Mary Elizabeth Winstead
It’s difficult to distinguish Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s acting style, primarily because she’s played an impressive range of characters throughout her career. If graphic novels are of interest, you probably recognize her as the vibrantly violet-haired Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. That role may have catapulted her into the Hollywood limelight, but she already possessed an impressively robust repertoire. If cult soap operas are more of interest, you probably recognize her from starring in 89 episodes of the show Passions. Whatever the genre, Winstead has consistently accumulated a variety of roles in titles such as Final Destination 3, Factory Girl, Grindhouse, Live Free or Die Hard, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and too many others to note. However, it wasn’t until she took on the role as Nikki Swango on the hit television series Fargo that she started doing her most truly transformative work. She is unapologetic in her interpretation of sharp, witty and wise writing. She brings an earnest idealism that’s rooted in the ability to discern her character’s flaws and affirmatives. Winstead is absolutely with it, a blend of sweet, savvy and a little bit of evil. However, her ambitions stretch well beyond millennial mega-hits, soap operas and even award-winning shows. She continues to grow her dossier with a range of dynamic female roles that break through barriers. Winstead is a cinematic virtuoso, curtailing characters in the ever-evolving landscape of film and television. And she’s absolutely crushing it.
Most people don’t know that you pursued dance before you started acting. How did you make the transition? Is there any chance we’ll be seeing you on Dancing With The Stars?
Well, they certainly haven’t called! (Laughs) I did want to be a ballerina in my younger days, but ultimately I wanted to be a performer. When I was a kid it didn’t matter too much to me how I was doing it, as long as I was playing characters and telling stories. So in that sense, the transition was pretty easy. I just kept doing the same thing in a new way.
Tell us about your very first time acting. If you could go back and give that younger version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Well, my first professional acting job came when I was twelve, as a guest star on a television show. I loved it. I was overwhelmed with joy just to be there, to be a part of it. I would tell myself to hold onto that feeling and don’t sweat the rest. I’d tell myself not to waste time on self-doubt and trying to be everything to everyone all of the time. I’d say just be yourself because ultimately, that will be enough.
Most people recognize you from your breakout role as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. That must have been such a fun experience. Can you share with us one of your favorite moments or learnings from that time?
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a really special experience for a lot of reasons, and it brought some of the most important people in my life to me and I’m so thankful for that. Several of my closest friends came out of making that movie. It was a real challenge and we were doing something that felt really new and different, and I think that bonded us in a way. So Ramona Flowers will always be close to my heart!
We absolutely love you as Nikki on Fargo. What was it like making the transition from movies to television? How has it changed your perspective as an actor?
I admit I was a little slow to jump on board. When I started acting, television and movies were pretty separate. And making movies seemed to be what everyone was reaching for, striving to do. So at first, doing television seemed like giving up on something I had worked towards. But times change and it’s become so clear that TV has so much good material. At the end of the day, that’s what we are all craving! I am so grateful to have been a part of Fargo, as well as several other TV series that have given me material that just blows me away.
Nikki is an incredibly nuanced character; she’s truly a complex individual that’s surprisingly endearing at the same time. How are you able to keep the audience engaged with her?
Well, I can’t say I’m ever really thinking about the audience when I’m acting. But, I always try to connect with my character in a very real way and I hope that the audience connects to them through that. It took me a little while to figure Nikki out, but at the end of the day the choices she makes come from a place of love and truth. She comes from a world where people take care of their issues in criminal ways and that’s what she knows, but her intent is pure. I just really, really liked her.
This leads us to your upcoming project All About Nina, coming out later this month. Tell us what we can look forward to with this film.
I’m so proud of All About Nina. Making this movie with our writer-director Eva Vives was really special and something I’ll never forget. I play a stand-up comedian working through trauma in a very male-dominated world. I guess you could call it a comedic drama or a very dark comedy. It goes so many places and because when I’m playing Nina, I went to all those places with her. It was intense and fun and exciting and I can’t wait for people to see it.
We are also excited about Gemini Man, which was directed by Ang Lee. Tell us a little more about this project and what was your experience was like working with him.
Ang is amazing. In his soft-spoken way, he expects a lot from his actors and his crew, pushing everyone to be their best. I have so much respect for him and working with him was a real privilege. I hope I get to do it again one day.
Not only did you work with Ang Lee on this, but the film also has an incredible cast and crew. Can you share with us one of your favorite behind-the-scenes moments?
It was a really incredible group of people. Will Smith is so much fun to work with, he’s so calm and professional and lovely. Making Gemini Man was an unusual challenge because Ang Lee was really pushing the limits of technology, which made filming it very different than what we’re used to. One of the first days we were shooting a scene in the bright daylight with the sun was shining directly in our eyes. After a couple takes, Ang came over to tell us that in the film, the scene would actually look like it was at night so we can’t squint. Trying to master our “night-face” and “day-face” became a running joke. Every day there would be something thrown at us like that. We just rolled with the punches together and it was great.
You have played an incredible range of characters throughout your career. Is there a particular genre you are eager to try out?
I would absolutely love to do a play one day. Since I started in film and television, I struggled with having the confidence to go out and do it because it seemed like such a different medium. But, I’ve worked with many theater actors who have pushed me towards feeling like I can do it. When the right one comes along, I’d love to give it a try. Also, I toy with the idea of directing something one day. Who knows…
We heard you are passionate about working with female filmmakers. Tell us why this is so important to you, particularly in our current political climate.
It’s important to me for many reasons, some of them on a more personal level. I simply enjoy it. I’ve spent 20 years working for men and most of those experiences were very positive. After working professionally in the constant presence of men for so long, working with women is personally liberating. I want more of that feeling. On a social and political note, I also believe it’s important. I want to work with women, people of color and different ethnic backgrounds. I want to learn from people who are different from me and I want to be a part of bringing those voices to the world.
If you could speak to young girls out in the world who have seen you on TV or in the movie theatre, what would you say to them about following their dreams?
I’d say that if you are lucky enough to find something that you love to do, give it your all. Try your best to become the best you can be at whatever that is. So many people never find a passion, so if you find yours follow it and nurture it. Don’t be discouraged or dissuaded by the voices around you—your dreams are absolutely worth fighting for.
One of your best-kept secrets is that you are also a recording artist that performs as Got A Girl. Tell us more about your passion for music.
I’ve always loved music. I’ve dabbled in songwriting and recording, but it’s really a hobby that occasionally swings over into a professional space. I certainly don’t have the confidence or comfort as a musician that I have as an actor, which makes it a fun challenge. I keep it on the back burner.
With that in mind, what is your go-to karaoke song?
(Laughs) I think I have done karaoke about three times in my entire life, so I can’t say I have a karaoke song. But, my fantasy hypothetical karaoke song might be “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. I love belting that out around the house with accompanying 80’s dance moves.
All About Nina releases in theaters on September 28 2018