September 17, 2015
TORONTO — Kate Winslet loves the Australian way: They are who they are and there’s no apologies for it.
So not only did she dig working with her castmates in director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s 1950s-set Aussiecomedy-drama The Dressmaker — which premiered Monday at the Toronto International Film Festival — but Winslet’s character is pretty much the definition of sassy strength.
And Tilly Dunnage is a bit of femme fatale, too. A Paris-trained dressmaker, she returns to her rural hometown of Dungatar to take care of her ailing mother (Judy Davis), but also is on a mission of revenge, wanting to dole out a comeuppance to those who drove her out of town when she was younger. The townsfolk still point fingers at her for the death of a local boy, and even Tilly wonders if she’s actually to blame.
The couture-clad lady is one of the most unique people Winslet has brought to the screen, the actress says. “She is a force of nature but also she’s strong, she’s warm, she has a vulnerability in her — there’s always something that’s bubbling beneath the surface for her.”
On the whole, The Dressmaker isn’t conventional in the least, Winslet adds. “It is funny, it is a fable and it also has a lot of tenderness to it, as well with the mother/daughter relationship.”
Her castmates were an eclectic bunch that also included Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving and Sarah Snook, and Winslet reports there was “a lot of very naughty improvisation” that went on, as well as actors just making things up on the fly.
In one scene, Australian actress Sacha Horler “just decided to fall over randomly in the middle of it and trip over a chicken, and it’s completely in the film,” Winslet says. “I was like, ‘Sacha, there’s nowhere that could fit,’ and she was like, ‘Oh no, it fits.’ She’s right, it’s bloody funny, there’s Sacha tripping over a chicken.”
Tilly also has a penchant for taking a golf club and driving balls at the houses of nasty neighbors, though Winslet herself only took a couple of shots. “I’m not a golf player, I don’t like golf at all, I think it’s extremely boring,” she admits with a laugh. “Sorry, golf players, I do.”
However, the girl who was helping out as a nanny behind the scenes was obsessed with the sport, so she was recruited as Winslet’s golfing body double: “She was ready, was the same height as me, fit the clothes — it was perfect.”
In the case of The Dressmaker, those clothes do make the woman, and building Tilly’s fashionable wardrobe was quite a project, according to Winslet. Because the filmmakers wanted Tilly to look completely different from everyone else on screen, they hired a second costume designer just to do Winslet’s wear: Margot Wilson, whom the actress worked with on John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 (out March 4).
“She wanted my opinion,” Winslet says of Wilson, “and she also knew that I knew my own body very well so I would know what would work and what really wouldn’t.”
Wilson also knows the power of a dress, as does Tilly. In one sequence at the rugby pitch, Winslet’s character changes into a red, curve-hugging number that distracts most every man around. (That dress was made from a piece of fabric Wilson had bought in Milan in 1970 and was keeping around for a special occasion.)
The clothes also had to be as functional as possible, because of both where they were filming and what Winslet had to do in them.
“The outfits Tilly wears are largely not practical at all and had to function in pretty harsh conditions, sometimes being really quite physical in those outfits,” the actress says.
“The biggest challenge we had was not ripping things, and we did rip things. There was crisis stitching and fixing that would go on on set, but when you put someone in couture clothes in the middle of the Outback, something’s going to get dust and crap on it.”