Thanks to films like "Death Proof," "The Thing" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" -- plus tweets like this one about "Looper" -- Mary Elizabeth Winstead has become something of a geek icon over the last five years. It's her performance in the indie drama "Smashed," however, that could put her in the same breath as perennial Oscar contenders like Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley.
In "Smashed," Winstead stars as Kate, an elementary school teacher who also happens to be a raging alcoholic. After a particularly lengthy bender with her husband (played by "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul), Kate decides she needs help, and the film tracks the ups and downs of her recovery attempt. Directed and co-written by James Ponsoldt (who worked on the script with Susan Burke, a recovering alcoholic herself), "Smashed" is not a typical addiction drama, thanks in part to Winstead's full-bodied portrayal of Kate, a tragicomic figure with relatable demons and concerns.
HuffPost Entertainment recently sat down with Winstead to discuss "Smashed," the paucity of good roles for women in Hollywood and what fans can expect from "A Good Day to Die Hard."
One of the first things that stands out about "Smashed" is that Kate isn't normally the picture of onscreen addiction. Was that one of the things that drew you to the role?
Absolutely. Even if you take the addiction part away, just having a character who is so fully imagined -- who is a lead female protagonist -- who is messed up, but likable and real ... just that alone was totally different than the typical thing I read.
Is that frustrating for you as an actress?
Yes. Even now, it's scary because I'm like, "Will I ever find a role like this again?" It comes along so rarely, and when it does come along, there's so many great actresses who are looking for that. The competition -- and not to put it in competitive terms, because I love all the incredible actresses -- but it becomes very competitive and very hard to wedge your foot in the door. I never imagined I would get this part. When I read the script I was like, "Every Oscar winning actress is going to want this!" And I'm the only person they auditioned. It was this incredible thing that happened -- I feel so lucky.
So, how did it all happen?
For whatever reason, I was one of the first people who read the script. I think they had actually envisioned it with someone who was more of a comedian when they were writing it. But I had met with Jonathan Schwartz, who is the executive producer, and I had been really trying to meet people who were doing small, independent films and discovering new voices and directors. I was trying to get into that world very badly. I just met with him and said, "Whatever script you have, please send them to me. Please let me read them. Please let me audition for them." He sent me a couple of scripts and one of them was "Smashed." I read it and immediately called him and said, "Tell me what I should do to be considered." I had no idea, but James Ponsoldt was already a fan of mine from "Scott Pilgrim." I took a meeting with him and we got along really well. It was an incredibly simple, wonderful thing that never happens. [Laughs.]
The film casts a lot of funny actors -- Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally -- in fairly serious roles that still have moments of levity. Was it hard to keep that balance?
For me it was scary. Because it is such a serious subject matter and the script is very funny, and that's something I loved about it. As an actor taking on a role, however, you can't think about the comedy. It has to just play out in a natural way. It has to work naturally without pushing for the laughs. It's not like a sitcom where you're like, "OK, I'm going to play this beat and then this beat is going to be like ba-dum-bum." It just had to be something that magically worked in the audience response. That's what you hope for. I didn't know if any of the comedy was going to play or not. Luckily having the people around -- having such fun, funny voices around me all the time, sort of helped all that click. I'm amazed it all plays so well.
There's a very naturalistic feeling to "Smashed." At times it feels like you and Aaron aren't even working with a script.
It was all very free. James wanted us to say whatever we felt like saying. For the most part what he did is he left the camera rolling the whole time. So most of what you see in the film is scripted -- there are maybe a couple of lines here and there that snuck in -- but I think part of the reason it feels so real is that it felt like the camera was always rolling. We were always in character and we were always going off script and back on and off and back on. So it never felt like: "Cut! We're ourselves now." It didn't have that break: "We're going to go back to our trailer, see you later." It was never like that. We were always on set, we were always in character, we were always working toward making it authentic.
How much research did you do for the role?
There's so much AA in the film, I felt like I really needed to see what that's like. Luckily it's co-written by someone in recovery, so I had a resource there. Also one of our producers, Elise Salomon, has been in recovery for many years. I had both of them to take me to meetings and to welcome me in -- to open meetings, always. It was great. My first couple of weeks researching the character were a lot of AA meetings. That was a great first step to figuring her out and figuring out how much I related to her. If you took alcohol out of the equation, I fit right there in those rooms and my stories could be the same as their stories.
"Death Proof" is a perpetually underrated Quentin Tarantino film, and it's also one of your first breakout roles. How was that experience?
It was amazing. That was a huge deal for me. I had only done a couple of films before that and they were mostly in the genre territory -- but a different kind of genre. To have Quentin Tarantino even know I existed was a huge deal. It was a great confidence booster for me at the time, because he loves actors so much that he will take you aside and go, "Here are all the things that are great about you as an actor." And you're just like, "Oh my God! You just made my entire life!" It was wonderful and he was amazing to work with and so much fun and so passionate about film. It will always be a highlight of my career, forever.
You're also reprising your role as John McClane's daughter in "A Good Day to Die Hard."
I'm in it, yeah. I loved that part when I played it. I really felt connected to being John McClane's daughter. So, it's fun to revisit it. I'm in "A Good Day to Die Hard" very briefly; there's not a lot I can say because I wasn't really there for most of it. But it was really exciting. It's great to be part of the McClane family tree.
'Bachelorette' (Sept. 7)
Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher star as the three worst bridesmaids this side of Kristen Wiig in "Bachelorette." Based on the stage play by director and writer Leslye Headland, the hilarious film debuted on video on demand and iTunes in early August and earned nearly $500,000 during its first weekend.
'The Words' (Sept. 7)
The Fareed Zakaria story? "The Words" stars Bradley Cooper as an author who stole the work of another man (Jeremy Irons). Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid and Ben Barnes co-star in the CBS Films release.
'Finding Nemo 3D' (Sept. 14)
Find Nemo again, this time in three dimensions.
'Resident Evil: Retribution' (Sept. 14)
The fifth (!) "Resident Evil" film has the tagline "Evil Goes Global." OK, then. Milla Jovovich once again stars, while Michelle Rodriguez returns to the franchise for the first time since the original "Resident Evil" in 2002.
'Liberal Arts' (Sept. 14)
If you believe the strong reviews "Liberal Arts" received after it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, Josh Radnor's second film is a major leap from the "How I Met Your Mother" star's directorial debut, "happythankyoumoreplease." In "Liberal Arts," Radnor stars as a college admissions officer who falls for a student named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen).
'The Master' (Sept. 14)
"The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's first feature since "There Will Be Blood" in 2007, is already one of the most discussed films of the year. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix star as a religious zealot and his protege, respectively, in a story that reportedly mirrors L. Ron Hubbard's formation of Scientology in the 1950s. Oscar buzz is already humming around "The Master," which should also become one of the most discussed films of 2013 by the time awards season comes to a close next year.
'Dredd' (Sept. 21)
Karl Urban is the law in this gritty reboot of the popular comic "Judge Dredd." Expect fanboys to be out in force for this one: The hyper-violent "Dredd" debuted at Comic-Con in July to mostly high praise.
'End of Watch' (Sept. 21)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as L.A.P.D officers who stumble onto a drug ring in "End of Watch," the latest cops-and-robbers thriller from David Ayer ("Training Day"). Go ahead and google what the term "end of watch" means if you want some insight on where this film might end up.
'Perks of Being a Wallflower' (Sept. 21)
Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson star as three Pittsburgh teens coming of age with the help of David Bowie and The Smiths in Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own seminal novel.
'House At the End Of the Street' (Sept. 21)
A rising superstar isn't a rising superstar unless they've got an oft-delayed horror film coming out <em>after</em> they hit the big time. Enter "House At the End Of the Street" with "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence.
'Trouble With the Curve' (Sept. 21)
Clint Eastwood returns to the screen for the first time since "Gran Torino" in 2008 for "Trouble With the Curve." The film -- directed by Eastwood protege Robert Lorenz and not the acclaimed actor/director himself -- focuses on the relationship an aging baseball scout (Eastwood) has with his daughter (Amy Adams). Justin Timberlake co-stars and takes off his shirt. Just FYI.
'Hotel Transylvania' (Sept. 28)
Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Cee-Lo Green, Steve Buscemi and many more provide voices in "Hotel Transylvania," an animated comedy about what happens when Dracula's daughter (Gomez) falls for a mere mortal (Samberg). Sandler voices Dracula.
'Looper' (Sept. 28)
Rian Johnson's twisty sci-fi action thriller stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a mob hitman tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis). Gordon-Levitt -- who also starred in 2012 films "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Premium Rush" -- spent hours in make-up each day to look like a younger version of Willis. Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels and Emily Blunt co-star.
'Won't Back Down' (Sept. 28)
"Inspired by actual events," "Won't Back Down" tells the story of two mothers (Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal) who attempt save the the school that their children attend. This marks Davis' first major role since losing Best Actress to Meryl Streep at the 84th annual Academy Awards.
'Frankenweenie' (Oct. 5)
Tim Burton's second feature of 2012 (the first was the derisible bore "Dark Shadows") is based on his own 1984 short film of the same name. "Frankenweenie" tells the story of a young boy named Victor Frankenstein, who brings his recently deceased dog back from the dead. Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Lee and Martin Short provide the vocal talent while Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O performs one of the songs on the film's soundtrack. This one will be huge with the Hot Topic crowd.
'Pitch Perfect' (Oct. 5)
Elizabeth Banks produced this a capella comedy, which stars Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Anna Camp as an all-female singing group trying to defeat their male counterparts at a college choir competition. Judging from the trailer, "Pitch Perfect" looks like "Bring It On" with songs, so it should be awesome.
'Taken 2' (Oct. 5)
Liam Neeson still has a very particular set of skills in "Taken 2."
'The Paperboy' (Oct. 5)
Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" stars Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, John Cusack and 2012 It-Boy Matthew McConaughey, but you'll probably want to see this fever dream because Kidman's character pees on Efron's character. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/nicole-kidman-paperboy-urination-efron-lee-daniels_n_1555386.html" target="_hplink">Yep</a>.
'Sinister' (Oct. 5)
Because "Paranormal Activity 4" doesn't come out until the middle of October, "Sinister" is here for all your haunted house needs. Ethan Hawke stars in the low-budget horror film, which debuted to strong reviews at SXSW back in March.
'Argo' (Oct. 12)
Ben Affleck directs and stars in "Argo," a drama about how the CIA used the guise of a fake film to extract six Americans from Iran during the hostage crisis. (The story is so unbelievable, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Caper" target="_hplink">it could only be true</a>.) Warner Bros. is so high on "Argo," they moved the film from its original September release date to October to take advantage of growing Oscar buzz. Affleck's latest will debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.
'Here Comes the Boom' (Oct. 12)
Paul Blart: Ultimate fighter? Kevin James goes boom in "Here Comes the Boom," which looks like "Warrior" mixed with a Happy Madison comedy.
'Seven Psychopaths' (Oct. 12)
A rogues' gallery of character actors (Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson) star in Martin McDonagh's follow-up to the critically acclaimed "In Bruges."
'Nobody Walks' (Oct. 12)
Co-written by Lena Dunham, "Nobody Walks" tells the story of an impetuous young girl (Olivia Thirlby) who moves to Los Angeles to finish her student film, but gets caught between a suburban married couple (John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt).
'Alex Cross' (Oct. 19)
It's Tyler Perry like you've never seen him before! The cottage industry drops his Madea drag for the time being to play the title character in "Alex Cross." A grotesquely jacked Matthew Fox co-stars as the film's antagonist, while Edward Burns provides support as Cross' possibly doomed partner. The film is based on the James Patterson novel "Cross." Morgan Freeman previously played Cross onscreen in "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came A Spider."
'Killing Them Softly' (Oct. 19)
Brad Pitt reunites with his "Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" director Andrew Dominik for the more succinctly titled "Killing Them Softly," a crime drama based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel "Cogan's Trade."
'Paranormal Activity 4' (Oct. 19)
Fourth verse, same as the first, second and third. At this rate, count on "Paranormal Activity 5" to hit theaters in October of 2013.
'Chasing Mavericks' (Oct. 26)
Based on a true story, "Chasing Mavericks" follows Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston), a California high school student in search of the massive waves known as mavericks. Gerard Butler is Jay's onscreen spirit guide, while one-time "O.C." nemesis Taylor Handley plays one of the film's bad guys. The trailer for "Chasing Mavericks" is aces, though that might have something to do with the outstanding use of Gym Class Heroes' hit single "Fighter."
'The Big Wedding' (Oct. 26)
<strong>UPDATE</strong>: "Big Wedding" has moved to April of 2013. A night of too many stars? Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried and Topher Grace star in "The Big Wedding," which surprisingly isn't a sequel to "New Year's Eve."
'Cloud Atlas' (Oct. 26)
"Cloud Atlas" has one of the year's best trailers and casts (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent). However, can Andy and Lana Wachowski (back behind the camera for the first time since "Speed Racer") and Tom Tykwer bring David Mitchell's sprawling 2004 novel to life on the big screen? That question is one of the biggest of 2012, and its answer will go a long way to deciding whether or not "Cloud Atlas" becomes a major Oscar player next year.
'Fun Size' (Oct. 26)
Director Josh Schwartz ("The O.C." and "Gossip Girl") makes the leap to the big screen with "Fun Size," a Halloween-set one-crazy-night movie that could recall the shaggy charm of "Adventures In Babysitting."
'The Sessions' (Oct. 26)
Formerly titled "The Surrogate" (as well as "Six Sessions"), "The Sessions" is an Oscar contender under any name. The film is a true-story account of a man (John Hawkes) stricken with polio who hires a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity. Both Hawkes and Hunt are already among the favorites for Best Actor and Actress, respectively, and supporting star William H. Macy could have a shot at a nomination as well.
'Flight' (Nov. 2)
Robert Zemeckis' first live-action film since "Cast Away" in 2000 casts Denzel Washington as a hero pilot who may have been drunk when he safely crash-landed a tumbling airliner. "Flight" is set to close the New York Film Festival in October, and could be on the short list for Oscar. Regardless of awards bona fides, it's good to have Zemeckis back with the living after his sojourn to the uncanny valley for films like "Polar Express" and "A Christmas Carol."
'The Man With The Iron Fists' (Nov. 2)
RZA. Russell Crowe. Kung-fu. Be there.
'Wreck-It Ralph' (Nov. 2)
It's "Toy Story" for video games! "Wreck-It Ralph" tells the story of a video game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) who wants to become a hero. The charming trailer -- which features real video game characters from the past -- sets "Wreck-It Ralph" up as the type of kids' movie that adults will love too.
'This Must Be The Place' (Nov. 2)
The long-delayed "This Must Be the Place" stars Sean Penn as a rock star-cum-Nazi hunter looking for the man who killed his father. But it's funny?
'Skyfall' (Nov. 9)
Or: "James Bond Rises"? Sam Mendes directs the latest Bond, which sort of looks like "The Dark Knight Rises" in all the best ways. Fingers crossed, however, that villain Javier Bardem doesn't ever speak through a ridiculous mask.
'Lincoln' (Nov. 9)
Steven Spielberg's epic historical drama "Lincoln" casts Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president. Translation: Here's your Best Actor frontrunner.
'Breaking Dawn Part 2' (Nov. 16)
The final installment in the "Twilight" franchise will also provide fans with the chance to remember stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in better times. Ah, memories.
'Anna Karenina' (Nov. 16)
Following "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement," director Joe Wright teams with Keira Knightley for a third novel adaptation with "Anna Karenina." The melodrama should be an Oscar player in all categories, and might provide Knightley with her first Academy Award. After all, Oscar voters love the young ingenue. (See also past winners Natalie Portman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon and Charlize Theron.)
'Life of Pi' (Nov. 21)
Like Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," "Life of Pi" comes from an acclaimed auteur (Ang Lee), is in 3D, and opens just before Thanksgiving. Twentieth Century Fox is likely hoping the similarities don't end there: "Hugo" went on to earn 11 Academy Award nominations and $184 million in worldwide grosses. Can Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's best-selling novel turn the same trick?
'Silver Linings Playbook' (Nov. 21)
David O. Russell's last film was the crowd-pleasing, Oscar-winning drama-comedy "The Fighter." The Weinstein Company is betting that lightning strikes twice with "Silver Linings Playbook," a drama-comedy about a man (Bradley Cooper) recently released from a mental institution who forms a relationship with one of his parents' neighbors (Jennifer Lawrence). Robert De Niro and Chris Tucker co-star in this adaptation of Matthew Quick's 2008 book.
'Red Dawn' (Nov. 21)
When this long-delayed remake of "Red Dawn" was first conceived in 2008, stars Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson weren't actually stars. So, this one has that going for it, which is nice.
'Rise of the Guardians' (Nov. 21)
Not to be confused with "The Guardians of Ga'Hoole" (or the upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy"), "Rise of the Guardians" imagines a world where Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and other "Guardians" watch over the children of Earth and protect them from evil. Featuring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman and Jude Law.
'Playing For Keeps' (Dec. 7)
Because, this fall, one sports-themed Gerard Butler-led drama isn't enough.
'Hyde Park on Hudson' (Dec. 7)
Bill Murray, Oscar winner? It could finally happen thanks to "Hyde Park on Hudson," a historical drama that stars Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Murray's "Rushmore" co-star Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt and Laura Linney as Margaret Suckley, FDR's cousin and secret lover. Scandal! Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") directs.
'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (Dec. 14)
Your precious is back. Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth for the first of three "Hobbit" films.
'Les Miserables' (Dec. 14)
Tom Hooper's last film, "The King's Speech," won Best Picture. Will his follow-up, an adaptation of "Les Miserables" do the same? If the 90-second teaser trailer has any say in the matter, "Les Miserables" very well might. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks star in the musical, which features <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/story/2012-05-28/les-miserables-singing/55253056/1" target="_hplink">all the actors singing live</a>. In case you needed an added jolt of gotta-see.
'Jack Reacher' (Dec. 21)
Tom Cruise gets his vigilante on "Jack Reacher," an adaptation of Lee Child's best-selling "Jack Reacher" book series.
'This Is 40' (Dec. 21)
Judd Apatow returns to the world he created for "Knocked Up" to check-in on the lives of Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) as they turn 40. The "This Is 40" trailers make the film seem like another winning dramedy from Apatow, who continues to cast his features to perfection: In addition to Rudd and Mann, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Lena Dunham and John Lithgow all co-star. No word yet whether original "Knocked Up" stars Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl will appear.
'Zero Dark Thirty' (Dec. 21)
Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to "The Hurt Locker" focuses on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Because simply being the next "Kathryn Bigelow movie" wasn't enough? Stop being such a show-off, "Zero Dark Thirty"!
'The Impossible' (Dec. 21)
Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star as a couple torn apart by the 2004 Thailand tsunami in "The Impossible." The film seems like a sneaky Oscar dark horse -- especially if the complete feature packs as much of an emotional wallop as its stellar trailer.
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