Is Kate Winslet’s Elena Vernham Based on a Real Dictator?

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO

In HBO’s ‘The Regime,’ Kate Winslet plays the role of Chancellor Elena Vernham, who becomes more unhinged after the arrival of a man who pushes her to turn the country into an autocracy. Things had already been a bit volatile in Elena’s regime, who came into power seven years before the events of the show. But this is the first time she has someone who is not only not afraid of speaking out in front of her but also gives his opinions that further influence Elena’s policies. The realistic portrayal of the Chancellor is bound to make anyone wonder whether there is a real-life inspiration behind her.

Elena Vernham is Not Based on Any Particular Dictator

‘The Regime’ is a fictional show created by Will Tracy, and all the characters in the story, including Elena, are completely fictional. While the co-writer and his team researched a lot about several dictators, they didn’t specifically base Elena on any one of them. In a way, she is a meld of all of them and yet an utterly original person unto herself.

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO

Tracy revealed that he has an obsession with reading the stories of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. It was while reading ‘The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat’ by Ryszard Kapuściński about the last emperor of Ethiopia that he had the idea to write a similar story about an autocrat in a fictional country. While he wanted to create an original story, he knew he would have to dive deep into the life and mind of a person who wields so much power in a country. He looked towards similar figures all over the world, from Romania and Syria to Russia, noting that they all “want to accrue more power to show them, the people who laughed at me. But the more power they accrue, the more ridiculous it becomes, so the problem compounds.”

He also found that his research subjects had so much power that they “had become removed from reality in a way that immediately lends itself to comedy.” This started the process of crafting Elena, “a self-deluded tyrant” whose whims lead to absurd situations for her and her country. He refused to single out any particular tyrant because he didn’t want the story to be boxed in certain parameters. However, that didn’t stop him from using parallels from real life.

The most notable parallel arrives in the first episode, in the scene where Elena sings, and everyone gives her a standing ovation even though she isn’t very good at it. According to director Stephen Frears, this is a direct reference to a clip from 2010 of Vladimir Putin singing “Blueberry Hill” while the audience, which includes Hollywood actors like Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner, applauds him. Another thing that will remind the viewer of Putin is when Elena sequesters herself and turns the whole palace into a quarantine zone, refusing to touch or even breathe anyone for fear of getting spores. A similar behavior, though not exactly unreasonable, was seen during the pandemic when Putin took a similar approach.

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO

Apart from Elena herself, the creators also looked towards the people surrounding the dictator and who influence, even if not directly, the leader’s decision. According to Will Tracy, the inspiration behind Elena’s cabinet was Hitler’s “big four,” who were always fighting to gain Hitler’s favor, trying to be his favorite, even when the war was lost and the Allies were right on their doorsteps. All this research didn’t just go into creating the character but also bringing alive her persona on the screen. A huge part of Elena’s personality is her clothes, and the costume designers were influenced by the likes of Eva Perón and Giorgia Meloni to create Elena’s style.

Winslet was also very involved in bringing her character’s every aspect with intricate details on the screen. The fact that the story didn’t require her to act like a specific real-life person gave her a lot of freedom to mold the character as she saw fit. Describing her as “fearless and yet terrified of the world,” Winslet was very conscious of the way Elena looked and the way she talked and moved. Her every action was informed by her backstory, specifically the traumas of her past that have made a home in her head. This allowed the actress, the writers, and the rest of the team to make Elena Vernham feel as real as possible.

Read More: HBO’s The Regime: Where is the Political Satire Filmed?