The Regime : Press Conference with Kate Winslet, Andrea Riseborough, Stephen Frears

The Regime : Press Conference with Kate Winslet, Andrea Riseborough, Stephen Frears

Synopsis : A year within the palace of a modern European authoritarian regime as it unravels.

Executive Producer : Stephen Frears, Kate Winslet, Frank rich, Tracey Seaward, Will Tracy

Network : HBO

Rating : TV-MA

Genre : Drama, Comedy

Original Language : English

Release Date : March 3rd, 2024

The Regime poster


Press Conference with Actresses Kate Winslet, Andrea Riseborough and Director Stephen Frears


Q : What was your approach to working on the scenes where Elena speaks to the corpse of her deceased father?

Kate Winslet: We were very lucky as actors because when we were sent the scripts, we were sent the entirety that Will and his team had so brilliantly put together. It was so intact in terms of the universe that these people came from, that helped enormously because it meant that the tone was established right away. We all understood exactly what was going to be required from, and that was a lot of invention. For example we had the freedom to speak the way we chose to speak, based on the fact that it is an imagined place in a country somewhere in central Europe.

It was important that we dig into the absurdity of that. What I needed to do was just to get really brave and talk immediately about the fact that I was very hesitant to sound anything like myself. The show was originally called The Palace, and we’ve had many shows in quite recent decades about recreating real historical events about the British monarchy. And if you call a show The Palace and you put me in that role and people know how I sound in real life, even though I very rarely use my own accent, I was worried that the audience might spend the whole two episodes trying to understand exactly where they were.

I knew I had to come up with something else, so I dig right into the scenes with her father, because for a person to have kept the corpse of her deceased parent and go and have chats with him downstairs, I knew that was not a safe emotional place in which that person existed. That gave me the space to explore her back story. With Will, Stephen and Jess we talked a lot about how to expose the manifestation of her emotional self, we worked with the idea of her physically being certain ways with other people, dressing in occasionally quite grotesque, overtly sexual ways, and speaking differently. It was all part of that same thing.

Q : How did you determine Agnes’ relationship with Elena while reading the script, considering that it goes beyond just being boss and coworker?

Andrea Riseborough: It was actually quite a slow process, in the sense that Kate and I were working on a film that she produced, Lee, and we sort of had a few tentative conversations about what that relationship might look like. And at the time, I just played a character going through chemotherapy, so I had a shaved head, and we talked a lot about how perhaps that was Elena’s doing, because she was unable through her own insecurity to face Agnes’s motherhood and fertility and youth in some sense although they’re kind of the same age.

So, that was something that we talked about very early on but really didn’t share.The idea that she stripped Agnes of her hair and her motherhood, it felt very painful. But what I love most about their relationship is that in so many ways Agnes represents the working people outside of the palace whose lives are being so tortuously controlled by these decisions inside of this political bubble they have no control over, by people who have no experience of what it’s like to live outside of that. And so, the contrast between them is just heartbreaking.  

Q : What was the process of working with the screenwriter and creator to mix the serious tone of the series with the satiric one?

Stephen Frears: When I met for the first time Will and Frank, I was humming the music from Duck Soup.I knew the Marx brothers were in there somewhere. If the writing’s good, you’re okay. It was always meant to be funny and serious at the same time. We had a complete understanding from the very beginning, which eased so much the process of writing and then directing. 

Q : At any given moment in the show, there are two realities: the one that exists and Elena’s reality.

Kate Winslet: We were given this extraordinary story that constantly peeked behind the curtain. Even if she is giving a speech and talking to her people, we always have the opportunity of seeing what’s behind the curtain, even if it’s seeing her feet under the desk, which is typically not something that you would see of a politician when they’re giving a public address. We always had that insight. Everything about her is a sort of mask of who she is.

It was just important for us to lean into the harsh reality of that, of how much she was trying to hide the entire time about herself. She’s hotwired herself not to need endorsement  because she never got what she needed when she was young. It was just a heck of a lot of fun to play. But we had to be very careful that we didn’t create a voice or do a gimmick, because when you’re doing something that is sharply and cleverly funny like that, you have to play it for reality. But also the love story.

This unexpected, twisted, extraordinarily, weirdly beautiful love story between these two social misfits who come crashing together and become obsessed with one another. There’s something phenomenally touching about Elena and Zubak together. And Matthias and I really had to make sure that we were finding a rhythm and an energy for them that was both intriguing as well as bizarre. And that was quite the balance because you have to have the audience stay with them to the last and not quite know what’s going to happen. 

Andrea Riseborough: It felt wonderful to come into work and feel in every way, like you are part of an extraordinary theatrical company. And it was such a joy every morning. Playing Agnes was pretty miserable in all of the understandable and best ways, but it was also glorious because we were surrounded by such an incredible level of talent and a lot of theater actors, it was a joy. It’s a way to process the horror. I mean, that outlet, letting off steam was so essential because it was hysterically funny, and it paralleled something that is present in life. It’s the way that we cope in life so often, through some hysterical laughter. With Agnes, it’s all internalized, she is just trying to blend into the wall.

Kate Winslet: We did have a couple of moments when things would happen that were so funny that people had to be sent out. When we were shooting Episode 5, Elena and Zubak were having sex and she’s screaming at him, no biting, no biting, two people had to be sent out for laughing. One of them was Alvin Küchler, our cinematographer. And one of the hair and makeup department, which was actually a problem because Matthias had all these tattoos, he was getting sweatier and sweatier, and they just kept sort of rubbing off on parts of my body.

Q : The more tension and pressure increases, the more funny certain things become. Elena’s singing of a musical number in Episode 1 is brilliant. When she sings ‘Santa Baby’ in a later episode with missiles firing outside, it’s on another level altogether.

Stephen Frears: If you look on YouTube under Putin, there’s a moment when he sings Blueberry Hill, and various Hollywood actors applaud him. Depardieu is there. I mean it’s just breathtaking. He doesn’t sing it as well as Fats Domino. Easy. 

Kate Winslet: Well, we turned up Abbey Road and I can just say it’s a really difficult song to sing, so tricky. But I had practiced, and the kids were getting sick of me practicing, and I sort of thought, okay, I can sing it fairly well and with a certain degree of confidence. I’ll just give it a go. So, I sang it. And I see Stephen standing there and when I finish he just shakes his head and he says: “I just don’t understand. It doesn’t make any sense. Why is she singing it well? Do it badly.” Because in that moment, as an audience, you know you are allowed to laugh, and it sets the tone for the entire show. It was very funny to do. 

Q : The film was shot in a combination of different real locations, including Schönbrunn Palace, where towers were digitally added, and some of the interiors were also filmed in studios. How did you create the vastness of it all by utilizing a combination of real locations and studios?

Stephen Frears: Well, that’s how films get made. You shoot on location. You do other bits in the studios, and on a good day they match. I said, oh, let’s go to Vienna. There’s lots of palaces there. So, we turned up in Vienna and they gave us some places to shoot. They were so generous, though I think they asked a higher price. We shot everywhere in Vienna except the balcony from which Hitler spoke on the one night he spent in Vienna. That was forbidden, so of course immediately became irresistible.

The palaces were simply wonderful. I suppose that Versailles is better, but these are the greatest palaces in Europe. We had to match them, so we went to an English town in the North called Rotheram, where there are more baroque rooms in a large house, and then we built bits. The truth is it all began with the palace that Ceausescu built in Romania, which was done at various times. And just add more and more. That’s where it began, and then it morphed into whatever it is we’ve got via Middle Europe. 

Q : While Agnes is loyal, she also had the opportunity to travel to the United States. How did the journey shape your character?

Andrea Riseborough: One of the really grounding things about Agnes’s experience in the series, strangely enough because it wasn’t perceptible in the beginning, at least to me, is the relationship with Zubak. He is the only other person representing the proletariat being thrown around in the situation, except that he’s been harnessed as some sort of awful human weapon himself and living with this self-flagellation and the repercussions of that. She really feels for him, and she’s very, very loyal to Elena, in a way and that’s been weaponized against her.

She’s had a child stolen basically and is co-parenting with somebody who’s a little bit unstable, and that’s hard to navigate. She’s now trapped, but in some way always complicit, as they all are. They’re all enablers of this madness. It was a suffocating experience, which is strange because there was so much steam and so many air purifiers, so much talk about getting air and breath and people’s smelly breath. It was a really fascinating experience. And then these vast and uncontrollable swathes of resentment and hatred bubble up.

And I think Agnes no longer has any sort, any moral compass that she was tenuously linked to before. So, it dissolves, and she can’t help but try and preserve the person that she’s living for. And so, everything is directed toward that. And without going too far into whether that might be possible to escape or not, her effort at one point becomes only the preservation of the child, and I think that was very, it felt very clear at that moment.

The Regime 2

Q : Elena studied medicine and is actually quite observational and astute, but there are also moments when her naivety takes over. How did you determine the different levels when you wanted her to feel intelligent but also want to push her in another direction?

Kate Winslet: I felt extremely grateful that there was an element to her back story that was based on education and training and skill. Because to give her something, a qualification, meant that I was always prevented from going really too far down the road of the absurd. So yes, she’s intelligent and she’s a trained doctor and etcetera, etcetera, but when the chips are down, she can just lean right into that sort of slightly unsavory, almost sexual side of herself, even how she dresses in this kind of slightly tacky, gaudy way just to achieve her goal or just to overthrow or overpower, or even sometimes overcome her own shit. 

Q : In the end, it becomes clear just how far down the rabbit hole she has gone at some point.

Kate WInslet: Yes, absolutely. It just goes to show how staggeringly desperate she is in terms of her own well-being in illness and health and mental stability and fragility, that she can just immediately believe in the power of the potato. It’s like: did she really learn nothing?

Q : How did you work in order to develop Elena’s look? The outfits truly explain the characters’ personality…

Stephen Frears: Consolata Boyle, she’s a brilliant costume designer. I’ve worked with her for 25 years. She’s absolutely brilliant. Go on, Kate. You talk about the costumes. You know far more than I do.

Kate Winslet: We really paid attention to that, looking at things like what their national dress is, and being able to even play around with that. Those clothes were tight at times, I couldn’t always necessarily move in them or sit down. But again, that’s part of her, almost a sort of synthetic side of her, this sort of fakery that she had to often just lean into in order to feel more powerful. Actually the fabrics themselves were cheap, and you can sort of feel it. It was fun. 

Stephen Frears: These costumes were so mesmerizing, that after a time I started doing shots of Kate just walking down the corridor so that you could look at them properly. They were so incredible, so impressive, so varied. A joy.

Andrea Riseborough: Consolata and I talked a lot about her being a ghost, a living ghost, something that only gets worse progressively. Just the complete will to disappear, the total disconnection with anything that’s external. Agnes hasn’t thought about or looked at a reflective surface for many, many years. She just knows what she has to do next, she’s been putting one foot in front of the other for years and years and years. She’s almost completely stripped of any sexuality. Consolata was able to express all of this with just her costume. It was astonishing.

Q : How did you work with Guillaume Gallienne in order to portrait Elena and Nicholas’ marriage?

Kate Winslet: Guillaume and I were able to work extremely closely together on the fine mechanisms of Elena and Nicky’s relationship. He is the only one who sees her fragility, he is the only one who knows what is going on behind the mask. And she feels that as love, but also as scrutiny and a threat, a threat to her being able to block out the sound and carry on, just do what she wants and needs to do. She becomes completely fixated with Zubak in spite of her love for Nicky.  His ability to call her out on all of her shit is so palpable to her that she even has to remove him, so that she can just go and have her fun. It’s a phenomenal act of love on the part of Nicky that he doesn’t insist on staying. He lets her send him away. 

Q : Which has been for you the biggest challenge in portraying such a complex woman?

Kate Winslet: I knew I had to make her multidimensional. I’ll be honest, it was an extraordinarily complicated process for me putting her together, I was very, very scared I was going to fuck it up. It was terrifying. We had to make some punchy choices, I lived in my own head with her for quite a while before even opening my mouth in front of anyone. The anxiety around the choices I was hoping to be able to make and whether or not people would agree, it was huge. Actors on the whole do tend to be quite scared, you just have to kind of overcome that. You don’t really talk about it. Those are not things that you really say apart from quietly in corners to each other. I started giving Elena as many anchor points as I could, things that felt to me intrinsically feminine, intrinsically vulnerable. I just had to be brave about making those choices and shoving them in. 

Q : How exciting was it to kind of get into a darker comedy here and let your hair down a little bit with this role?

Kate Winslet: It was a blessing, simply because I knew when I came out the other side of shooting it, my cup was going to feel fuller as opposed to emptier simply because of the phenomenal cast. When I read the script I was like: “Oh my god, I want to be in a room with that many actors.” After COVID, I was overwhelmed by how much I needed that, and actually felt the loss of it from my life. It was just a joy every single day. We were a company. We all looked out for each other. Learning to read what everyone needs, not just focusing on what you need or what you think you can bring into the space. It was a phenomenal gift to be in that environment.

Q : How did you develop her peculiar manner of speaking? 

Kate Winslet: I knew it didn’t make sense to just create a voice. I didn’t want to do something that felt gimmicky. I also wanted to make sure that I was able to complete the spectrum with other aspects of her character. When I looked at just how much mental and emotional issues she has, how she is constantly grappling with those things trying to overcome them, and yet still trying to be this poised composed leader whenever she’s in front of her people, it made me think a lot about what point at which in her life might those issues have begun to set in.

I actually worked with a neuroscientist and a psychologist to come to understand what sort of things can happen to a child when they’re exposed to certain traumas in their very early years. That sort of gave me permission to explore exactly what it was that maybe had happened to her as responses to certain environment situations, people. How she is, how she speaks and how she has come to live with that.

When we all discussed how she would speak, it would be interesting to see the varying degrees of it depending on who she was with. When she’s with Martha Plimpton’s character, Senator Holt, for example, you barely see it at all because she’s really reigning it in, she wants to be taken sort of that thing to demonstrate credibility to us. It just added to how much we could all collaborate around the ideas of who she was, how she sounded, what she looked like, the hair. It was all part of it. 

Check out more of Adriano’s articles. 

Here’s the Trailer of the Series. 

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