Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Geek Chic (2012 Cover Story)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Geek Chic (2012 Cover Story)Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone); Photography By Micaela Rossato; Styling by Laury Smith; Additional Credits.

So chivalry isn’t dead?
I like to think it’s not dead. [Laughs.] Sometimes I’ll have a door closed in my face by some guy who couldn’t just hold it for me and it feels like it’s dying. But then there are always the nice guys who pop up and remind you that there’s still a bit of chivalry left out there.

 

It’s easy for me to say yes—those are the kind of movies I want to see. I’m more likely to go see a horror film over a romantic comedy any day of the week.

 

Speaking of chivalrous men, you play the wife of Honest Abe in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. What made you sign on to such a bugged-out project?
The title, for one, baffled me. I didn’t know what to think, but I knew it had to be interesting because Timur [Bekmambetov, who directed Wanted] was doing it, and Tim Burton was producing it. When I opened the script and started reading it, I was totally blown away. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a great action-adventure piece, an epic tale that you get totally swept up in. I expected there to be more silliness and camp to it, and it’s just this straightforward journey of a complicated character. It’s like a superhero origin story.

Obviously, the characters’ backstories are flipped. What’s Mary Todd Lincoln’s role in the film’s revisionist, gore-soaked history?
The backstories are actually pretty accurate. The main thing that’s changed, of course, is this fictional element that there were vampires at that time. But everything else is historically accurate, so I got to do a lot of research about Mary Todd. A lot of elements of her personality and legacy aren’t represented in the film, because it’s the story of Abraham Lincoln. It’s not Mary Todd: Vampire Hunter.

A movie in which you slay vampires for two hours? Sign us up!
[Laughs.] Thanks—maybe some day. We focused more on the sides of Mary Todd that were witty, charming, fun, intelligent, and politically involved; all of those things that she was in real life. She was a uniquely strong woman of the period, and she had a real backbone and sense of self.

Why do you think it’s important for this film to not wink at the audience? With something like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you either have to go totally comedic or totally serious, and it’s interesting that you’ve all chosen the latter route for this one.
I think that the story, as silly as it sounds, is very respectful of the man himself, Abraham Lincoln. Everyone involved just really loved his story, and we all wanted to take the fact that we’ve turned him into a superhero and respect that. Because, if you think about it, we’ve already done that as a country, so it was a matter of taking that idea and running with it, making him a literal superhero on the big screen.

If you’re going to do something like that, then you have to commit to it. You can’t just half-ass it and wink at the audience the whole time, going crazy with these big action scenes and then say, “Oh, we’re just joking.” No, you have to commit to it and be real with it, and if you’re going do that, then you might as well go big. [Laughs.]

It seems like a project that most Hollywood studios would laugh at, though. Especially considering how weary producers these days are of green-lighting any genre films that aren’t remakes or sequels.
It helps tremendously that it was already a successful book; that being the case, it has a built-in audience, and the studio heads can read the book and wrap their brains around how the book works.

But, then again, it’s always scary, because you never know if things that work in a book are going to work in a film—things don’t always translate that way. So it definitely takes a lot of guys to say, “We’re going to stand behind this film, even if it sounds ridiculous. We believe in it.” I think that’s what the studio [20th Century Fox] did, and it’s really brave and cool of them to have done that. There aren’t that many people out there sticking their necks out like that.

With its summer release date and huge budget, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is kind of a big deal. Is that nerve-racking?
This one has been a big surprise to me. It seemed to be some obscure thing, but now everyone’s talking about it. We all want to do films that people see, so I’m thankful to be a part of something that has legs. But it’s also cool to be in something that gains a following over time.

Some of the greatest movies have been slow burns.
Exactly, and I love discovering those kinds of films.

I remember a funny quote from Robert Downey, Jr., back when the first Iron Man came out and made a financial killing its opening weekend, where he said something to the effect of, “It feels good to finally be in a movie that people actually see.”
Yeah, it’s reassuring. Any actor who’s been around for a while has done something that you pour your heart and soul into and then nobody sees it. [Laughs.] It doesn’t negate the experience, because the experience is great on its own, but the reward is getting to share it with people. That’s what you really want to be able to do, so hopefully we’ll be able to share Abraham Lincoln with the world, and people will actually see it.

Tags: mary-elizabeth-winstead, complex-cover-stories
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