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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 06:30 GMT
The importance of being Iris
Winslet with Hugh Bonneville in Iris
Kate Winslet plays Iris Murdoch in her mid 30s
Kate Winslet plays the young Iris Murdoch in the acclaimed British film about the novelist and philosopher's life - and tells BBC News Online's Ian Youngs about the role.

You can keep your awards and rave reviews, Kate Winslet says, because after filming her latest role, she has found the highest accolade of them all.

Winslet plays a young Iris Murdoch, who died in 1999, while Judi Dench portrays the old Iris in the grip of Alzheimer's disease.

The real Iris was described as one of the greatest minds of the century
The real Iris was described as one of the greatest minds of the century
Winslet says an article by John Bayley, Murdoch's widower, made her sure she had done a good job.

"There was one thing he said that was just fantastic, the best compliment an actor can ever have," she says.

"When he watched this film, although Judi Dench and myself were obviously not Iris, in some way actually we were, and he did feel as though he was watching Iris again."

Bayley "definitely saw strains of the Iris that he knew" while watching Winslet's portrayal of the young Iris, she says.

Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent play the old Iris and John
Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent play the old Iris and John
"That made me cry. I just thought, that's better than any review, any award, any nomination, any anything. That is fantastic."

Winslet plays Murdoch when she was teaching at Oxford University - where she met Bayley and had her first novel published - during the 1950s.

Murdoch was an "absolute stick of dynamite", as Winslet puts it - one of the sharpest minds of the century, surrounded by friends and lovers.

The tragedy of her story - and the film - is that during old age, her once-great mind is gradually eaten away by Alzheimer's until she is reduced to staring vacantly at the Teletubbies on TV.

When you're asked to play the young Judi Dench, you do not, under any circumstances, say no

Kate Winslet
Dench gives a superb performance as Murdoch in the late 1990s, with an intense and transparent portrayal of the mental ravages, confusions and emptiness of the disease.

And it was the chance to star with Dench, now regarded as a living legend of current cinema, that attracted Winslet to the role.

"When you're asked to play the young Judi Dench, you do not, under any circumstances, say no," she says.

"I wasn't going to say no when it was such a watertight, fantastic script and such a brilliant story and an amazing female role.

"That doesn't come along that often, especially out of the UK - a little British gem."

But she did not get together with Dench to make sure their different portrayals seemed like the same person - and was relieved that she did not need to.

Winslet only
Winslet only "dipped into" some of Murdoch's novels
"When I first saw the film, I remember thinking, thank God we pulled it off, because we did feel very similar," she says.

"She seemed like the older me and I did seem like the younger her."

To research her part, Winslet read Bayley's memoirs about life with Murdoch several times and watched TV interviews Murdoch gave when she was about 60 over and over again.

It was "incredibly useful" to hear the sound of her voice and get a feeling for her body language, she says.

"That really did help, not because I wanted to mimic those things, but to give me the sense and the essence of her."

[Iris] loved people, she loved things and she had an incredible zest for life

Kate Winslet
Winslet did "dip into" some of her novels, she says, but just to get a feeling for what motivated Murdoch.

"It just confirmed things that I already felt from John's books, which was that she loved people, she loved things and she had an incredible zest for life," she says.

One advantage of her role was that her part of the shoot was only four weeks long, and she could take her daughter Mia, who was six months old at the time, with her.

She admitted that she and Mia - like Murdoch before her death - enjoy the Teletubbies, but that she pays more attention to housework than the philosopher, whose messy house is recreated in the film.

"There were a few similarities between Iris and I," Winslet says. "But I wouldn't say that was one of them. She obviously had better things to think about."

If anyone is used to taking their clothes off, it's me

Kate Winslet
Winslet speaks enthusiastically about having to swim naked in a big, heated tank for the film - Murdoch and Bayley often went skinny-dipping in the summer.

"If anyone is used to taking their clothes off, it's me," Winslet jokes about her past roles.

But she decides that her enthusiasm may be giving the wrong impression.

"I never particularly enjoy [doing nude scenes] and certainly don't look forward to it. But this was something that was very, very key in John and Iris's relationship," she says.

'A joy'

Winslet, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her supporting role, is not worried about whether the same recognition will come from the Oscars jury - but would not complain if it did.

"I never enter into a filming experience thinking, right, this is going to be my academy award-nominated performance. I think that's completely back to front.

"I just felt so blessed to be part of something that was truly a joy to shoot, and happens to be film that I really love and I'm incredibly proud of."

See also:

02 Jan 02 | Film
Dame Judi tipped for Oscar
30 Nov 01 | Film
One great Dame plays another
13 Dec 01 | Showbiz
Winslet's divorce finalised
04 Dec 01 | Showbiz
Winslet and Mendes step out
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