Kate Winslet on ‘Ammonite’: “Playing this part, I was scared every day”

Theatre

“You can experiment and play and break the rules and take risks and do things that do really challenge you and scare you.” – Kate Winslet on Being an Actor

In the film Ammonite, Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet portrays pioneering English paleontologist Mary Anning and explores her relationship with geologist Charlotte Murchison (portrayed by Saoirse Ronan). Speaking with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Winslet details what went into her portrayal of Anning and reveals what scared her about the role.

Portraying one of the earliest female English scientist was a challenge for Winslet, and she says, “Playing Mary Anning and having to carry an enormous amount of her personal history was really something that I had to spend a good deal of time preparing for.”

While the film depicts a romantic relationship between Anning and Murchison, in reality there is very little known about Anning’s personal life, who is mostly remembered for her scientific accomplishments. Winslet used that to color her portrayal of her, but also found this intimating, explaining,

“So much of my life is my family, and that’s very separate to my career. But then also, so much of my life is also my career. And I guess that is my opportunity to break rules and break norms. Actually, in life, in terms of the structure of life, I’m a pretty, you know, law-abiding citizen (laughter). But I suppose that’s one of the wonderful things about being an actor is that you can just – you can experiment and play and break the rules and take risks and do things that do really challenge you and scare you.

I mean, playing this part, I was scared every day. I would go home, and I would think to myself, OK, what – did I actually do anything today that read on screen at all? Because, of course, the details – the emotional details of playing Mary are so subtle and so sparse. And there were two emotions that I wasn’t allowed to show very often in playing Mary Anning – almost no happiness and sadness, no real tears. Now, those are two emotions that actors tend to lean on, I would say, a pretty good deal. So learning how to use up anything in-between those two powerful emotions was really odd and very nerve-wracking. So the sparse, pared-back emotion of quiet expression and limited physical expression and emotion was something I had a really hard time with.”

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