Kate Winslet is one of Britain’s most successful movie actresses, but this week the Titanic star returns to television in an epic five-part adaption of James M Cain’s novel, Mildred Pierce, on Sky Atlantic.

The drama also features former Neighbours heartthrob Guy Pearce as her new love interest Monty, and True Blood’s Evan Rachel Wood as her snobby daughter Veda. Kate told What’s On TV what made her choose Mildred….

What attracted you to the role?
“For me the director is always a really big pull. I’ve been a fan of Todd Haynes for many years and I’d also heard many wonderful things about him from other actors who I know. I was very, very excited and flattered that someone I respected want to see me. The scripts are wonderful. I could just feel there was gravity to them as a piece and it would really be challenging for me and they’re very true to the book. Also I saw Mildred as an extraordinary mixture of vulnerability and fragility, but strength at the same time. There were many things about her that I’d never played before which I found very exciting.

“There was also size of the production, too. I wanted to get my teeth into something that’s a big script and a huge project. It’s like a five-hour movie, rather than television.”

Can you describe Mildred’s tricky relationship with her daughter Veda?
“Well, I mean it’s a difficult question! It’s one of those things where people will have their own opinions. I think it’s obsessive. I think it comes from a place of love and pride for her child, but at a certain point it becomes about Mildred’s own needs, the gaps in her own life, and the lack of fulfilment she feels as a woman. All of that gets poured into that relationship with Veda in an unhealthy way, a desperate way.”

How would you have reacted to having a difficult daughter like Veda?
“Well, first of all I would have parented in a different way so she’d never f***ing become like this! I honestly don’t know. I can certainly say very differently to the way Mildred did!”

Were you a fan of the book?
“Yes, very much so. I never put the book down. When you do an adaptation like this, I couldn’t go anywhere with the script and not the book as well. You can never find enough snippets, gestures, movements about the character. I found it incredibly powerful as a book. My motivation was to try and be as much like the James M Cain Mildred as I could be. I deliberately didn’t see the film because I felt I’d be under terrible pressure. Who wouldn’t? It was Joan Crawford in the role, and she won an Academy award, so I didn’t want to scare myself. It was scary enough as it is.”

What do you think of your portrayal of Mildred?
“I’ve never sat down on my own and watched myself in anything I’ve ever done until Mildred aired in USA. Suddenly it was 9pm and I’d put the kids in bed and I had some work that I was going to do and I thought ‘no’, as an excercise I’m going to put myself through this. Also, I hadn’t seen the finished edit. I was curious to see what Todd had done. I watched the whole thing with a pillow clutched to my eyes. I still find it profoundly weird to watch myself. I can’t figure out if I was any good or not. The other episodes I’ve seen in rough cut.”

What was it like to play opposite Guy Pearce?
“I have no shame in telling you that when I was a teenager I had two heartthrobs. One was Patrick Swayze and the other was Guy Pearce. I was so in love with him as Mike from Neighbours I’d fake illness to watch the 1.25pm screening. I had also read in a teen magazine that we shared the same birthday. I told him when I first met him, that I was so in love with him as a teenager and I was convinced that Mike from Neighbours was going to turn up on a white horse and whisk me away. And I said ‘we’ve got the same birthday’ and he said ‘Oh I know!’ and I said ‘You know?!?! How can you know?’ Well, he’d done his research.

“Throughout Mildred Pierce, whenever we had an intimate scene or a kissing scene, before they’d say cut, I’d turn to the camera and sing ‘Neighbours, everybody needs good Neighbours!’ Bless Guy he was very good about it, but I was pathetic. However to work with as an actor he was wonderful, very collaborative. I’m quite of proud of how cheesy that moment was.”

Mildred’s a grafter, but is she ever truly happy?
“Yes I do think she’s truly happy when she first meets Monty. And she’s truly happy when she sees Veda play the piano. But there’s a lot of sadness in between all the times. Her struggles with herself and with Veda do torment her. She needs so much from Veda, her approval, and to please her, there’s literally nothing she could do to find happiness within herself. There’s zest and fight, but those achievements cease to make her happy. It’s the lack of love she gets from her daughter that’s like a depression. It occupies her world.”

Have you felt more pressure since your Oscar win for The Reader?
“I don’t really think about that. I think perhaps it might’ve been the case if I was younger when I won. When it comes to you early in your career it can mess with your head a little bit and can affect your choices and not wanting to make the wrong move ,but I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker and I trust my own instincts. Winning the Oscar was an incredible thing for me personally, but it hasn’t changed or created an agenda.”

*Mildred pierce begins this Saturday, June 25, on Sky Atlantic at 9pm