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Kate Winslet: The Regime

Did you draw on any actual tyrants in crafting Chancellor Elena Vernham?

I wish I could tell you I was inspired by any real figures, but I wasn’t. When you are taking on a character who is totally invented, from a purely imagined world, it did give me real creative licence to just dig deep into someone who was utterly unique. What I wanted to make sure I did was give her real layers and texture. Just because she’s a dictator, I didn’t want her to be shouting all the time; that would’ve been really obvious. I wanted to make her someone who makes us feel very uncertain. She’s unpredictable. She’s fragile. She’s vulnerable. She’s frightening. Here is a woman who only wants to feel safe, and she’s surrounded by people whose job it is to make her feel safe, and yet she never feels safe. That’s got to be an emotional, mental issue that she carries within herself. So I started looking at this weird relationship she’d had with her father, who she still seeks approval from — even though he’s dead in a glass coffin . . .

The Regime on HBO Canada. Pictured: Kate Winslet as Chancellor Elena Vernham

That vulnerability is very much explored in [this week’s episode], as Elena is struggling with menopause . . .

I hadn’t anticipated that the writers would do that. But what was great about it was it really meant that, as a woman, I was given full permission to explore something utterly real. Elena, and how unrelatable she is, suddenly becomes completely relatable for so many women. It was really important to me, actually, to add elements to that particular episode that did feel real. The ice bath? I’m afraid that was my idea [laughs]. I thought, “Oh God, they’re never going to go for it.” But I, myself, have gotten into an ice bath in total desperation — so I know that that happens. Behind the mask that is Elena Vernham, there is this real woman.

The Regime on HBO Canada. Pictured: Kate Winslet as Chancellor Elena Vernham

Was it tough balancing this authenticity with the show’s inherent absurdity?

The thing with comedy is you can’t play comedy for comedy. You can’t try and do “a funny.” Mostly, it was all about playing it straight, because we had this rich tapestry that had been created by this team of writers. It was very, very clever, sharp humour . . . And we could add to that, yes, with how we were playing these roles, but also in how they look, the absurdity of the surroundings — the almost-impossible opulence of the world she lives in. There were times we would just look at these rooms [actual palaces in Vienna] and go, “Oh, now come on, this is hilarious. There is too much gold in here! What is this?”

Women in particular tend to get fewer opportunities in Hollywood as they get older. It’s slowly changing, but what is the state of the industry today on that front?

Look, I think it is changing. I think we’re inching closer all the time to being able to just tell stories about women without us having to slap a label on it. So often, people will say: “Trailblazing, pioneering in her field, a feminist” . . . Our instinct, I think, is still to try and label and package up these women. That, I’m getting really tired of. Because we don’t do that to the men, you know? You will hear these conversations about target audiences for films with women in them: “It’s [ages] 21 to 45.” Would you say that about Top Gun? I don’t think you would. I think it’s perception that has to change. Women, and the stories we want to tell and the stories we want to hear — that’s completely changed. We’re guns blazing. We’re roaring. We’ve been ready for years. We’re just still waiting for everyone else to catch up. But they’ll get there.

The Regime airs Sunday, March 24 on HBO Canada


One of the most accomplished actors of her generation, Winslet landed her first Oscar nomination in 1996 for Sense and Sensibility. Just two years after that, she got her second — for record-breaking, zeitgeist-throttling blockbuster Titanic. Since then she’s lived at the very top of Hollywood’s A-list, with five more noms and one win, in 2009, for poignant historical drama The Reader. Along the way, she also distinguished herself on TV — scoring an Emmy in 2011 for Mildred Pierce and another in 2021 for Mare of Easttown.


The native of Berkshire, England, returns to HBO for this dark satire about the slow, absurd unravelling of one European dictator and her beleaguered administration.

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