BROWN: When get a script, would you normally have your agent read it? Or would you talk to your family or friends?
WINSTEAD: Normally it’s just the agent and we have the conversation. Sometimes I open it up if I want a bit more of an opinion—sometimes my husband will read it, my mom will read it, my sister will read it. But usually it’s after the fact. Once I’ve accepted a role, I’ll let my parents and my sisters read it because they find it entertaining. If you let too many cooks in the kitchen it could cloud your vision of what you want to do.
Playing a well-rounded character like Michelle was a unique and welcome experience for Winstead, who describes the female characters she typically sees as being unrealistically strong or “a total mess.” But taking on the part of Michelle wasn’t all roses; the role required quite a bit of stunt work, as Michelle fights for her freedom, and, while the character is, without a doubt, a badass female heroine, she’s no superhero. “I ended up with a lot of bumps and bruises that I wouldn’t have on other films because I was just trying to play it very real,” Winstead explains.
When I do those films I’ve always try not to be exploited in any way, or play characters that go against anything I have within me in terms of my feminist nature. This was a script when I read it I knew immediately it was something I could take on. There were a couple of things in the script that in the wrong hands could go in a way I wouldn’t be comfortable with. But after talking to Dan [Trachtenberg, director], I realized he was someone looking at the story from her perspective. He’s not looking at it like she’s this girl in peril. He’s seeing himself in her as a person. She’s an everyperson. She’s not a damsel in distress. She’s an anybody in distress. She’s behaving in a way any of us would, as opposed to a certain type of woman.
How did you handle being interrogated on your press day?
I had a couple of people who were really playing hardball. I can admittedly get really sucked into a conversation before I realize that people are just trying to get things out of me. A lot of people were casually asking, “So what are you looking at in the end of the trailer?” And you answer and then think, “Wait! Did they just catch me? Did I just let that slip?” We were all interviewed separately—J.J., the director Dan Trachtenberg, John Gallagher Jr., and me. Afterwards, we all huddled together to recap. “What did they ask you?” “What did you say?
On the latest episode of the Talkhouse Film podcast, filmmaker, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead marks the release of her new movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, by sitting down with Togetherness star Melanie Lynskey. Over the course of a frank and entertaining conversation, the two discuss everything from the inevitable insecurities that come from watching yourself on screen, to improvisation, their beginnings in the film business, the perils of making audition tapes, and their differing approaches to timekeeping.
The scenes we’ve seen with you and John Goodman are so intense — was it an intense sort of filming experience?
It’s incredibly intense and kind of gets more and more intense as it goes on. But it’s also fun. There’s a lot of funny moments to break the tension, and it was such a great group of actors. It’s basically just me and John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., who couldn’t be lovelier — maybe the two loveliest, nicest people ever to work with. And so is Dan Trachtenberg, the director, as well as J.J. It was just like, I mean, we were talking about how we’re not going to have a lot of stories for like the press. It was just so pleasant. It was so lovely.
What kind of roles do you look for?
I am very nostalgic for the female-led movies of the ’80s. I watched Working Girl on the plane the other day.Broadcast News—I watched that one too. That’s a dream role, a dream script. Talk about a role where you get to do everything! Holly Hunter is hilarious and smart and gets to break down crying. It’s so real, so full of personality, energy, range. I love it when you get to see the full world of a person, what they’re like in their quiet moments. But funding those movies is the other thing.
It was incredibly exciting, especially because it’s a female-led action genre piece. [Michelle’s] just a sort of an everywoman; she has no training or special skills or anything like that but she takes what she’s given in the situation and does whatever she can with it. She’s active in every scene, trying to figure out what she needs to do to get out of this place or, if that’s not the solution, she’s working out how to adapt to it. There’s moments where she’s reflecting and she’s emotional, but she’s never waiting to be saved. She’s very scrappy and resourceful, [and] I loved that about her. I loved being in a film where I’m actively trying to do something in every scene.