Just when you thought Kate Winslet really had gone off to be a stay-at-home mum this time, she pops up in no fewer than four movies within three months. Little Children, released last Friday, follows closely behind All the King's Men and The Holiday, and the animated feature Flushed Away, in which she supplies a voice-over, are released before Christmas. So much for a domestic life with the kiddies in the Cotswolds.
Never mind. Her intention to take over child-caring duties from her husband, Sam Mendes, for the forthcoming year clearly gave her an extra impetus in the workplace. Given her current status as Britain's most popular female movie actress, few people will complain.
The secret of Winslet's appeal is that she is accessibly attractive. Not conventionally beautiful, nor model girl thin, she exudes a kind of healthy vitality that pulls her closer to her audience than many of her contemporaries. You just sense she wouldn't subscribe to the haunted chic of Kiera Knightley even if she could. Winslet is sensible enough to know that cool doesn't last. Unless you are Charlotte Rampling.
Unlike other big girls - Kathleen Turner, Cheers-era Kirstie Alley, Nigella Lawson - Winslet is not a femme fatale. Her appeal is rather more benign, softer and more maternal. The glimpse of one white generously proportioned breast in Titanic was sufficient to fuel the fantasies of adolescent boys for years afterwards.
Big girls like her because she's curvy and hates dieting. Thin girls like her because inside every size 00 is a normal girl struggling to get out. Men like her because she is smart and funny and sexy and has a body that you could - in your dreams at least - get hold of. Nothing's going to break if you squeeze her. She is a girl that you, the humble punter, might conceivably know: as a pal, sister, girlfriend, fellow mum. "There is absolutely no vanity about her, which is rare in this business," says Greg Wise, her co-star in Sense and Sensibility.
In a recent interview to publicise Little Children, she said: "As an actress, when you have to get naked it's really, really terrible. You feel sick and you think to yourself, 'I must be absolutely mad and I must remember not to do this again.'"
She appears to have forgotten an earlier pronouncement. "I like exposing myself," she said in 2002. "There's not an awful lot that embarrasses me. I'm the kind of actress that absolutely believes in exposing myself."
This is an actress who has made a virtue out of fearlessness. She appeared in her underwear in her first movie, Heavenly Creatures, at the age of 19, in which she also had her first onscreen kiss - with another girl; she enacted a shockingly graphic birth scene in Jude two years later. She stripped and peed on camera in Holy Smoke. In Romance and Cigarettes, released last year but made a mere eight weeks after the birth of her son, Joe, she squeezed her ample breastsinto Agent Provocateur underwear to seduce James Gandolfini.
A shrinking violet, she is not. The overwhelming impression, rather, is that Winslet is a normal, healthy, robust, ordinary mother of two who just happens to be A Movie Star. She has always felt the need to display her common touch. Kate Smokes Golden Virgina Roll-Ups! Kate Eats Marmite on Toast! Kate Travels By Underground!
"I was on the Tube just before Christmas," she recounted in one interview, "and this girl turned round to me and said, 'Are you Kate Winslet?' And I said, 'Well, yes. I am actually.' And she said, 'And you're getting the Tube?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'Don't you have a big car that drives you around?' And I said, 'No.' And she was absolutely stunned. It was ludicrous." Why ludicrous? Sometimes, one feels, she is trying too hard NOT to be a movie star. Perhaps it is her way of rebelling against her heritage.
She was born Katherine Elizabeth Winslet on 5 October 1975 in Reading, Berkshire. Her parents, Roger Winslet and Sally Bridges, were both actors. Oliver and Linda Bridges, her maternal grandparents, founded and operated a repertory theatre in Reading . Her sisters, Beth and Anna, are both in the business.
At 11 she went to Redroofs Theatre School. Her first television appearance was opposite the Honey Monster in a cereal commercial. A co-starring role in the BBC children's science fiction serial Dark Season in 1991 followed, then the made-for-television movie Anglo-Saxon Attitudes in 1992 and an episode of Casualty in 1993. The following year delivered the break that made her name. She got hold of a script of Heavenly Creatures.
"I was reading the script in the back of the car," she recalled, "and I turned to my dad and yelled, 'I've GOT to get this!' And he replied, 'Then you will.' And I thought, 'Yep, that's it. I'm bloody well going to.' And that was it. I was so determined. It was something crucial to my life."
She was working part-time in a local deli when the call came through that she had got the part of Juliet Hulme. She hasn't had to do much sandwich-making since. She passed from the modestly budgeted Sense and Sensibility into the most expensive and highest-grossing movie in the history of cinema, Titanic. (She missed the premiere in 1995 to attend the funeral of a former boyfriend, Stephen Tredre.)
Winslet was made, and, typically, decided to turn her back on Hollywood and make interesting indie movies like Hideous Kinky (for which she turned down the lead in Shakespeare in Love) and Holy Smoke.
Her personal life did not follow quite such a smooth trajectory. On 22 November 1998, Winslet celebrated her marriage to aspiring director Jim Threapleton in a pub, over sausages and mash. She gave birth to a daughter, Mia Honey, on 12 October 2000. The subsequent divorce generated some of the only truly bad press Winslet has ever had.
In 2001, she fell for director Sam Mendes, whom she married in 2003 on the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean. Mendes is Winslet's equal in success and they form an appropriately glamorous couple, dividing their time between houses in New York and the Cotswolds.
"Her secret is not to fit into any mould," says Wise. "She is always stretching herself and does that in life as a wife and mother."
A detached ob- server may have noted that she stretched herself a tad too far on Parkinson last week when she cried on relating what Mendes said after seeing Little Children - "You have so many secrets."
Given that the first sex scene involves her sitting naked on a washing machine being thoroughly serviced by her leading man, perhaps she should have introduced Sam to the alternative uses of a laundry room before he saw the movie.