TIFF Interview: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Scott Pilgrim's Ramona Flowers gets serious for a raw relationship drama Smashed

James Ponsoldt’s Smashed stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead 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 freefall, 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 took months to shoot Smashed took 19 days.

“I mean, you have no time to get out of character,” she says. “It wasn’t even like I made the choice of staying in character or anything, we just went so fast. We worked around the clock, but it was great. I really just felt like I was living this person’s life, and even though I was going through a lot of dark emotions and there were a lot of 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 just 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 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, ’cause we knew we didn’t have a lot of time. We both went for it, and just completely, immediately clicked – to the point where after a couple weeks of filming, on Aaron’s last day, we were just 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 a really surreal thing.”

Winstead says her experience making Smashed has shifted her expectations for her career a little bit.

“I haven’t done a big film since Smashed,” she says. “I mean, 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 really made the leap back to big films yet … I’m moving towards just wanting to be a collaborative part of the process as much as I can. I would really like to just be filmmaker-focused on everything I do.”

Not that she’s utterly averse to larger productions.

“If it’s Edgar Wright, I would work for him any time. You know, he’s doing huge films right now.”

One of those films is Marvel’s Ant-Man movie, and after spending a little time with her, I have to admit that Winstead would be great choice for the role of Janet Van Dyne, aka The Wasp – if only for the opportunities it would afford the surprisingly tall Winstead to play with her own scale.

“Right?” Winstead laughs. ” ‘She’s actually giant! Who knew?’ “

Smashed premieres tonight (Wednesday, September 12), 6 pm, at the Ryerson and also screens Thursday (September 13), 5 pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7.

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