Two things distinguish the career of Kate Winslet. First, she had four Oscar nominations before she turned 30, a feat no other actor has managed since Liz Taylor more than four decades ago. Second, she has got naked in more movies than any nonporn star of her generation. From Titanic, the movie that propelled her into the American mainstream, in which she posed for Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack, to Little Children, her Oscar play for this year, in which she and Patrick Wilson's character have a tumble--the first of many--on the tumble dryer, she has shown her willingness to bare all. (For those counting at home, Winslet also went the full monty in Jude, Hideous Kinky, Holy Smoke, Quills and Iris.) Even in Flushed Away, the new animated film in which she's the voice of a rodent, Rita, her character loses her trousers.
If there's a suggestion of paradox in those two achievements--a mixture of classiness and looseness, of discipline and danger, of dedication and recklessness--Winslet doesn't cop to it. They seem to her as natural partners as her frank language and posh accent. The secret to nude scenes, which she says she hates, is establishing "a relationship with the director where you can say, 'Look, I'd really rather they didn't see my [British slang for private part],' or 'I've got a nasty mosquito bite on my left bum cheek. Can we not shoot that low please?'"
This fall a lot of Winslet, 31, is on show in a lot of places. Having weathered--that is, not been blamed for--All the King's Men, and done a serious turn with Little Children, Todd Field's tale of suburban suffocation, she's dipping her foot into her first big commercial movie since Titanic, Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy The Holiday. Winslet plays Iris, a retiring English wallflower who swaps houses for Christmas with Cameron Diaz's overachieving Hollywood type. This is the first film in which Winslet has ever played who she actually is, a modern young British woman. But Iris is Winslet too. "You, I can tell, are a leading lady," the completely irresistible 90-year-old Eli Wallach chides her. "But for some reason, you're behaving like the best friend."
The reason, the real Winslet might have responded, is because that's what people like about her. She has all the allure of the leading lady but also the I'll-pitch-in enthusiasm of the wingwoman. "Kate's clearly somebody you'd just absolutely love to have a long lunch with," says Meyers. "A girl's girl. Beautiful but not intimidating to other women." It's not a coincidence that Jackie Earle Haley, a child star best remembered for 1979's Breaking Away, suddenly turned up--after years of obscurity--in two Winslet movies. Having worked with him on King's Men, she heard he was up for a part in Little Children, recommended him, read with him at his audition and wept with him after he got the role. When The Holiday's Meyers wished she could make an interior into an exterior shot but the set wasn't dressed, Winslet offered to help ready it. "She was ready to get the hammer and nails, I swear to God," says Meyers. "We didn't have time, but the fact that she was so willing to do that, well, take it from me, it's unusual."