MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD EXCLUSIVE (Part 1 of 2) Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 25, 2007
Having talked one-on-one with Mary a few months ago for her star-studded ensemble Bobby, we knew that she was a delightful interviewee who was all smiles and enthusiasm over her slate of upcoming films. So it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with her exclusively once more, this time during her promotional stint for the groundbreaking Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse.
Since we last sat down with Mary, she has wrapped shooting on the Bruce Willis action adventure Live Free or Die Hard and seen Black Christmas and Factory Girl hit theaters.
In this first half of our exclusive two-part interview, Mary talks about sneaking into horror movies as a kid, modeling for Maxim's Girls of Grindhouse photoshoot, and utilizing her underappreciated singing skills for work.
RadioFree.com: This is such a flashback to when we did interviews for Bobby. Both films had casts of thousands, and once again, here you are being the highlight of my day...
In the interest of saving time this morning, I tried to iron my shirt while I was wearing it. And with the mirror, running water, and electrical outlet, I had a very Final Destination moment...
That really is! [laughs] So many things can go wrong there.
Have you ever found yourself doing something reminiscent of a scene from a horror movie?
You know, it's funny, I never think of my life as a horror film in any way--especially, I think, because I've had so much fun doing all these movies that I'm never scared by them. It's just great fun to watch them and be part of them. So I never get sort of freaked out or creeped out. I just laugh it off.
Are you more analytical of them now that you've done so many?
Yeah. Well, I've always been tough to scare. When all my friends are like closing their eyes and screaming, I'm the person laughing at them. And so I've always been kind of a tough audience when it comes to horror movies. I appreciate them and I find them really entertaining, but I also like to kind of critique them as well. I guess maybe having been in so many, I kind of am familiar with them by now. [laughs]
You've said you've been watching them since you were little...
Yeah, definitely. I mean, the first R-rated movie I went to see in theaters was Scream. And I thought I was like the coolest kid on the block. [laughs] Like, I got to see Scream in the theaters when none of my friends were allowed to see it. And I went back and I memorized scene for scene everything that happened in that movie. And I told like my entire class exactly [what happened], gave everything away. I gave them the entire plot.
So if you were 13 now, you'd be the kid sneaking into 300...
Oh, totally! I loved that. I felt so cool.
In our last interview, you described yourself as a "good girl." Since then, you've done a provocative photoshoot for Maxim magazine...
[laughs] I know!
When you're doing a gig like that, is it similar to an acting role in that you feel like you're playing a character?
Well, what we were doing with Maxim...It was my [Grindhouse] character. It was supposed to be from the get go. I was supposed to be in a cheerleading outfit. So when we did the shoot, one of the reasons why I went onto it was like, "That's cool, I'm going to be in character, it's for the movie, it's the Girls of Grindhouse, we're all going to be in costume." And then we got there, and it was kind of like, "Well, this isn't looking quite Maxim." [laughs] So I kind of gave in and I did the black lingerie, the whole thing. I still felt like I was kind of in character, though--you know, in my mind. So I still felt like it was for the movie and it was for a purpose, and not just me trying to go out there and showing off, "Hey, I'm sexy." I'm trying to promote a specific film in a specific moment in time.
What about other photoshoots that aren't so overtly sexy? Is it still about getting into a character or mindset?
Definitely. I like to sort of have an image in my head of what I want it to look like. I think [of] a lot of old movie stars and their photographs and the kind of image they portrayed in every picture, and I kind of try to emulate that.
Between doing the Maxim shoot and playing an actress playing a cheerleader in Grindhouse, how does a good girl feel about blowing everybody's minds? Any guilt going on?
[laughs] "Blowin' everybody's minds..." I haven't seen it yet, so that's one thing. But I had so much fun being the kind of flirty, sexy girl in a cheerleading outfit and being somebody who is so much more confident and comfortable in that side of themselves, when I'm more shy in person. So it was fun being able to step into that kind of character and take it over.
You sang Smith's "Baby It's You" for Death Proof, but the scene was cut for the double feature theatrical release of Grindhouse. Will it be on the DVD version?
Yes, in the DVD cut, and when the film comes out on its own in Europe, that will be there as well. I didn't know that until we were doing press yesterday, and people were talking about singing and stuff, and somebody was like, "Well, Mary sings. You heard her sing in the movie." And the press were like, "No, we don't." And I was like, [disappointedly] "Man!" Because I was really looking forward to that being in there. But it's all right. At least I know it'll be out there somewhere.
How did that whole singing scene come up in the first place? Did you tell Quentin you could sing beforehand?
I had never talked about singing with him at all. I auditioned for him, and in one of the audition scenes, I'm supposed to be singing along to the radio in a car just before the scene starts. So he was like, "Sing something." And I kind of just started humming, and he was like, "Stop. No, actually sing whatever you were listening to on the radio on the way over here. Just sing it." So I started singing "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, and, like, belting it out. [laughs] And he just let me keep going and going. And then after I got the part, he was like, "I love your voice, you have an amazing voice, I want you to sing this song and really belt it out and sing the whole song. And we're going to make it a whole big moment where your voice is going to be singing, and we're going to have the shot on Kurt Russell, and it's all going to be in black and white." So it was a very cool scene, and I'm excited for it to eventually be seen.
So how are you at singing "Crazy"? That's got a few high notes in there...
Well, I probably took it down a few notches when I sang it. [laughs] But I love singing, and I've never really done it professionally, so it's kind of hard to convince people that, "Yeah, I'm a singer. I am. I might not have like a lot of training, but..." So I was excited for this to come out so people could see that I can.
We've heard about how Quentin has the entire internal history of his characters in his head. Did he fill you in on any backstory for your character Lee?
Yeah. There was a part in the movie where I'm in Allure magazine, and the entire article was written up with [Lee's] whole background and all the films [she] had been in. And it's funny, because it kind of mirrored my real career. It was like, "She starred last year in Overactive Imagination 3." [laughs] And like all these films and things that were so similar to what I had actually done. And it was great. Yeah, we talked a lot about her and how she's a really sweet girl who's on the first big film of her career, and she's just having the time of her life, and she feels like she's on the top of her game. And we talked a lot about her personality and where she comes from. It was fun.
You've worked with Kurt Russell in a pair of movies now. What did you think of his decision to make his Grindhouse character Stuntman Mike a villain who is crying and bawling by the end of things?
I loved it! I've watched the dailies of those scenes, and he said that his inspiration for that part was the Cowardly Lion, and you can so see it! It's so brilliant, I think. He was having so much fun with it, and it was just perfect. I was in love with what he was doing. I thought it was amazing...I loved it so much, so I'm glad everybody else did, too.