Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Mon Amour: MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD
words by Brad Liberti
photos by Tamar Levine
When Jean-Luc Godard famously told audiences, “You should feel about a woman, not a movie. You can’t kiss a movie.”, he wasn’t so much belittling films, but rather praising the power of the onscreen female and her indefatigable hold over her admirers. Of course, the odds of actually getting to kiss a world-class beauty the likes of Jean Seberg or Ana Karina were and still are slim to none for most mere mortals, but that hasn’t stopped half the world from falling for these enigmatic charmers and their effortlessly chic New-Wave style.
Like one wide-eyed performer and budding Francophile from Rocky Mount, North Carolina… “I always sort of loved anything European-French, but also anything from the ’50s and ’60s”, says actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, clearly accessing her happy place. “But it wasn’t until I was a little older that I married the two and became very interested in the French New Wave and in French Pop from that era.”
She now considers this period to be a defining influence on everything she does, from her devoutly natural onscreen presence, to her romantic, unstudied clothing choices, and even her champagne fizzy vocal style. Don’t believe her? Check out the music video for “Did We Live Too Fast”, the first single off of the ultra-hip new LP Winstead just dropped as one half of the duo Got a Girl. “I knew that it needed to have that French New Wave style but that it also needed to be a little bit off the wall, just to satisfy what I know is Dan’s sensibility. “
The Dan she’s referring to is prolific music producer and Handsome Boys Modeling School mastermind (along with DJ Prince Paul), “Dan the Automator” Nakamura. Like Winstead, he hardly needed help upping his artsy street cred, but together, the two have become an undeniable creative force, mixing sonic landscapes with bold visuals to create a sound that is unabashedly retro and yet undeniably au currant on their new album, “I Love You But I Must Drive Of A Cliff Now.”
“I had been a huge fan of Dan’s for a really long time,” says Winstead, recalling their first meeting on the set of her 2010 film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World(Dan was brought on as a music contributor). “(2001’s) Luvage was one of the first albums that my husband (writer/director, Riley Stearns) and I each connected to when we were both in our teens and then we bonded over it when we were dating.”
Needless to say, the actress was more than a little star-struck during that brief on-set introduction, but she was absolutely gobsmacked when the Automator suggested that they collaborate… “I wasn’t sure if I should take it seriously or not but he ended up sending me a track and asking me to write something to it, and I did, and it kind of started this slow back and forth that eventually became a full on collaboration that worked out amazingly smoothly.”
She still sounds somewhat shocked by it all, which makes sense when you consider the fact that Winstead, despite years of vocal training, wasn’t exactly nursing dreams of pop stardom. Instead, she was quite content working steadily in film, balancing a budding starlet’s plate of thriller/slashers (Black Christmas, The Thing) and big-budget action (she played Bruce Willis’s daughter in A Good Day To Die Hard, and Mary Todd Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) with some truly exciting roles in cult faves like Scott Pilgrim (“such a great experience, all around”) and Quentin Tarantino’s adrenaline-fueled Death Proof (“so incredible to get in there and play within a world that I had always wanted to be a part of.”)
Oddly enough, while these last two were critically lauded films, each represented an artistic breakthrough for Winstead along with everyone else involved, they did not immediately connect with moviegoers. The actress was obviously disappointed, but hardly devastated – “You just go Huh? I don’t know why people aren’t getting it… I think it’s great!” – and in fact, even more affirmed in her need to make the work her number one motivation… “Everything for me is about the long term and longevity and what’s gonna be around 10 years from now regardless of what people think of (the project) in the present.”
The stars did align for the actress, however, in 2012 when her lead role opposite Aaron Paul in James Ponsoldt’s heartbreaking exploration of addiction and adoration, Smashed, was released to universal acclaim, with critics singling out the actress for her ballsy, no bulls**t performance. “I think every actor hopes to have a moment like that in their career where people stop and go “Hey, you’re good.” That really meant a lot to me. And having it work out in a way that I was proud of was pretty life-changing in terms of what I feel I’m able to do in the future.”
Fans can get a glimpse of this Mary Elizabeth 2.0 when a slew of buzzy projects she’s been hard at work on start to premiere in the fall. First up, she stars opposite Michael Sheen and Jeremy Renner in the espionage thriller, Kill The Messenger. Next, she headlines A&E’s 2015 drama, The Returned, a remake of the spooky French supernatural series (“I watched one episode of that version and was hooked on it immediately”). And finally she appears in The Office alum John Krazinski’s debut feature, The Hollars, alongside Anna Kendrick.
It’s quite a full plate for one person, no less an actress who’s currently moonlighting as an in-demand singer-songwriter, but much like Seberg or Karina before her, Mary Elizabeth Winstead somehow manages to do it all with style, grace, and enviable ease.
photographer TAMAR LEVINE www.tamarlevine.com
location THE BISSELL HOUSE www.bissellhouse.com
wardrobe JAK with MAGNET AGENCY
set design CARRIE KRAVETZ
hair SUNNIE BROOK with Celestine Agency
makeup LEXI SWAIN with Celestine Agency
photo assistants TAMAR KASPARIAN, SHANNON ROSE, AND PAIGE WILSON