Mary Elizabeth Winstead has earned a very loyal, yet very specific, demographic of fans over the last decade thanks to her work in countless genre pictures: men, 18-45. But with her latest film, the painfully powerful Smashed, Winstead is not only poised to attract an entirely new subset of fans, but also the attention of Academy voters.
Her portrayal of Kate, an alcoholic school teacher, is the year's first true Oscar-worthy performance and officially ignites the awards race. ETonline recently sat down with Winstead in New York City to find out what attracted her to this role, how she approached this touchy topic and the one deleted scene she wishes you saw!
ETonline: What was your first thought upon reading this script? Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I was terrified by it. Epecially the drunk scenes. I'd never played drunk before and I didn't even know if I could pull it off, so everything about that part of the role just terrified me. But I was so drawn to the relationship scenes with Charlie (played by Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul) -- they were so real and complex and layered. I loved that there were so many grey areas. It felt like real life and that was the kind of project I've been dying to do.
ETonline: Did you feel the need to prove to Hollywood that you were capable of more than running around and looking scared? Winstead: Yea, I had been looking for something like that for years. Feeling like I was capable of more but not able to show it. But I got to a point where it was no longer about showing the world what I could do; it was a personal challenge to show myself what I could do. It was something I needed to do for myself, as a person, just to know I was able to stretch beyond those limits.
ETonline: I read an article where you talked about a hypnosis practice that helped you act "drunk" -- what was it? Winstead: I would close my eyes and take myself through every single step of getting drunk. Imagined myself taking a sip, swallowing the liquid, what it feels like as it rolls down my throat. All those minute details. If you really grow through each step, it's amazing but you open your eyes and you feel [drunk].
ETonline: The film has a real natural feel to it. Was there a lot of improv or rehearsal prior to shooting? Winstead: We didn't get any rehearsal time, which is crazy because you read this script and expect an intensive rehearsal period. Everyone was cast at the last minute, so we just jumped into it. There's also not a lot of improv in the final film, but we did a lot of improv on set, which I think helped give it that feel. We were always in character, always improving, so it feels so much more real when the camera is always rolling. There was no yelling cut and going to your trailer. I loved it, it felt like we were living that world every day.
ETonline: Given that immersive experience, did that make it harder or easier to let go of the character after filming wrapped? Winstead: It was probably one of the hardest characters to let go of. I loved playing her and living in that world with Aaron. The last scene we filmed is actually the last scene in the movie, so it was sad on a bunch of levels.
ETonline: The original cut of Smashed was over 2 hours, while the finished film runs less than 90 minutes. Were there any scenes you wish made it into the final film? Winstead: One of the biggest scenes that got cut was an AA meeting that Kate goes to completely drunk. She thinks everyone will love her and invite her in, but she's wasted. It's a minor setback because she tries to go up and tell her story, but they don't allow anyone to speak if they've had a drink within the last 24 hours. She feels shunned and doesn't get that welcoming experience she wants from AA. It makes going to the second AA meeting a bigger step because of what she's conquered. That was one thing I worried about losing because it felt like an integral part to her story, but it actually works without it. The tight running time just makes the whole movie that much more compelling.
Smashed opens Friday in New York and LA. Click here for more information.