MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD and SYDNEY TAMIIA POITIER on 'GRINDHOUSE' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 25, 2007
Harkening back to the exploitation flicks of the '70s, Grindhouse mixes Robert Rodriguez's zombie horror Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's vengeance romp Death Proof with faux film trailers and a campy intermission sequence to create a breakthrough double feature experience full of laughs, shocks, and utter mayhem.
In this interview, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Sydney Tamiia Poitier talk about working on the ambitious project. Both actresses appear in Tarantino's segment, Death Proof, an offbeat tale of three girls who terrorize murderous would-be stalker Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Mary plays Lee, a sweetly naive starlet who spends her entire time in character in a cheerleading outfit while her three friends hunt down Stuntman Mike, and Sydney plays Jungle Julia, a sexy radio diva who meets a grisly demise involving detached body parts.
MEDIA: So Mary, I was pretty ticked off that your character gets left behind by her three friends...
MARY: [jokes] I was pretty ticked off, too!
What was your reaction to being excluded like that? Did someone just figure you already got a crack at Kurt Russell in Sky High?
MARY: I guess. That's true, I didn't think about it that way. Oh, that's totally good. [laughs] I was a little jealous. I really wanted to beat up Kurt, too, and be part of that whole fun experience. But unfortunately, I had to be the collateral. I had to be the sacrifice. And I guess there was a purpose to it. You know, I have to look at it that way.
After being in the middle of the mayhem in movies like Black Christmas and Final Destination 3, was it nice to sort of sit back and watch the chaos this time around?
MARY: Yeah. I mean, for my portion of the film, I didn't even feel like I was in a horror film. It felt like a comedy. I really felt like I was in this other completely different movie about these girls who are really funny and cool and hanging out. So it was like being part of a completely different genre, even though it does happen to be another horror film in the end. [laughs]
What is your favorite horror movie?
MARY: My favorite since I was little is (this is kind of creepy to say since I was little) The Shining. [laughs] I saw it when I was very young and it stuck with me for a long time, so that's kind of my classic favorite.
And Sydney, what are some of your favorite horror movies?
SYDNEY: You know, I used to be a really big horror fan when I was younger, and I don't know what happened. Somewhere like in my early 20s, I started getting too freaked out by them, and I just don't really see them that much. But I started to watch them more. You know, now that I've done this movie, I think after being on set and kind of seeing how it's done and seeing the blood and seeing the gore, I think I can segue back in a little bit more. I tend to watch them more on like cable, and not so much on the big screen. But when I was little, I was way into all the Halloweens and all the Friday the 13th [movies] and all that kind of stuff.
Was it jarring to see your severed, wiggling leg on set when you were filming your death scene?
SYDNEY: Yeah, it was a little disturbing. And Quentin was really adamant about me watching the death scene where the leg gets ripped off. And it was very bizarre and gory, and it was sort of like the car was up on this big rig, and they had this big thing that causes the impact, and they had like a string attached to the leg, and it just gets yanked off and it goes flying across the room. And we all got splattered because there's all this blood and mushy gushy stuff. And so it was a little nauseating at first to watch, a little disgusting. But by the third time, I was like, "Oh rad, that's cool!" [laughs]
Did they make a cast of your actual leg?
SYDNEY: Yeah, they did. It was my leg. It was actually my whole body. They cast my leg because they needed that really, really specific. They cast my head because they needed that really specific. Then they put me in this crazy laser machine that just does lasers all around your body. And then they did my whole dummy, [which] was basically my whole body. So it was creepy to walk by your dummy, and it's like, "Whoa, that's me." [laughs]
Mary, your character Lee is an actress playing a cheerleader. Were you, by any chance, a cheerleader in high school?
MARY: [laughs] No, I wasn't. And it was funny, because we were supposed to wear cheerleading outfits to the audition, and a lot of the girls there were like, "I was a cheerleader, so I had mine in my closet." And I was like, [tentatively] "Oh..." I went out and I found this really cool kind of retro-looking pseudo-cheerleading outfit. So it was kind of fun to get to go on that little shopping extravaganza. [laughs]
Sydney, your character Jungle Julia is a sexy radio star with loads of confidence. Was it liberating to take on that sort of role?
SYDNEY: It was. Yeah, it was extremely fun and extremely liberating. And she's sexy and she's bitchy and she's unapologetic about it, and she is who she is, and she says what she wants, and she does what she wants. And it's not something that I generally give myself permission to do very often, so I really lived it, embodied it, and had the best time doing it. [laughs]
Quentin often maintains recurring characters and themes throughout his universe of movies. Do you think Jungle Julia could be playing on every radio in his future flicks?
SYDNEY: Maybe. I hope so! That would be very cool.
If you were a radio personality, what would your show be about?
SYDNEY: Oh my God, that's a hard question. Well, I don't know, maybe in keeping in theme with this movie, it might be some kind of like girly talk show where girls could call in and bitch about boys. [laughs] Do what we basically did the entire time we were [filming] in Austin.
How does Quentin's style of directing compare to that of other directors you've worked with?
SYDNEY: It doesn't really compare, you know? He said on our first day of filming, "I'm going to ruin you for all other directors." And he really, truly did. I've never met anybody who's so passionate about what he does that the day that he showed up, for the first day, you would think it was his first movie he ever made. I mean, he's that excited. He's like a little kid on Christmas. And he's also not typical in the sense that he's in every little detail. He's involved in what ashtray was on Jungle Julia's coffee table. I mean, from every piece of art direction, set direction, props...And also, he doesn't watch a monitor. He doesn't go back to Video Village and sit and watch you do it. If this is the camera, this is Quentin's face [right next to it]. And you're right here, and he's just staring at you. And it's a little disconcerting at first, but then you just kind of get used to it. And he's very specific. He knows exactly what he wants out of you, and he will tell you. I mean, if you're not getting it, he will put on your character's voice and he will give you a line reading.
Mary, how would you say Quentin compares to director Len Wiseman, whom you worked with on Live Free or Die Hard?
MARY: There's definitely a big difference. I love them both, I think they're both great directors. Quentin is just so high energy, and so, you know...He's Quentin. He's loud. [laughs] You're always aware of his presence at every moment of the day, whereas Len is really kind of quiet and really kind of in the background. He may come up and say one word to you during the day, and then the rest is kind of like he just lets you do your thing. And he's very focused. I mean, it's like, if he's in his element, you don't even want to go talk to him or anything. [laughs] You just kind of want to let him be. He's such a sweetheart and really humble, and an amazing person to work with. And outside of the set, he's great to sort of just hang out with and have a conversation with. But on set, he's just very sort of in his own little world in his head. Whereas Quentin is just like laughing and loud, and it's like a party on set all day. So it's a very different environment.
Sydney, did your dad, actor Sidney Poitier, visit the set? What did he think of your character?
SYDNEY: He didn't visit the set at all. I very sort of briefly described the character to him. I didn't really go into a whole lot of detail. [laughs] But he will see it with me for the first time on Monday night, and so I'm really interested to see what he thinks.
How do you think he will react?
SYDNEY: Well, the one thing he did know...I knew the movie opened on my butt in a pair of underwear, and I also knew that I had to go into the audition in tiny, tiny, tiny shorts. I don't wear tiny, tiny, tiny shorts, so I was kind of freaking out. And I had all my girlfriends over, my sister was there, and my parents were on their way to dinner. And they were right by my house, and I called my mom and I said, "Can you guys just stop by real quick?" And I had on these little shorts, and they walk in, and all the girls are around me like fixing things or whatever. And I turn and I go, "What do you guys think of my butt in these?" And my dad's like, "I'm leaving." [laughs] So he might be in for a surprise. We'll see.
Did you warn your family about the severed leg bit?
SYDNEY: Oh, no. They don't know about that. I'm going to have to tell my mom and my sister to close their eyes, because they cannot handle it. I think my dad can handle it.
Mary, we never really find out about Lee's fate. What happened with her and the creepy guy she was left with?
MARY: We talked about it. When we were filming that scene, we were like, "We gotta shoot something, for the end credits or something"--you know, Lee running through the woods in her tattered cheerleading outfit screaming. But we're still talking about it..."What happened to Lee?" It's a mystery. But we might. It still could happen. We might shoot something for the sequel, possibly. [laughs] Who knows?