Mary Elizabeth Winstead has always proven she could act, even as a part of more ensemble pieces such as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Death Proof. She’s always been something of a geek queen because of the aforementioned films. With Smashed, Winstead hopes her talents will finally blossom, and she can get more critical praise for her work. So far, so good, as she’s easily the best thing about the picture.
Recently, we were invited to sit down and talk with Ms. Winstead about the role and how it felt to have a picture that is essentially her own. This is what she had to say.
As someone who feels more comfortable with films like Scott Pilgrim and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, how was your comfort zone on this?
It was scary for me to take it on, because I had never done anything like this before. I was always wondering ‘when am I going to get one of these parts?’, and then when you actually get the part you’re like ‘how do I do this!?’. But the response has been good and it’s really helped my confidence so I’m looking forward to hopefully doing more roles like this. I definitely feel more confident doing leading dramatic roles.
Aaron [Paul] filmed you being drunk prior to shooting. Did you imitate yourself in those videos?
I never watched the playback. He did that for himself. Mainly for me, I did it because I wanted to experience what being drunk with him would be like, because those are a lot of our scenes in the film. Also to loosen us up because we didn’t know each other, and we had to act like we knew each other really well. So we got along really, really well. And we saw each other at the worst, and that was a nice jumping off place for us.
How did you prep for the role?
I had about a month, and it was just kind of around the clock preparation. My first chunk was spending a lot of time in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous.) I was always invited by someone who was recovering and was regularly part of the meetings. And it was great, I went to so many different ones in LA, and LA’s such a great city to do it in, because everyone was different in one neighborhood from the other, and different backgrounds. It was great, it was so relatable. And this character was someone who drinks a lot, and I don’t drink a lot, but she’s pretty much exactly like me. So that was my first step into figuring out who she was.
Susan [Burke] mentioned that this was her own story. Did you use her as a resource?
A lot, particularly talking about her recovery story and what she had been through in her time drinking, and sort of situations she had got herself into. Some that were similar to the film, but not quite, and then some that were completely different. And just to talk to a young woman who got sober at a young age, which you don’t hear about a lot, was really eye-opening. The more meetings I went to, the more women I met who were eighteen, nineteen, and were already at the point they realized they had a problem. And it was just so easy to relate to them, and Susan especially. She’s such a funny, smart woman that it made me realize that it hammered home that this is what that character needed.
Is there anything you can relate to in regards to your character?
Oh yeah. I mean, when I first read it, I was probably in too much denial of my own problems to relate to her. And then when I really started looking at the things in my life, and looking at myself, it was sort of like the flood gates opened and the whole movie was kind of a breeze. I kind of figured it out and it unlocked everything.
How’d you feel acting with kids, and being kind of a den mother?
It was fun! It was another aspect of shooting that felt completely authentic and real. I was trying to keep them entertained and corral them, and they would be making fun of me all the time. They thought I was just so uncool, and my clothes, but they so real. It felt very authentic.
The relapse scene was pretty intense. How did you handle it?
What a rough day! It was a bit of a rough day, ultimately. We had a lot more physicality, some bits that were cut out. There was a lot more wrestling on the floor. A lot more just sort of hard, physical, covered in bruises kind of stuff. It was an intense, very intense day. I was very stressed out about that scene, and when it was over I felt great. I really wanted to do justice to that scene, because not only is she drunk, she’s going through something.
When this movie first came out of Sundance, the big talking point was your performance. Do you feel you wanted to do this sooner?
I always wanted to. I just wanted to get one of those indie movies and get one of those performances and it goes to Sundance, etc. I don’t think I was meant to do it sooner. I’d like to think I could have done it five years ago, four years ago, but I don’t know. If I tried, it might not have come together as well as it did. I think over the years of working and growing as an actor, I felt I was confident enough and ready.
What was different in your preparation for this role as opposed to Scott Pilgrim and Grindhouse?
I think this, being just a real person and being more complex, sort of a lot more emotional preparation. Everything else I had done was more fantasy. It was quite different, but very much worth it.
Smashed is in theaters now.