updated 04/29/2009 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/29/2009 AT 9:50 AM ET
Perhaps because of her posh attitude and accent, her Titanic box-office record or her numerous acting accolades – including a Best Actress Oscar this year for The Reader – Kate Winslet is not perceived of as a working-class heroine, a fact that leaves the actress, whose origins are humble, entirely chagrined.
“Oh my God,” Winslet, 33, tells June’s U.K. edition of Marie Claire about her parents’ economic struggles to raise her, her two sisters, Beth and Anna, and their brother, Joss, in Reading, England. “We were supported through the majority of my schooling by an organization called the Actors’ Charitable Trust.”
Though both parents listed their profession as actors, mother Sally toiled in a local pub, while father Roger long worked to overcome the setback of a foot he nearly lost in a boating mishap when daughter Kate was 11.
“They operated on him for 18 hours,” she remembers. “From then on he was a disabled actor, so the little work that he was getting [on the occasional TV episode] – even that started getting less and less.”
Looking back, she further says, “My dad was very much a struggling actor and spent more of his life as a postman, as a member of a tarmac firm, as a van driver. He’d sell Christmas trees. Anything. That was my dad. We had these dreadful second-hand cars that would always die a death, or we’d go on holiday to Cornwall, come back and it would have been [stolen].”
She likens her early life to a bleak comedy. “It’s like a [macabre playwright] Joe Orton farce, my family,” she says.
Her family life today – with her husband, director Sam Mendes, their son Joe, 5, and her daughter Mia, 8 – is much different, and divided between homes in New York and Windsor, England.
“We’re just there for each other,” she says of being married to Mendes (her Revolutionary Road director), though when it comes to running the household, Winslet says, “I really rule the roost, I absolutely steer the ship. Constantly making checklists; you know, library books have to go in on Friday, make sure that one day a week they’re [the children] not having bread for lunch.”
Her duties also include caring for her parents. “Mum would hate this if she read it, but our parents are getting on now,” reveals the dutiful daughter. “Sam said to me not long ago that we really need to try to find a way to be more consistently in England. I said, ‘Well, at the point our parents really need us to be around, of course we’ll be there.’ And he said, ‘Darling, that’s now.’ ”