Kate Winslet Wows the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

There are actresses today who are as good as Kate Winslet, maybe even a few who are better than her, but there are none who have accomplished as much, especially considering the range of remarkable performances she's delivered, in as short of a time. Since 1994 she's starred in a host of wonderful movies including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Iris, Finding Neverland and Little Children. Oh, and that boat movie you might of heard of; Titanic, I think it was called. If all of this wasn't impressive enough, she added Revolutionary Road and The Reader to the list in 2008, the latter of which just earned her sixth -- yes, sixth -- Oscar nod.

And all by the age of 33!

Can you imagine what she'll have accomplished by the time she's Meryl Streep's age?

Last Friday, I had an opportunity to attend a tribute to the young thesp at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where she was given the event's coveted Montecito Award. She showed up all glam and gorgeousness, looking thin and yet womanly in a most un-Hollywood way. She has curves, people. My girlfriend couldn't help but grin with satisfaction at how un-anorexic Winslet looked, a rarity for actresses in the film business.

Film critic Leonard Maltin took the stage with Winslet for a Q&A, one of the fest's wonderful touches to get audiences closer to their icons. They discussed the emotional difficulties that came with making Revolutionary Road and The Reader -- and reminisced a bit about the lasting impact of that boat movie on her life.

"The challenges have been getting bigger [as an actress], especially in the last two years," she confessed. "They've torn me apart." But she also admitted to seeking out those challenges. "When I read the script for The Reader, I was blown away by it. I put the script down, though, and thought, 'I obviously can't do that. I don't know how to play that character.' There was nothing of myself I thought I could bring to [former concentration camp guard] Hanna Schmitz. The thought that I was playing a character I could disappear into and behind so completely was ... looming."

"That film flattened me," she added.

"I think I never really know if I'm getting it right [in my performance], but one of the wonderful things about acting is that there's no one way. With Hanna, I felt unconfident every day. Walking onto the set every day to play a German woman with a German accent in front of a German crew was terrifying. 'Oh, they're not talking to me. I must be crap!'"

"I've learned so much about my craft, myself, this thing I do," she continued. "Gaining knowledge is so important to me. The day I wake up and say, 'I know how to do this," is the day I'm in trouble.'"

Revolutionary Road came with plenty of challenges, too. In the suburban period drama, Winslet starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, her co-star from Titanic and one of her best friends ever since. It was surreal to have to explain to her children that Uncle Leo was playing her husband while daddy, her real-life husband, director Sam Mendes, stood behind the camera. Worse, the role of depressed homemaker April Wheeler pitted her against DiCaprio in tortuous on-screen arguments that would leave the two barely able to talk for days. The experience, however, left her all the more in love with Mendes and closer than ever to DiCaprio.

Speaking of DiCaprio, Maltin played a clip from Titanic in which Winslet's Rose DeWitt Bukater asks DiCaprio's Jack Dawson to put his hands on her in the backseat of a car stored in the hold of the passenger ship. At the sight of this scene, of her and DiCaprio so cherubic faced, Winslet burst into hysterical giggles that continued for some time. When pressed, she exclaimed, "[Leo] just looks so little, and I had a really round face then!"

"It was truly a life-changing experience," she went on to say. "Aside from teaching me a great deal, it gave me the freedom of choice. I'd like to know the percentage of actors in the world who have that. It's the single most remarkable thing I've been blessed with is that freedom."

Well, besides a surplus of talent. Look for Kate Winslet to win the Best Actress Oscar on February 22; she's more than due for one.