Revolutionary Road: Kate Winslet as April Wheeler

Kate Winslet's stellar performance in “Revolutionary Road” should garner her yet abother Best Actress Oscar nomination–her sixth in a decade.

“Within five minutes, Frank found he could make April Johnson laugh, that he could not only hold the steady attention of her wide gray eyes but could make their pupils dart up and down and around in little arcs”–Novelist Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

Sustained by Dreams

April Wheeler is a woman sustained by dreams in a time when women's dreams rarely saw the light of day. A would-be actress as a young idealist in New York, she now chafes against the narrowness of her role as a Connecticut housewife (despite her love for her family) and, like many women in the late 1950s, yearns to be something more. It is this churning desire that drives April to imagine a new life in Paris, where she will support her husband ƒ² in the hopes he will fulfill on his potential in some extraordinary way — and lead a life full of the purpose and satisfaction denied to most of the women she knows. The urge to break away, to break out of the mold, to believe in the future greatness of her husband becomes everything to April ƒ² until it is all upended by an unexpected pregnancy.

Playing April is Kate Winslet, whose Academy Oscar-nominated performances have included the young Iris Murdoch in IRIS, the quirky Clementine in ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and young mother Sarah Pierce in LITTLE CHILDREN. This character takes her to new places ƒ² portraying a vibrant, vivacious young woman who doesn't want to compromise, at any cost, her belief that she and her husband are destined for a special life outside the norms of conformity.

The Pathos of April

“Putting Kate, who is this intense, effervescent personality, in the middle of all the restrictions for women in that time, you immediately feel the pathos of April,” says screenwriter Justin Haythe.

Winslet's Complex Characters

For Mendes, the role seemed an exceptional match for his wife. “If Kate was just another actress, she'd still be the first person I thought of,” he remarks. “She's always played complex, conflicted characters while retaining their humanity and warmth. So I felt she would be able to walk the tightrope of April and help the audience understand why she does what she does.”

Mendes says the complexities of directing his wife in a story that intimately probes a marriage did give him pause, but he could not turn away from the idea that material suited both of them. “It's a very mysterious, difficult role, and because Kate is my wife, I felt I had to be even more sure that she was right ƒ² and I was. She is also age-wise exactly what Yates described. So it all sort of aligned and it seemed if there was an ever an opportunity for us to work together, this was it.”

Novel's Honesty

Winslet had fallen in love with the novel and Haythe's screenplay even before her husband knew about it. “I fell in love with the honesty and integrity of it, with its wonderful take on the reality of a marriage,” she explains. “The story is full of characters, who are each trying to figure out who they are and how to be the people they want to be. And for me to then be able to make this movie with my husband directing and my best friend playing my husband was just a dream.”

Still, Winslet was acutely aware that April would take her into demanding places as the character grasps for an idyllic life that everyone tells her is out of reach. “April is someone who wants so much from life,” she observes. “She isn't conventional in the way many women were back then. And when she meets Frank, he represents to her the adventure, excitement and this whole beautiful world of intelligent, charmed people she's been seeking. He's this intoxicating, talented person who adores her and they embark on this glorious romance,” she says. “But then she gets pregnant and suddenly, she's a mother and a housewife and it seems that her dreams have been left behind. Yet her desires for herself and her marriage don't stop there. She can't bear the thought that this is all that their lives will be.”

This, says Winslet, is what leads April to hatch the plans for Paris ƒ² which will ultimately take she and Frank down different paths. “After April suggests Paris it seems to her that they have their relationship back again. They have a sense of purpose,” she explains, “and a whole new lease on life. For those few days, she feels she has herself back, that she can truly have these wild, passionate dreams, which is transformational for her. For the first time in a long time, she feels she is playing a real role in her marriage, outside of the conventional ways that husbands are husbands and wives are wives.”

But all of April's hopes for Paris and the renewal of her relationship with Frank get derailed when she learns there is another child on the way. As a mother herself, Winslet tried to understand April's reactions, so rooted in the narrower choices of the era. “She makes choices I would never make as a mother, but what's tragic about April is that I think if she had the chance to open herself up, to go to Paris and be more free, she would have been a very different mother as a consequence,” she observes.

For Winslet, working on such bracingly honest material while also collaborating for the first time with her husband was a revelation. “I've always thought he was an extraordinary director, but it was this piece of him that I really didn't know, you know I would hear from other actors that he was so great to work with, and I'd gotten to the point where I really wanted to know what that experience was like. And so doing this movie, it was like the last little bits of him were finally revealed to me.”

Rapport with DiCaprio

Her rapport with DiCaprio also came very organically. “Leo and I have such a strong bond, in part because of the TITANIC experience, where we really had to stick together and look after each other. I can almost read his mind,” she says. “I always know what he's planning.”

Having so much support and friendship around her, made a real difference to Winslet as she dove headlong into the role. “I had to throw so much of myself into this part,” she admits. “But it was so fulfilling. To get to portray April, who I'd longed to play since I read the novel, and to see the project all come together in this way, sometimes I couldn't believe it.”