Kate Winslet

"People say to me, 'You seem to have made this conscious decision to do independent films'," offers Kate Winslet. "In reality, I haven't. After each movie, I always think, how different can I possibly be?... Is this going to challenge me, is this going to inspire me, and is this going to make me love my job more than I already do?"

Staying true to her ambition has involved turning down high-profile parts including Gwyneth Paltrow's role in Shakespeare In Love and Jodie Foster's title role in Anna And The King. For her, those parts were "predictable" something the British actress is anything but.

Kate was born on October 5, 1975, in Reading, England, to a family of thespians. Her grandparents founded the Reading Repertory Theatre and her parents, Roger and Sally, were both stage actors. Kate attended theatre school in Maidenhead and made her acting debut opposite the Honey Monster in a Sugar Puffs advert. But loftier fare was waiting in the wings. She made her first stage appearance aged 13, and just four years later burst onto the scene as a homicidal teen in Heavenly Creatures. An Oscar nominated turn in Sense And Sensibility followed, before she made waves in James Cameron's Titanic.

"Never did I think Titanic would be so big," she says. The film went on to gross upwards of $1 billion worldwide, gave her another Oscar nod and meant Kate "was offered everything under the sun". Rather than cash in on her new-found fame, she set off for Morocco to play a woman in search of her heart in the little-seen 1998 flick Hideous Kinky. "It's not about being a film star, but trying to do good work," she says.

Kate found much more than "good work" on the North African set, however. "I arrived and saw this rather glorious-looking blond boy with fantastic blue eyes," she says of meeting Jim Threapleton, the film's third assistant director. "I just went, 'shit', because I knew that was it and there was nothing either of us could do about it." The two married in November 1998 in a low-key ceremony at her local church in Reading, and daughter Mia followed nearly two years later.

After giving birth, Kate struggled to regain her famously curvaceous figure. "People tell you the weight drops off afterwards. Hell-o! It does not," she said. And while she later lost four stone, she remains a role model for women who enjoy a hearty meal. "I used to be so hung up about it," admits Kate, who was dubbed "Blubber" as a teenager. "I finally realised I was spending about 90 per cent of my day thinking about my body, and I thought, 'This is just so boring!'." She passionately rallies against slim stereotypes. "It is very important to me that women on film are portrayed as real women," she says.

Kate and Jim seemed the picture of happiness for three years, often photographed about London with baby Mia in tow. However, in August 2001 the couple decided to call it quits. The actress subsequently married American Beauty director Sam Mendes in May 2003, and welcomed her first child with her new husband, a son named Joe, in December of that year. The low-key pair soon sold up their home in North London's celeb enclave of Belsize Park and divided their time between New York and the Cotswolds.

Her career, meanwhile, went from strength to strength. She became the first person under 30 to get four Oscar nominations with 2002's Iris and 2005's Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind adding to her earlier haul. Her fifth nomination came in 2007 for her portrayal of an American housewife in Little Children. "It was the hardest thing I have ever done and the thing I am proudest of," she says.

After finishing shooting The Holiday in 2006 with Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, Kate decided to take some time out to be with her family. Luckily for her fans she didn't stay away too long. In 2008 she was reunited with her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio to play April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, a turn which earned her Bafta and Screen Actors Guild nods.

The same year she also starred in The Reader, which finally delivered an Oscar. "I'd be lying if I (said I) hadn't made a version of this speech. I think I was probably eight years old and staring into a mirror," said Kate as she accepted the gong in 2009.

Just over a year later, Kate shocked many by announcing that her marriage to Sam – generally thought to be one of Hollywood's strongest – was over. In a statement, the couple assured that the split was "amicable" and "by mutual agreement".
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