For ages Mary Elizabeth Winstead thought she was in a film called “Valencia.” It was a three-person thriller in which her character finds herself trapped in an underground bunker with a young man (John Gallagher Jr.) and its unhinged owner (John Goodman), who claims there’s been some kind of big attack on America. She found out it was actually a semi-sequel to 2008’s found footage alien invasion hit “Cloverfield” right before everyone else did: When the trailer went online.
It's now called “10 Cloverfield Lane,” and the title and Bradley Cooper voicing her boyfriend early on are the only things that are different, Winstead tells us, from what she shot. It offers her a meaty role in a genre with which Winstead’s familiar. She started her career in horror entries like “Final Destination 3” and “Black Christmas” before segueing into the likes of “Death Proof,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and last year’s indie “Faults,” directed by her husband Riley Stearns. But she says horror has always been a great place for a young actress to break through — maybe the only place.
You tend to play a lot of characters who speak only when they have to. Your character, Michelle, is like that, too.
I really enjoy non-verbal communication when I’m working. It’s more fun to say things with your eyes and your facial expression. And when you’re talking it’s way more fun to be saying that’s the complete opposite of what you’re thinking. There are times when you’re doing a scene and the words aren’t quite clicking. You just throw out the words and it’s a much stronger way of saying it. I was very happy Michelle was that strong but silent type. That was better than her being super-chatty.
This is a mix of a lot of genres, but it’s also partly a horror film, like some of the first films you did. It’s interesting that that’s a genre that has always embraced female leads.
I would get the question a lot: “Why do you do horror films?” It’s like, “Where else do you see kickass female heroines other than in genre films?” Of course, now we have “Divergent” and those films. But in terms of how long I’ve been working, if you’re going to find a really great lead role where you get to do a lot of things and run through a range of emotions and you’re not a big star, horror is kind of the place for you. When I started they welcomed me with open arms.