Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) Sunday, December 11, 1994

Heavenly Creatures Star Reflects on Her Killer Role
by Robert Denerstein

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) Sunday, December 11, 1994

Driving past Larimer Square, Kate Winslet, a 19-year-old British actress, looked at the Christmas lights and offered an enthusiastic appraisal.

"Lovely,"" she said. The word cropped up again as she perused the menu of a downtown restaurant in search of the perfect salad.

It makes sense. For Winslet, one of the stars of Heavenly Creatures, life lately has been lovely. To begin with, she landed one of the lead roles in a much-admired movie about Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, two New Zealand teen-agers who formed a fast friendship, drifted into fantasy, and, eventually, conspired to kill Pauline's mother.

"I'd been acting," said Winslet, who plays the supremely confident Juliet. "I had an agent. The whole thing sounds quite casual, but I got the part for Heavenly Creatures through an audition. I hadn't done a movie before. I felt very drawn to the script. I cried when they cast me, I was so happy."

Early in the picture, Winslet's Juliet arrives in New Zealand from England. She forms a friendship with the lower-class Pauline (Melanie Lynskey). The girls slip into a world of their own making. The problems of adolescence become magnified and distorted. The result was a notorious murder that rocked New Zealand in the '50s.

"I'd never known anything about the case, even though it's very famous in New Zealand," said Winslet. "Honora Parker (Pauline's mother) lost her life, and Pauline and Juliet lost their lives. They lost their friendship, which was everything to them."

Heavenly Creatures acquired additional notoriety recently when it was reported that the character of Juliet actually was mystery writer Anne Perry.

"I never met Perry and didn't know her identity until two months ago," said Winslet. "I learned about Juliet from transcripts to the trial. We met people who knew the girls, their classmates. No one knows where Pauline is today.

"The main thing we took away from their classmates is that the girls had a really separate friendship. They were always together, plotting and scheming.

"One of her school friends showed me how Juliet walked. They all commented on how she had these incredible eyebrows and would raise them in disdain at people.''

OK, so two adolescent girls live in fantasy worlds. What else is new? But most girls who retreat from the harshness of reality don't wind up committing murder. Seeing Heavenly Creatures doesn't really explain what Pauline and Juliet did, perhaps because director Peter Jackson respects the dark mysteries of the human heart. "I don't understand the murder," said Winslet. "I knew why they felt the need to kill. But I don't understand how they actually did it, and what they thought they'd achieve. That made the murder scene hard to do. We had to feel those feelings, what it's like to want to kill someone. We lost a total sense of ourselves. It was horrible."

In the 1950s, the press treated the girls as lesbian killers, aberrant creatures who had committed an unthinkable act.

"I never felt they were lesbians," said Winslet. "The love scenes in the film were an extension of their fantasies. It was almost as if there were an imaginary movie camera in the room with them. They were trying to figure out how their favorite movie stars would make love."

But in the '50s, inklings of abnormality weren't taken lightly, and Juliet already was on shaky psychological ground.

"Juliet never had what you'd call a secure family environment. From the age of 8, she was sent to live in South Africa and then in the Bahamas. All for the sake of her health. (She suffered from tuberculosis.) Her parents were happy to let her rumble along."

Winslet's acting history includes a stint on a British sitcom. She just completed a children's movie, A Kid in King Arthur's Court. She's off to Los Angeles to interview for many parts, but it sounds as if she'll carry the role of Juliet with her for a long time.

"I'd probably go into shock if I saw her (Anne Perry). I'd know it was her. She looks the same, except older. I'd be scared and find it really weird. I have no desire - or right - to make contact with her.

"I was upset when her identity was released (in the New Zealand press). Reality set in. I felt guilty knowing so much about what now is her past life. She has lived her life as Anne Perry. That's who she is. It's not a lie. I'm happy she had the strength to do that.''