Kate Winslet Heads A New "Regime" At HBO
This image released by HBO shows Kate Winslet in a scene from "The Regime." (HBO via AP)
  • LONDON (AP)
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Kate Winslet is running things — on and off the set of her new TV show, "The Regime."

In the HBO show premiering Sunday, she plays Elena Vernham — also known as The Chancellor, the ruler of a fictional country in Europe, possibly near Poland. Winslet, who is also an executive producer on the show, says she's never been offered a character like this "in her life."

"I've never read a script like this before. I've never laughed so much at the material that was in front of me, as we did every single day, and I really just felt this was an exciting, challenging, terrifying opportunity for me to step totally out of my comfort zone," she says.

As the show's worshipped leader, she came face to face with many huge artworks of herself.

"Initially I thought to myself, oh God, that's so brilliant. I've got to have one. And then I got so sick of looking at them that towards the end I just wanted to burn them all," Winslet laughs.

Sometimes, the production team would neglect to warn her of a large, sequined image of her face on set.

"Funnily enough I don't like looking at me. It's not a comfortable place to be. So yes, there was a, there was a lot of being confronted with that, this heightened version of myself," she says. "I just had to kind of roll with it."

That's one of the many major differences between the star and the dictator — who loves to be loved by her people, addressing them regularly and also, occasionally, serenading them with a song ("Santa Baby").

Among her loyal subjects: Guillaume Gallienne, as her husband Nicholas; Andrea Riseborough, who runs the palace, and Danny Webb as one of her many ministers, subservient to her bizarre pronouncements. Martha Plimpton plays a U.S. senator and Hugh Grant is Elena's political rival.

Things in the country are running smoothly — well, as smoothly as they can while Elena deals with her latest hypochondria, paranoia and abandonment issues. Then she hires a soldier, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, in her fight against tiny deadly spores — and begins a relationship with repercussions that shake the regime, and the country, to its core, moving her battles to a much larger scale.

The dark comedy, from "Succession" writer Will Tracy, is billed as a twisted love story about two people who should never have fallen in love, which is "exactly why everybody should watch it," says Schoenaerts.

"The world is full of people that should have never met," he says.

Luckily, off screen, the results were less damaging with lots of laughter on set, Schoenaerts recalls: "It gives us some relief because, obviously, sometimes we really have to go (to dark) places."

And it was much less of a dictatorship than on screen.

"She leads by example," Schoenaerts says of Winslet. "She's always on time, always prepared, always kind, generous, open and extremely sharp. And she's a lot of fun to work with."

"The Regime" directors Stephen Frears and Jessica Hobbs both agree that a Winslet set is more like a welcoming theater company.

"It did feel like that," says Winslet, who has appeared in amateur theatrical productions.

Gallienne remembers that Winslet would take time out to talk to any new cast members so that they felt comfortable and part of the team.

"She's very direct, very honest, but very simple and very kind," he says. "As she says, you know, learn your lines, focus and deliver."

Winslet says that she takes being number one on the call sheet very seriously and tries to lead by example, to "lift the energy every day and just deliver it and show up and, and really be there for everybody."

"As I'm getting older I feel responsibility and gratitude, you know, both simultaneously," Winslet explains. "It's a really privileged position to be in. And I really respect it."

The self-centered chancellor is a far cry from any real-life figure, if you were wondering, with Winslet describing her character's theatrics as "so enormous and delicious."

"And her hysteria at times, and how volatile she is, how vulnerable she is. I mean, I just couldn't compare her to anyone," she says.

"I couldn't say there were things that I actually liked about her," adds Winslet, "but there were things that really just made me laugh."

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