Mary Elizabeth Winstead on Her Role in ‘Smashed’: “I’ve needed to sort of prove myself in this capacity for a long time — I needed to show, at least to myself, that I could carry a really complex role”

I recently got to see Smashed, a film about a recovering alcoholic, and I was impressed that the film didn’t adhere to the same old cliches that we’ve seen in countless television movies about alcoholism.  Much of that credit goes to star Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  It’s a brave role for Winstead, who allows herself to be shown in a very ugly light in order to portray a young elementary school teacher who is struggling with her sobriety.  Winstead spoke to Movieline about how she ended up getting the lead role in a film that is so much out of her wheelhouse and why she felt the need to pursue it.

Winstead realizes that the role is huge departure for her, but she reveals that was exactly what she was looking for in a part.  She explains, “I mean it was such a change of pace. It was almost like changing careers because it was so different. It was great, and it was what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve needed to sort of prove myself in this capacity for a long time — I needed to show, at least to myself, that I could carry a really complex role, so I knew that I needed to do it for me. The fact that people are actually responding to it is sort of above and beyond what I even was hoping for.”

However, finding the role wasn’t easy, and it was even more difficult to prove that she had what it took to star in the film.  She says, “I had been seeking out smaller scripts. I had been really trying to find something small and intimate, so I had a meeting with Jonathan Schwartz, who is the producer of the film. I didn’t know what he was producing at the time, but I just wanted to meet him because I knew that he had some scripts in the pipeline. After he sent me this script, I just flipped out over it and called him immediately and was just like, ‘Please let me know what I can do to just get my foot in the door and be considered for it!’ So then he set up a meeting with me and James [Ponsoldt, director], which went really well.  After that, I just sort of took it upon myself to do an audition tape; I taped probably like seven, eight scenes from the movie and sent it to James. And after he and the producers talked it over, they cast me, which was crazy! I expected them to sort of see every actress in Hollywood and go through that whole process, but they didn’t. They didn’t see anyone else. And so it was really, really, amazing.”

While that audition tape might have gotten the part initially, after working on her character and developing her connection to the script Winstead confesses that she’s actually embarrassed by it.  She reveals, “Luckily whatever I did in the audition tape was enough to get me the part, but from my perspective, in retrospect, I feel like it’s terrible! [Laughs] I did so much more work on the character by the time I actually shot it that to me it’s like night and day. When I look at that audition tape, I feel like I’m acting, and I feel like I was able to get to a place by the time I shot the film where it wasn’t acting anymore.  I was sort of scared, even after I did the audition tape and got the part, because I still didn’t feel like I had a handle on it at all. So it was scary to me almost to get the part because I was like, ‘Ooh, but I don’t know how to play this!’ So I worked really hard. I really wanted to make sure I did the part justice, and I did whatever I could. I spent a lot of time in AA meetings, I spent a lot of time with James just really carving out Kate’s backstory and becoming really, really specific about that. And just spending a lot of time on myself and my own issues emotionally. It was a lot like, just, therapy. Working through my own stuff. That ended up being the most important thing, the thing that connected me the most to the character — sort of relating my struggles to her struggles and my issues to her issues, and sort of linking those two things up. It was an amazing experience.”  Hmm, so I guess that audition tape won’t be a bonus feature on the DVD then?

Smashed is now in limited release.

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