“To be giving applause to anyone other than those who have and continue to be at the forefront of the battle against this virus across the world does feel decidedly out of place,” Winslet, 44, said in accepting a Tribute Actor Award on TIFF’s virtual red carpet.
“I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to families and individuals whose lives have been forever altered by these past six months,” she added.
While her film Ammonite – a period drama about two women in love despite their very different backgrounds – has been met by an enthusiastic response at TIFF, the actress further noted, “However minor my thoughts may seem to the wider comparatives, my feelings are heartfelt as we all endeavour to return to a healthier reality – one that is hopefully altered enough to create space for an abundance of compassion, gratitude, kindness and respect for each other and humankind, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or faith.”
Talking earlier from her seafront home on England’s south coast in Sussex, she joked about a place where “nothing works but there’s always plenty of tea.
“We do have this new rule of six that’s just come in,” she says referencing Boris Johnson’s current coronavirus rules, limiting gatherings of more than six people. “That’s new, so we’re adjusting to that. But schools have actually gone back, and for teenagers, in particular, I think it’s really important that they’re finally able to see one another and be back and sharing experiences in a classroom. It’s been so hard on the mental health of teenagers, so to see some happy teens wandering around again has been quite lovely.
“But I’ve really appreciated this time. Of course, I’m in a position where I’m fortunate; nice house, big garden and lots of good health. So, to have this time to just be together and not trying to achieve lots and lots of things…I always feel in life we’re trying to do so much and juggle so much. I know that I am, for sure, always trying to do too many things, so just learning a bit of stillness for all of us has been quite important, especially when one’s children are growing up and growing off. They want to go and explore and actually being very aware that this time might possibly be the last we might all be in one space before they go off and create their own lives, so we do feel very fortunate to be able to have this moment in spite of everything.”
Likewise, Hopkins, 82, who stars in The Father (above), also premiering at TIFF, joined Winslet in making his acceptance speech all about the frontline workers and first responders around the world, saying, “This award is yours. I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart”.
Earlier, he had joined Winslet – from his home in LA’s Pacific Pallisades – in commiserating the lack of physical contact typically associated with such a busy festival.
Starring in first time director Florian Zeller’s moving film, Hopkins plays Anthony, a man who refuses assistance from his daughter as he ages.
“Dementia is a very scary thing, and I am the same age as the man in the film,” he said.
Speaking of keeping his own brain active during the pandemic by playing Rachmaninoff for hours on the piano, he said, “I’ve found lots of things to do during this pandemic, including reading and playing the piano.”
Winslet also joked about the amateur pianists in her own house. “I don’t play the piano but, funnily enough, everyone else in the family has been teaching themselves through lockdown. And, to be honest, that’s not necessarily a great thing in my house. So, we’ve got a six-and-a-half year old, a 42-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old – all teaching themselves to play the piano,” laughs the actress who has daughter Mia, 19, from her first marriage to assistant director Jim Threapleton; son Joe, 16, from her subsequent marriage to director Sam Mendes, and son, Bear, six, from her current marriage to Ned Rocknroll, 42.
Teased about her eagerness to participate in this TIFF zoom chat, Winslet said, “I’ve got very good at pre-cooking meals, knowing there’s a conference or a zoom meeting to do, so making dinner at 10am has become very much my forte.”
Among the festival’s other honorees were directors Chloe Zhao, Mira Nair, Tracey Deer and composer Terence Blanchard. Featuring an introduction from Martin Scorsese, the evening boosted its virtual star power with A-list presenters Jodie Foster, Olivia Colman and Ava DuVernay.
In August, Winslet discussed working on her 2011 film Contagion, in which she played an epidemic intelligence service officer.
“People thought I was crazy because I had been walking around wearing a mask for weeks, going into the grocery store and wiping everything down with isopropyl alcohol and wearing gloves,” Winslet told The Hollywood Reporter of the early days of the pandemic.
“Then all of a sudden March 13 came around, and people were like, ‘Fuck, where do I get one of those masks?’”
In late March, she reunited with her Contagion co-stars – Matt Damon, Jennifer Ehle and Laurence Fishburne – for a digital reunion in which each actor filmed a PSA to keep fans educated about coronavirus.
“In the movie Contagion, I played an epidemiologist trying to stop the spread of a hypothetical virus,” Winslet said in her PSA focusing on hand washing. “To prepare for the role, I spent time with some of the best public health professionals in the world. And what was one of the most important things they taught me? Wash your hands like your life depends on it because right now, in particular, it just might.
“So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, a little bit powerless at the moment, here’s something we can all do to make a difference. And it doesn’t require a medical degree, or a microscope, or a ton of knowledge,” she added.
Kate Winslet photo credit: Axelle Bauer-Griffin