on YouTube

Phillips asked, "When this thing first happened, did you think, 'This is life imitating art'?"

"Yeah. I absolutely did. I was wearing a mask long before any of my friends who thought I was just crazy. And they would say, like, 'You're scaring us.' I'd say, 'Guys, it's coming. It's coming. Please, here's a mask, here're some gloves …'"

"'I've seen the movie!'"

"Yeah! 'Here's some spray!'" she laughed.

"Ammonite" was shot B.C. (Before COVID), as we now measure time. Like everyone else, Winslet wonders if that kind of life will ever return. "It does feel far away, you know? Even just having a glass of wine in the hair and makeup trailer with, you know, the girls at the end of the week, I can't fathom a world where that would be possible."

"Let alone a pub," said Phillips.

"Let alone a pub, which is devastating!"

Winslet's part in "Ammonite" is the type of strong, complex character she's drawn to lately. It follows on from roles like Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs' assistant (and conscience) in the 2015 movie, "Steve Jobs."

Steve Jobs (2/10) Movie CLIP - Everyone Is Waiting For the Mac (2015) HD by Movieclips on YouTube

It goes back further to her Oscar-winning depiction of Nazi concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz, in 2008's "The Reader."

The Reader (6/10) Movie CLIP - Auschwitz Choices (2008) HD by Movieclips on YouTube

It's all a long way from that movie about that doomed big boat in which she splashed into the big time.

"When I did 'Titanic,' I turned 21 on that film. Twenty-one! That's a year older than my daughter, who hasn't left home yet. So, I was still learning who I was. And I was learning about the craft. And I was really scared. I wasn't supposed to be famous. I wasn't meant to be talked about and lauded and feted and have these offers made to me by big studios."

Instead, she chose her own path.

Winslet said, "There was a lot of, 'Are you sure? I mean, you know, these moments might not come around again. You know, are you really sure?' 'Yeah, I'm sure, I'll make that kind of movie in Marrakech that no one's going to see, I'm good with that.'"

"It's paid off," Phillips said.

"Well, you know, I think it pays to be true to yourself. But I'm definitely at a time in my life where I really do feel very strongly about telling stories of unsung heroines. And also, playing my part in ensuring that women aren't objectified on film, as much as I feel they perhaps have been."

Actress Kate Winslet, currently starring in "Ammonite." CBS News

Phillips asked, "Do you think it's changing the old Hollywood bromide, you know, there are no parts for aging women? I'm not saying you're aging, but …"

"Well, I am aging."

"Well, we're all aging," he laughed.

"Yeah, that's fine. It's part of life."

"All right, but you're demonstrating that, in fact, there are women of substance."

"Well, listen, put it this way: They are certainly harder to find than the great roles for men."

"Because the backers won't back it to the same extent?"

"Because you won't have the same size budget that you would if it were your male counterpart playing that leading role. That is just the case," Winslet said.

"You've won all the awards, you've made all the money, what have you got to prove from here on? What do you have to do?"

"I don't know if there's necessarily a feeling of wanting to prove something, but I just always want to be doing this job," Winslet replied. "I just love it. I absolutely love acting. I love it more as the years go by. And I'm the most unlikely version of this [indicating herself]." 

"Well, you mean ...?"

"You know, I didn't have anyone giving me a leg up," she said. "I didn't have any special training or tips or tricks or ways in the backdoor. I didn't have any of that."

"So, what do you put it down to?"

"Bloody-minded determination!" she laughed.

"Gotta be good to be lucky?"

"Yeah, you just do the work. Just put your head down and do the work. And also, don't expect that the world owes you anything. And mistakes are great. You make some mistakes and learn from them and and you just keep going."

To watch a trailer for "Ammonite" click on the video player below:

Ammonite - Official Trailer by NEON on YouTube

For more info:

Story produced by Sara Kugel and Justine Redman. Editor: Carol Ross.

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