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Mary Elizabeth Winstead Discusses Why She Took on 'Smashed': "I wasn't feeling good about what I was doing."

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire October 12, 2012 at 7:48AM

Over the course of her relatively short career (she's only 27), Mary Elizabeth Winstead has turned in a string of solid supporting turns in films that never really merited her talents ("Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," anyone?). That changes this Friday with the release of her Sundance hit, "Smashed."
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mary and aaron smashed
Did you take any shots prior to shooting the tape?

I didn't. I can't even remember what I did for the audition. I acted drunk, which, you know, I guess I approximated it well enough to get the part. But it still wasn't quite where it needed to be for me to do the film. So James had read this book called "The Power of the Actor," by Ivana Chubbuck -- who's this great acting teacher in LA -- and one of the chapters in the book is about playing drunk. So she has some really great exercises for it. So we really just kind of relied on those acting techniques to do it. I'm just really lucky that it turned out well. Because it's just so so easy to screw up.

What was the one that worked best for you? I interviewed Isla Fisher for "Bachelorette" and she said that Kirsten Dunst recommends standing in a spot and spinning.

Yeah. I did that, too. Her exercises are almost kind of like hypnosis, like, you close your eyes and you take yourself through every single step of what it feels like to be drunk, starting with taking the first sip of alcohol. And you can't skip anything. You have to go through every little detail. And then once you've gone through it, you open your eyes and you feel very off balance. Very loose and kind of buzzed a little bit. It's just sort of like a mind game that you play with yourself.

And then on top of it, to stay in it, I would do physical things like that. I would spin around in circles. I would look at the ground and spin in circles all day long. Or I would just do crazy things like roll around on the ground and jump up and do kung fu moves. I just wanted to feel sort of insane, you know? Just feel like when you're really drunk and you just do ridiculous things for no reason. I would just do stuff like that. And Aaron and I would do stuff like that together in between takes. We'd be on the ground wrestling each other and hitting each other -- acting like seven-year-olds, basically.

About you and Aaron -- you two have amazing chemistry in the film. What did you two do to get to there together?

Well we didn't have a lot of time, which was kind of scary going into it, because you want to bring a history, and so ideally I think we would have spent a lot more time together leading up to it, but we actually didn't have that. So we got together one night before we started shooting -- and James was actually our designated driver -- and we went out drinking together, because we wanted to sort of forge that bond and get that dynamic going of what this couple is like when they're drunk together, and what we're like when we're drunk together. And it was only our second time meeting, but we got sort of plastered (laughs).

"I feel like the industry is sort of changing and there's got to be a sort of revolution happening, and I want to be a part of that."

Method acting.

Yeah, it was just one night of it, and then we were able to sort of set that aside and just act the rest of it. But it was a good way to sort of break down all the boundaries of getting to know a person because we saw each other at our worst right off the bat. I think we immediately felt pretty close after that and we were able to just kind of go into it open, like, we are this couple, we're gonna sort of be there for each other as actors and be open to anything at all times. I think we both went into it with that same mindset and it helped us make it very real to us.

Since "Smashed" played at Sundance, you've been courting this amazing wealth of buzz. Has it had an effect on your career? Do casting directors see you differently?

I think it's slowing shifting. People are slowly seeing the movie, but not everyone has seen it yet. I mean my hope is that a lot of young filmmakers will see it and be inspired to make more films like this and, you know, will want to work with me, because that's really who I want to work with -- kind of new interesting people who are forging their own vision and want to sort of go on their own road in this industry. That was why I took this film to begin with, was to try and get in that world.

I feel like the industry is sort of changing and there's got to be a sort of revolution happening, and I want to be a part of that. I'd like to do a lot more small, performance focused films.

I know it seems silly to even talk about it, but what do you make of the Oscar talk surrounding your performance?

It's so funny. I mean it's fantastic. I think it's beyond what any of us expected or were thinking about when we made the film. I mean, certainly for me, when I did it, I wasn't really thinking about my career much at all. What I did think was, "Well maybe I'll finally start doing indie films." So that was really all I expected to come from it. Or, "Maybe I'll actually get to be at Sundance." Never in a million years did I think it would get Oscar buzz or anything like that. That's so far away and above what I imagined. At this point it's already better than anything I could have hoped for, so I'm just gonna have a good time. Just having that word uttered is an amazing thing. I'll take that.   

This article is related to: Interviews, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed, Sundance Film Festival, Academy Awards





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