Kate Winslet Cried, Consulted a Neuroscientist, and Rehearsed Constantly for ‘The Regime’

A dedicated actor whose self-inflicted preparation process for “Ammonite” included freezing nightly in an isolated shack by the beach, Kate Winslet couldn’t have gone method for “The Regime” if she tried.

For one thing, the heavily guarded but tiny European nation over which her authoritarian caricature — the vindictive, touchy, and tyrannical Chancellor Elena Vernham — rules with a hypochondriacal fist can’t be visited by foreigners. Why not? Well, it’s geographically precarious, politically and socially fraught, and, outside of HBO’s international jurisdiction, it doesn’t exist.

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“I didn’t look to any specific figures for inspiration because I didn’t think that would be a sensible choice,” Winslet told IndieWire of her starring part in the buzzy spring miniseries and satire. “Honestly, she isn’t like anyone I’d ever come across before anywhere at all.”

Created by Will Tracy, who is best known for penning episodes of “Succession” and co-writing the culinary thriller “The Menu” with Seth Reiss, the new seriocomic dramedy about an autocratic government follows Winslet as its unstable leader. When Vernham forms a strange affection for an unpredictable and violent soldier (Matthias Schoenaerts) working in her palace, the anti-feminist fascist unknowingly sets her country on a rocky road to international catastrophe.

The farcical dictator is set to make her North American TV debut on Sunday, March 3 at 9 p.m. ET, and although Winslet’s monstrous portrayal is not a direct parody of any specific person living or dead, Elena will be instantly recognizable to anyone versed in increasingly painful global politics.

“I had never read a script like it,” Winslet said of the outrageously dark and twisted spoof — a fiendish thought exercise in simmering tensions taken to their most fiery extremes. “I had never come across a character quite like her. And I knew that, as a role for me, I had never played anything like her before — and I wanted to do comedy. I loved the fact that, yes, it’s about a dictator, but she’s also a female dictator. It’s not a male dictator. And I knew the nuances and the feminine fragility that I could explore behind that mask.”

From patriotic musical numbers sung woefully off-key to repeated, ever punchier use of the colorful expletive “hog’s urethra,” Winslet describes Vernham’s cruel strangeness as a tricky balancing act between profound character understanding and face-value entertainment.

“I was able to lean into these absurd, totally irrational, sometimes reckless sides of this invented imagined character, and coming up with ways to play a lot of those scenes was really a huge amount of fun. There was always, always the element of theatrics,” Winslet said. “And she couldn’t just be one way or say certain things or shout or screech or be physically, overtly sexual because it had to be all for a reason.”

That deep internal resonance and nuts-and-bolts appreciation for the charisma needed to make a megalomaniac shaped Elena in more ways than one. Constructing a richly tortured psychological profile for her character, Winslet traced nearly every choice she made as a performer back to the unseen girlhood of a kid whose tortured royal upbringing would one day carry a country.

“I did actually work with a neuroscientist and a psychotherapist to try and understand trauma a bit better and how that can manifest itself in people’s bodies and lives and how they move and how they speak. Because I wanted to make sure that I was rooting her in some kind of reality,” Winslet said. “It’s really looking at her childhood, where her trauma began, and how that has stayed with her and how it absolutely impacts every single one of her close personal relationships.”

The toxic orbit surrounding Elena fueled Winslet’s performance and allowed her to question what could make a damaged person turn so deadly an entire country would bend to their every whim.

“It’s her sense of entitlement and the abandonment issues that she clearly, clearly has,” the actor continued. “It’s her fear of the outside world, how she speaks, and the things that she then subsequently feels she has to keep hidden as a leader because she’s got to be beautiful and everyone has to love her. She just gets it all wrong. It’s really kind of tragic. And that’s where my empathy kicks in.”

Endlessly vulnerable, Elena is a far cry from Winslet’s last HBO performance as the titular Mare of Easttown. Brad Ingelsby’s harrowing crime drama, set in small-town Pennsylvania and aired in the spring of 2021, saw Winslet play a steely homicide detective to widespread critical acclaim. The chilling mystery won her the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, and snagged Evan Peters and Julianne Nicholson Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress accolades. The premium cable network also earned four more nominations for the hit show, including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series. (It lost out that year to “The Queen’s Gambit.”)

Despite the actor previously naming Mare Sheehan as the most difficult acting endeavor of her career, the broody cop’s serial killer saga wasn’t the HBO show to leave Winslet in tears at her kitchen table. A hoodie pulled over her head, scripts scattered in her wake, with threats to call the whole thing off still hanging in the air, the actor recalls intense feelings of insecurity when she first began to envision “The Regime.” The walls of text required to perform a public figure — particularly one who gives as many scripted speeches as she does impromptu monologues gifting age-old cuss words some funky new flare — didn’t help.

“I was so terrified because it was a very daunting task, and so much dialogue,” Winslet said. “But honestly, the work and the prep that had been done by the creative team of writers was so phenomenal that as long as I was with that script and I was reading it over and over and over and over, and more and more, and deeper and deeper, I found that that was the best way for it to sink into my bones.”

“I knew that putting her together was going to be really challenging, and it was,” she said. “But then ultimately playing her, once I’d done all the groundwork, I knew it would be a lot of fun — and it really was.”

“The Regime” premieres Sunday, March 3 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max. Episodes will be released weekly through the finale on April 7.

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