So, Kate Winslet owns a “poo pencil case.” To clarify: She owns a big yellow pencil case with a picture of a cartoon character taking a dump, with the word “poo” over top. She carries it around and uses it to break the ice when she starts film shoots. We knew about this before; she alluded to it in a round table interview we did with her awhile back. But we’d never seen it, and didn’t know the backstory of this strange thing.
It’s while talking to her and co-star Liam Hemsworth for their new Australian revenge dramedy “The Dressmaker” that we do get to see it. In the film, co-written by “Muriel’s Wedding” creator P.J. Hogan, Winslet plays a woman who returns to the remote small town from which she was banished as a child, and starts to shake everyone up, starting with introducing high couture. Hemsworth plays the local rugged manly man who catches her fancy.
When asked if Winslet used the poo pencil case when she first met her 26-year-old co-star, the actress, 40, abruptly stands up, walks into the other room and brings it to the table. “This is a magic moment,” she says. “I don’t bust out the poo pencil case for everybody.” And thus she regales us with the story of Oscar-winning thespian Kate Winslet's poo pencil case.
So tell me more about the poo pencil case.
Winslet: I’ve had this for 18 years. For me, at least, read-throughs [of scripts, with actors] are the most tense, anxiety-making experiences. They’re just awful. Everyone’s terrified. You have to open your mouth and say things out loud. Often you’re doing an accent and people are like, “Aw, she’s f—king s—t.” I noticed, as I got older and more experienced, that it seemed to be me being at the table that was having this impact on other people. I thought, ‘I can’t have this, this is awful! I’ll bust out the poo pencil case!’ So what I do is I sit down, I get my script out, and I can feel everyone [nervously fidgets]. Out comes the pencil case and everyone goes, ‘Oh, thank god, she’s normal.’ It’s the ice-breaking poo pencil case.
Where on earth does one procure a poo pencil case?
Winslet: I was given it by a woman named Noriko Watanabe, who is a hair and makeup artist who I worked with on “Holy Smoke” in Australia. She’s married to Sam Neill. She did “Eternal Sunshine” with me as well, so she did all those amazing wigs.
It’s pretty big. What’s in it?
Winslet: It’s full of lots of bits of jobs I’ve done. Lovely Gyton [Grantley, an actor in “The Dressmaker”] gave me a little gold thimble at the end of the shoot, and he wrote the sweetest note for me. They’re in the pencil case. There’s a paper clip that held new pages of a scene in something I did. I keep little things in there. I lost it for about two years at one point, and I was completely beside myself. Then I re-found it and was like, “Yes! The poo pencil case!” [Laughs]
Did you use the poo pencil case to break the ice with Liam?
Winslet: I think I did, actually, but I’m not sure he noticed. [Laughs]
Liam Hemsworth: I've never seen it.
Winslet: To be honest, we didn’t have much time to think about it. Liam’s first scene is that very difficult scene between Teddy and Tilly [their characters] when he takes her back to the schoolyard. [Ed. It’s an emotionally intense scene where some piece of dark history is revealed.]
Sometimes it’s best to get the most difficult scene out of the way first. Then you can relax.
Hemsworth: You just had to rip the Band-Aid off. I was pretty nervous about shooting the first day, and coming in halfway through the shoot is always nerve-wracking. People are already in the flow of things. It was difficult, but Kate made it really easy, because she’s fantastic and welcoming and lovely.
Tiny, remote towns like this can seem, perhaps unfairly, intimidating to those of us who live in big cities.
Hemsworth: I don’t think you could live there if you’d been anywhere else. If you’d grown up in that town it’s easy, because you don’t know any better. I grew up in a pretty small town, about 6,000 people. It’s a thing where you know everyone at least by face, and everyone knows everyone’s business. It was an island, but it’s a big island.
I mean, so are Manhattan and Long Island, technically. It takes four hours by train to get from Brooklyn to Montauk, which is where the opening of “Eternal Sunshine” takes place.
Winslet: I love Montauk.
I’ve never been.
Winslet: For f—k’s sake, get on a train and go. It’s amazing. The beachy parts and the bits on the train [in “Eternal Sunshine”] were all done out there. Also the bit with the bed on the beach in the snow. That was not planned. We went out there and we were staying in the funniest, crackers little hotel. I woke up the next morning and there was this eerie silence. I went out and, holy s—t, there’s four feet of snow. I thought, ‘We can’t shoot.’ And [French director] Michel Gondry was like, “No, it’s perfect! We are going to shoot anyway on zee beach with zee bed!” We just made it all up.
You’re both here just after Fashion Week, and this is a movie about dresses. Did you go?
Winslet: Fashion Week’s my idea of hell. So, I haven’t been to Fashion Week ever.
Hemsworth: And I am not fashion savvy.