‘Murdur’, method and majesty of Mare of Easttown
I once did a great interview with Kate Winslet. It was before his role in Mildred Pierce, a now almost forgotten TV miniseries based on the 1941 novel about a successful restaurateur and a failing mother, for which she told me she spent many hours boning chickens so that the screen, she can convincingly prepare a bird.
What struck me the most during the meeting, which took place in a small Parisian brasserie, was not his preparation for the role of Pierce but his engagement for the interview. She stayed and talked for hours. She was warm and sympathetic and conspiratorial. She told me what to order – a goat salad – and smoked a lot of rolling cigarettes. At one point, around 90 minutes, she ran away to arrange babysitting for her children, and I doubted she would come back. But she did, picking up, it seemed, mid-sentence to the exact point where she left off.
Two days later I got a call from her then agent. Kate had asked me if I would like to edit a comment she made about her ending marriage to Sam Mendes. This is the most harmless sentence, but she nevertheless fears that it will be interpreted as contradictory. Going through the hours of transcription, I found the line buried in the conversation: it was so benign I doubt I would have used it.
In the context of Kate Winslet’s study, however, it was revealing. For the actress, who found worldwide fame as she was just emerging from childhood, her sharpest, sharpest, and most accomplished performances, I realized, were now the ones she performed in. was playing herself, offscreen.
Or, at least, they could have been if she hadn’t become Easttown mare, the main character and detective in the crazy seven-episode drama series now coming to a close on HBO. For crime freaks like me, the spectacle, which revolves around a teenager murdered in a densely interdependent working-class community in a small town in America, has been grim, shocking, and impeccably miserable.
But her biggest reveal was Winslet herself. Her performance as Mare is absolutely perfect: from the way she eats her “hoagies” or runs on her ankle-length bust, to the way she sucks her vape pipe or rocks her evening beer. Her attention to detail, all character decisions, are exhilarating: she even masters the Pennsylvania accent, ridiculed as “Murdur durdur” in a recent sketch on Saturday Night Live. Better yet, it’s not a garish performance – no Meryl Streeps here – it’s just subsumed into the role.
As with the chicken hack, you know Winslet did his homework. For the first time in forever, Easttown mare is actually worthy of his talent, managing to capture a complex mix of loneliness, funny humor, tenacity and heartbreak. After a series of very accomplished but lackluster films – I will not continue on the disappointment Ammonite was, but it’s a nice payoff for this movie – she’s finally found material that she, and the rest of the cast for that matter, can really make their own.
“Do you think she made the decision not to wear moisturizer so that her skin was really dry?” messaged a friend, a beauty editor, as we considered Winslet’s ‘method’ (WhatsApp group chat transformed the post-Mare conversations about the water fountain). Mare’s lack of vanity – grown roots, sloppy T-shirts, no makeup – is another cause for celebration. We decided that the dehydrated skin was almost certainly on purpose.
“Mare is the opposite of union,” Winslet told Entertainment Weekly. “We decided that she only looked at herself in the mirror twice a day: once in the morning when she brushed her teeth and once in the evening when she brushed her teeth.
Many theories have been offered as to why police shows have been so popular throughout this time of the pandemic. About how, in the face of uncertainty and our own sense of helplessness in the face of a viral ailment, we have taken comfort in gathering on our couches and solving simpler ailments. Police shows and thrillers provide a reassuring regimen, and the formats are so familiar that we’re all now budding sleuths. Easttown mare was particularly successful in insisting that we wait a week between each installment. As an audience of bingers, the long wait has been instructive, allowing dozens of silly fan theories and funny memes to flourish.
Love scrolling through Twitter’s reaction knowing that everyone is in the same boat and no one can blurt out a spoiler. It’s rather soft and binding. Having neglected or failed to take care of my friendships during the months of isolation, sharing our current theories about who killed Erin offered a perfect opportunity to have a conversation: we are all Mare of Easttown now.
But I’m mainly there for La Winslet. Assuming she pulls off the last episode, I pray that this will be a role she will return to multiple times in the years to come. I always thought the best on-screen performances were women playing exhausted brass – see Frances McDormand, Sofie Gråbøl, Helen Mirren or Caroline (Spiral) Proust. With this perfect portrayal of an oppressed, obsessive policewoman eating Wawa coffee, Winslet entered the DCI Hall of Fame.
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