Perennial Oscar contender finally nabs a statue

Five-time Oscar bridesmaid Kate Winslet must have caught the bouquet when Helen Mirren flung it over her shoulder, because she finally got her turn at the altar this year.

Winslet is too young for her Academy Award to feel overdue, but with a total of six nominations by the tender age of 33, not to mention having co-starred in the biggest box office hit in history, the perennial contender’s career momentum and daring choices finally registered with Academy voters.

Yet winning the 2008 actress Oscar for “The Reader” wasn’t part of the plan. When she agreed to replace the pregnant Nicole Kidman in the role of Hanna Schmitz, it was on the understanding that filmmaker Stephen Daldry couldn’t possibly have his film ready for release until 2009, when “Revolutionary Road,” directed by her husband, Sam Mendes, was expected to be a heavy awards season favorite.

Schmitz was a new kind of role for Winslet, a woman old enough to have a past. Ever since her debut at 17 in “Heavenly Creatures,” Winslet has excelled at playing emotionally vulnerable young women. Her triumph with Schmitz was to peel back the tough skin and reveal the immature girl she used to be. Winslet does emotional nakedness like nobody else, often expressed through actual nudity. “I’m the kind of actress that absolutely believes in exposing myself,” she has said.

Her choice of roles is led by passion rather than career calculation. Now that she has an Oscar, she’s likely to be even more liberated. Who else would follow an Oscar by signing up for an HBO miniseries, “Mildred Pierce,” just as she followed “Titanic” with several small indie pics?

“There are so many emotions to play with when you’re playing somebody who’s difficult and complex and emotionally strung out and confused,” she told Variety in 2007, the year she won BAFTA’s Britannia Award for British actor of the year. “It just makes the job more exciting and challenging. I’m drawn to challenge really.”

IN A NUTSHELL

Job title: Actress

Mentors: Emma Thompson picked Winslet for the role of her younger sister in “Sense and Sensibility,” and Winslet has been visibly influenced by Thompson’s self-deprecating intelligence and down-to-earth manner ever since.

Career mantra: “There’s more to life than cheekbones.” (Rolling Stone, 1998)

Leisure pursuits: Spending time with family.

Philanthropic passion: Family Haven, a small English charity helping vulnerable families.

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