In ‘The Regime,’ Kate Winslet Gets to Have a Little Fun

Chancellor Elena Vernham would like you to know she is “very much not ridiculous.” She would never serve salmon at an official event. (That would be “meek.”)

The fictional character, portrayed by Kate Winslet in the darkly funny new HBO limited series “The Regime,” is a neurotic autocrat losing her grip on her country. A title card early on in the series, which premieres Sunday, announces that we are somewhere in “Central Europe,” in a country whose official vegetable is the sugar beet. As a U.S. senator played by Martha Plimpton puts it during an official visit: “A strong woman leader providing for her people, resisting China? We love all that.”

Elena’s people, however, are suffering mass unemployment, and many are starving. So it’s maybe a little tone-deaf when she broadcasts a message to the country at Christmas, and it’s a video of her singing “Santa Baby,” in a fur-trimmed mini skirt and boots.

“I wanted to do something that felt absurd,” Winslet said in a video interview from her home in Sussex, England. Elena is a hypochondriac and an agoraphobe, and Winslet said that, from a political standpoint, her character “absolutely has moments of just making stuff up.”

She is “fearless,” Winslet said, “and yet terrified of the world.”

“The Regime” was created by Will Tracy, whose previous writing credits include “Succession,” and the fine-dining satire “The Menu,” two projects that also feature delusional figures, drunk on their own power. Tracy said that he enjoys creating tyrannical characters “because they have created a situation where they cannot be argued with or reasoned with.”

He had been obsessed with reading about geopolitics and authoritarian regimes since his late teens, he said. For “The Regime,” he researched leaders from Syria, Russia and Romania, and found that they shared “a shaky relationship with reality” and “a desperate need for survival.”

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