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MATERNAL INSTINCT KATE WINSLET DISCUSSES THE MAKING OF A GOOD (OR BAD) MOTHER.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Writer

In her new movie, ``Little Children,'' Kate Winslet plays Sarah, an unhappy young mother who embarks on a journey of self-discovery that involves an extramarital affair and a host of questionable parental decisions.

How questionable?

``She's a woman who handles her daughter like a piece of luggage she's dragging through the airport,'' director Todd Field says. ``And she's too self-

involved to notice.''

If Sarah is often unlikable, Winslet makes her always understandable, no small trick.

But then Winslet, 31, has been wowing us since her teen years, forging a career consistently marked by integrity and intelligence. She's already racked up four Oscar nominations (``Sense and Sensibility,'' ``Titanic,'' ``Iris'' and ``Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'') and, judging from the early raves for ``Little Children,'' a fifth trip down the red carpet remains a distinct possibility next year.

Lovableness has never been much of a factor when Winslet chooses a role, but she admits she had a hard time wrapping her mind around Sarah's emotionally distant parenting. Winslet has two children -- daughter Mia, 5 (a few days shy of 6) and, son, Joe, 2 -- with husband Sam Mendes (director of ``American Beauty''). Field says it literally pained her to play such a cold mother.

``Ignoring the young actress playing her daughter, being impatient with her, that was excruciating for Kate because it is so opposed to who she is as a human being,'' Field says. ``She is a very serious-minded parent and a one-woman cheerleading squad. She walks in a room, and a certain amount of enthusiasm follows in her wake.''

Winslet, 31, certainly embraced the time that we had together, talking enthusiastically about Sarah, a woman she came to embrace, motherhood and the thank-you note she owes singer Rufus Wainwright.

Q: You told me in an earlier interview that if you met someone like Sarah by the swing set, you'd probably pack up your children and leave.

A: Yeah, it was a new experience for me to be playing (someone) who had some qualities that I do not respect as a parent. It just meant I had to really concentrate and focus on transporting myself into being this other person, regardless of how she was as a mother, regardless of the fact that she goes off and has an extramarital affair.

Q: I'm guessing she wasn't a woman you wanted to bring home with you at the end of the day and introduce to your kids, if you know what I mean.

A: I know exactly what you mean. In the days when I was single and didn't have children, I would have so indulged. I'd go home, I'd stay in the bubble of the story and the events of the day. I'd fall asleep still in the haze of the character I was playing and kind of dream about it almost, and then get up and do the same thing again.

Q: And now, with two little children of your own, you can't do that.

A: Nor would I want to. I'm a mother. I wanted to go home and be with my kids, and I couldn't carry the emotions of this character home with me. But I did have to make a concerted effort to blow the cobwebs of every single day away, out of my head, on the journey home. From the movie set to the kids, I put the windows down in the car, had loud music blaring and just got rid of the day.

Q: What did you listen to?

A: I was listening to a lot of Rufus Wainwright on this film. A lot. Every day, in fact, on the way to work and on the way home. And I think it was because, No. 1, he's a brilliant musician and has the most extraordinary voice, and also his lyrics are so easy to listen to but thought-provoking at the same time.

Q: Passionate music, but not brainless ...

A: And that seemed the perfect balance for this film. I don't know why, and I didn't particularly plan it that way. But I'm very grateful to Rufus. He accompanied me on many a journey home.

Q: Why do you think Sarah is so profoundly disconnected from her child?

A: I don't think this pregnancy was planned, and I don't think she ever got her head around what it meant to really be a parent. And there was one single thing she got very wrong: She thought being a parent meant she was going to lose a part of herself, and she was terrified about that. But at the same time, she had lost who she was so completely before having this child that she had ceased to remember what she was trying to hang onto within herself. So she was doubly lost.

Q: The movie does seem to be a ringing endorsement of the necessity of finding your own identity before having children. That and not looking to children to give you your identity.

A: Correct. A lot of people think having children will form them or create them. I can't judge that. But I've always been a strong-

headed, strong-willed individual.

Sure, I've gone through periods of my life where I've thought, ``OK, who the hell am I today?'' But my kids have absolutely changed my life beyond all recognition, and I'm so incredibly happy and lucky and blessed to have these beautiful, healthy kids who are just hilariously funny and affectionate. They're just wonderful, remarkable little people.

Q: How do you see your job as a mother?

A: Kids need parents. They need us to show them the way, to teach them about life and hold their hand and teach them the difference between right and wrong. My parents were absolutely brilliant at all that stuff. I don't take the role lightly at all. It's more important than anything in the world.

Q: I read recently that you had to pass on a work commitment because it conflicted with ``possibly the most important week of my daughter's life.'' First day of kindergarten?

A: Indeed. I was required to fly somewhere and do some stuff for ``Little Children,'' and it meant I wasn't going to be there for her first day of school.

Q: Which wasn't an option.

A: No. I was there on her first day. Of course I was. I wasn't going to miss that for a minute. We picked out what she was going to wear a week, if not longer, before she started. It's a key moment in a child's life, that first day of school. It's the beginning of so many new adventures.

Q: And it's usually more emotional for the parents than the kids.

A: I left the school grounds with a little tear in my eye. Mia, on the other hand, just ran into class, so happy, very excited. She's just like me. She's always up for a new adventure, a new challenge.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

5 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Kate Winslet reflects on motherhood and 'Little Children' - her movie and her own

Getty Images

(2) Winslet and husband Sam Mendes, pictured at the film's premiere, are the parents of a daughter, 3.

Evan Agostini/Getty Images

(3) - Kate Winslet

(4) A mother (Kate Winslet) neglects her daughter while having an affair with her neighbor (Patrick Wilson) in ``Little Children.''

(5) ``I wanted to go home and be with my kids, and I couldn't carry the emotions of this character home with me,'' says Winslet, right, in a scene from the film, which opened Friday.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 8, 2006
Words:1273
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