Academy voters relish a riveting behind-the-scenes story when it comes to a contender. If there is one this season it’s about how Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet—who, since her first nomination for Sense And Sensibility at the age of 21, has sifted through a sea of offers—fought for the role of Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs’ feisty Polish-Armenian head of marketing at Apple Computer. During Winslet’s work on the Australian film The Dressmaker, she learned about “the girl part” in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs through her hair-and-makeup artist, and was promptly piqued. She googled Hoffman, found some black wigs, and emailed a photo of herself in character to producer Scott Rudin. Her agent told her there already was an offer out to another actress, but fate set in: Three-and-a-half weeks later, Winslet found herself in a rehearsal room in San Francisco.
Regarding the great lengths you took to land the part of Joanna Hoffman, what made it worth the fight?
As an actor, you constantly hear about films that are in the works. It’s not unusual to sometimes give (the director or producer) a nudge. It was about being in the room with those creative people, that’s the way you grow and change as an actor… When I googled Joanna Hoffman, straight away I thought, “Of course they wouldn’t think of me. I’m a busty blond and she’s a five-foot, two-inch Polish-Armenian who doesn’t look like Kate Winslet.” When it came to throwing my hat in the ring and emailing Scott Rudin my photos, I didn’t have an ego about that. Lucky for me, a script landed in my inbox a few hours later.
What intrigued me when I first read the script was that there weren’t that many people in it. How clever to make a film about this man, who had achieved everything, and to keep it as a play. The fact that Aaron Sorkin wrote these words was an exciting prospect. Danny Boyle directing, even though I hadn’t worked with him, was another big fat box I could check. Throw in Fassbender, and I gotta get in that room.
Joanna wasn’t just a hotheaded Eastern European woman screeching at Jobs. She was a sister, his friend, and a little bit of a mother. Her recognition of who he was as a person and her acceptance and love of him, warts and all, was an admirable quality. I’ve spent time with people like Jobs, and just because people are tricky doesn’t mean they don’t have a heart and soul. (The real) Joanna came into the rehearsal space and I got to spend time with her. I didn’t want to try and do an impersonation, but I wanted to honor the essence of her spirit.
After Titanic you made a point not to be cast as the “It Girl” or ingénue in Hollywood films. Do you ever think differently about that decision?
After Titanic, as all of this was happening, I just trusted my instinct. I always made sure that I marked my line in the sand. I could go to the corner store with no make-up on… I was not comfortable with the sudden movie star status that was being thrown at me. It was also largely created by the success of the film. I didn’t want to make big films. It wasn’t me. It was my instinctive response to the situation. I remember thinking then, “Wow, I can choose the roles I want to be in.” Up until then I had been running around to auditions with a backpack, and you were lucky to get the gig you could get.
Did you ever rack your brain wondering why the Academy passed over you five times before they finally gave you an Oscar for The Reader?
After being nominated the first time, that was completely surreal. It was so otherworldly, I never imagined that I would win it then and I was never disappointed (over not winning). You have to be a good loser. I don’t think it would have been good for me winning at a younger age. I would then feel the pressure of having done something and maintaining that level of a winning streak. Rather, I could keep working and trying hard. Also, walking into the room on each of those five occasions, you know if you’ll win or lose. You really do. Knowing that I wasn’t going to win made it quite sensible and practical and got me through those moments. But when The Reader came around, I wanted to win that one because it was a difficult part. I did find it really hard playing Hanna Schmitz.
Jennifer Lawrence recently spoke out about the pay discrepancy between actresses and actors. Has this ever vexed you?
I have never concerned myself with monetary matters. I almost feel like I can’t comment on other people’s comments, but I admire people who publicly stand up for themselves. I’ve never been in the situation where I feel the need to make those types of comments. I’m fortunate. I have a nice life and career and I’m blessed to be 40 years old and still doing it. However, it reminds me of the comments that I made on women and body image. At 40, I’m still getting asked questions about those statements that I made years ago. At 45, Jennifer Lawrence will still be asked about the pay issue.
To see Winslet in a scene from Steve Jobs, click play below: