I first auditioned Kate Winslet when she was 17. I thought she was 25. Such was her self-possession, presence and concentration in the room. When she walked out the door, I turned to the casting director and said with certainty, “We have just met a star.”

Three years later, I cast her as Ophelia in a film of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I did not ask her to audition. She brought a detective’s energy to rehearsals. She listened with superhuman acuity, and expressed character with effortless depth. She connected with Shakespeare entirely naturally.

In HBO’s Mare of Easttown, those same qualities are radiant, having now evolved into a truly awesome acting technique. Only now, hers is the art that entirely hides the artist. Kate Winslet disappears, and Mare emerges complete, without vanity or artifice. It’s magnificent to watch.

I still see her as 25, but now as a master of her art.

Branagh is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and an Emmy-winning actor

Mark Peckmezian for TIME

Get a print of the 2021 TIME100 cover featuring Kate Winslet

Styled by Cheryl Konteh; Hair by Nicola Clarke

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