She's made a name for herself backing up a vampire-slaying Abraham Lincoln, as John McClaine's daughter in "Live Free or Die Hard" and as a hipster dream girl in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." But despite the fun she's had in the pop culture movie world, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been hungry for a good, solid indie drama. But taking on the lead in "Smashed" did come with a few hesitations.
"It was scary for me to take it on because I'd never done anything like that before, and I think for years, like most actors, you sit around going, 'Why can't I get one of those parts that's, like, really great?'" Winstead says with a laugh. "But then when you actually get the part you're like, 'Oh s---, I have to figure out how to do this.' So it was a little scary. But just the fact that I got through it and I did it and the response has been good, my confidence has grown a lot."
Playing an elementary school teacher who realizes she's an alcoholic held several challenges, not least of which was convincingly pretending to be drunk. "It's really daunting. Even the best actors sometimes, it's just really hard," she admits. "The whole thing about being drunk is that you're out of control. And if you're acting, you're sometimes sort of in control and it kind of defeats the whole purpose of making it authentic."
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Luckily, Winstead found help in the form of a book, "The Power of the Actor," given to her by co-writer and director James Ponsoldt. "It has an entire chapter dedicated to playing drunk," Winstead explains. "It's kind of just like hypnosis in a way. You just take yourself through all the steps of what it feels like to be drunk, and it just kind of plays a little mind trick on you and you feel really loose and out of your body. It really helped just let me let go of the fear of worrying about whether it felt real or not because I just felt really loose and buzzed, for sure."
Of course, that only covers half of the journey her character takes. To research the heart of the story, Winstead spent a month attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings around Los Angeles -- though always at the invitation of a member. "It was great. Everyone was so relatable, and that was my first step," she says. "This wasn't someone different from me. She drinks, and I don't drink a lot, but if you take that part out of it she's pretty much exactly like me. That was my first step into figuring her out."