Kate Winslet on ‘Titanic’ Fame: It Was ‘Really Hard’

Kate Winslet

"I was only 20… I wasn't prepared," Kate Winslet recalled of the torrent of interest that stampeded her way from the runaway success of "Titanic" in 1997. It remains the second-highest grossing film in the U.S., behind "Avatar."

With its success powered by packs of teenage girls who consumed the tale of Jack and Rose over and over again, it is widely credited as having brought that demographic to the moviegoing power, igniting a wave that would give us the "Twilight" and "Hunger Game" films, as well as the newest entrant to the category, "Divergent," which opens this weekend, starring none other than Winslet herself as the controlling, dystopian government leader Jeanine Matthews.

Looking back on the waves' birth, the actress, and new mother of her third child named Bear Blaze, opened the floodgates. She spoke with Yahoo Movies by phone this week about being thrust into world renown nearly two decades ago because of her role as Rose, a rebel among high society aboard a doomed ocean vessel.

"It was a really hard time," said Winslet, now 38. "I felt quite alone in how to understand what was happening to me. It becomes very intense when you're thrust into the media spotlight… I had to learn self protection quite quickly."

Winslet admitted her turn to superstardom is an easier topic to discuss now that time has passed. In the middle of our interview, she noted our conversation was "probably the most articulate I've been in describing [that time in my life]. It's easy now. I can say these things now. There's no real fallout or repercussion."

Although Winslet said she has a lot of privacy now, she knows her life continues to be affected by "Titanic." "The fact that I even get photographed is probably because of ’Titanic.’ [laughs] It really is. The residue will be there forever. Now it's a lovely residue and it isn’t in any way one I am resentful of."

Here are 10 things we learned about the colossal impact "Titanic" had on Kate Winslet's life:

1. She didn't go Hollywood.
"I was living in a three bedroom flat in North London with a girlfriend of mine… Where I would walk from my front door to the big grocery store three blocks away and do my shopping, I suddenly couldn't do that. Well then I’m like, 'Who the f--- is gonna do that for me!?'"


2. She was an easy target.

"I think I definitely became prey for the press. I was easy bait. I mean I was living in an apartment… and you could park on the street. I was very available."

3. She didn't see it coming.
"I do remember before the film came out people would say to me, ‘Oh my God, your life is about to change. How are you going to cope.’ And I would feel almost defiant that my life was not going to change. I would feel almost offended that they would think that someone as strong as me could actually allow for her life to be changed in such a dramatic way. Because of course the implication is your life’s going to change so therefore you are. Luckily for me I didn’t change. But yeah, my life did change — very much so. Absolutely."

4. It got scary.
"I do remember at the time being terrified to say anything because someone from the studio was going to call me and say, [switches to American accent], 'You gotta be really careful what you're saying. People are taking this in the wrong way.'"

5. She was misunderstood.
"One thing that was very very hard — and it remains hard for me to this day — one thing I find extremely challenging as a person: I hate feeling misunderstood. And I hate feeling poorly judged. It cuts me in half. It really does. And of course with the press, that happens almost all the time. So with 'Titanic,' it happened every day, tenfold. Every day I would be misquoted, misunderstood."

[Related: Kate Winslet Talks Oscar Whereabouts, Theo James Talks Barbie]

6. She was a novice with the press.
"What was publicly being put out there was, not an image, but a version of me that only existed in the newspaper page. That’s not who I was. I didn’t mean it like that. I was just me, I was just Kate. I was just talking. I was just answering the question. Of course, it was a question that was asked of me that had a certain slant on it because the journalist wanted a certain answer and they'd written their article before they’d even interviewed me anyway. And little did I know. Now, of course, I know."

7. She was clueless to the trappings of megafame.
"Had I had anyone close to me who had gone through anything like that, I probably would have had better support. My family was lovely, but how could they even know. You can’t quantify that kind of a thing."

[Related: Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin Give Good Smolder in 'Labor Day']

8. At least she knew she wasn't prepared.
"Suddenly, yes, the Hollywood floodgates did open… It was extremely flattering, but I had to navigate the way quite stealthfully [sic] because I wasn’t ready to be that famous. I wasn’t grown up and sophisticated enough to know how to cope with all of that. I was still learning… luckily I knew that… There’s no rulebook… You don’t suddenly have a fairy godmother who’s flown in and says [in a hilarious American-Midwest accent] 'Now, you’re about to become really really famous. But this you’re not going to like at all, but don’t worry because I’ll be holding your hand through the entire thing.'"

9. Indie films threw the media off her scent.
"I knew that in order to preserve my sanity and my nubile creative self I had to just do things that really mattered to me and not think about anything else. And that’s what I did and that is what got me through. Once I got beyond shooting ‘Holy Smoke’ [1999 indie drama, her second movie after ’Titanic,’ following another indie, 'Hideous Kinky'] it was very clear to people: ‘OK, Kate Winslet is the kind of girl who is going to do the things that she believes in and make interesting choices.’ And they kind of got a little bit bored after that... I just had to sort of ride it out."

10. Like her, Shailene Woodley and Theo James of "Divergent" are being thrust into the spotlight.
"Shai and I talk a lot… She’s a very gentle, grounded soul — and actually so is Theo. They’re similar in nature, I think… They’re actually better placed to deal with all of it than I certainly was on ‘Titanic’ because actually, apart from everything else, they’re here. They’re on the ground, they’re in Los Angeles, and the support they need is immediate. I was in London in a three-bedrroom flat trying to do the grocery shopping. What was I thinking?!"

"Divergent" lands in theaters this Friday.
Follow me on Twitter (@meriahonfiah)