SMASHED directed by James Ponsoldt, written by Ponsoldt and Susan Burke, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman and Octavia Spencer. A Mongrel Media release. 85 minutes. Opens Friday (October 26). See listing. Read the review.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead took a risk last year. And she loved it.
James Ponsoldt's Smashed cast the young actor as a barely functioning alcoholic whose decision to stop drinking drives a wedge between her and her husband (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul), who has no intention of sobering up.
A raw, unblinking study of a young woman in free fall, Smashed is a movie without a safety net - and that's what appealed to Winstead, who was coming off a string of studio pictures that included Live Free Or Die Hard, Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Thing and this summer's Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.
Those movies shot for months; Smashed took 19 days.
"You have no time to get out of character," she says during the Toronto Film Festival. "It wasn't even like I made the choice to stay in character or anything; we just went so fast. We worked around the clock, but it was great. I really felt like I was living this person's life, and even though I was going through a lot of dark emotions and there were draining days, it never felt like work. I never felt like I was trying to figure how to play a scene or anything like that. It always felt really natural, which was a huge relief."
The accelerated pace of production also meant that Winstead and Paul had to build their on-screen relationship in a hurry.
"We went out together a couple of days before we started shooting," Winstead recalls. "We went out and had dinner, and we went out and had a few drinks [laughing]. We tried to break down the barrier really fast, cuz we knew we didn't have a lot of time. We both went for it, and completely, immediately clicked - to the point where after a couple of weeks of filming, on Aaron's last day, we were like, ‘This is really sad that this is over!' We felt like we'd had a relationship; we felt like it was real. It was surreal."
Winstead says her experience making Smashed has shifted her expectations for her career a little bit.
"I haven't done a big film since," she says. "I did a cameo in Die Hard 5, but I [only] worked for a day, so I can't quite count that. I've only done small parts in a string of really small films; I haven't made the leap back to big films yet. I'm moving toward wanting to be a collaborative part of the process as much as I can. I would like to be filmmaker-focused in everything I do."