Make It Happen - Mary Elizabeth Winstead Interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
LAST seen in cinemas in Die Hard 4.0, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has appeared in movies such as Sky High, Black Christmas, Final Destination 3, The Ring Two, Bobby, Factory Girl and Death Proof. In Make It Happen she plays Lauryn Kirk, a talented dancer who is determined to follow her dreams and enter a prestigious school of the performing arts. In this syndicated interview, she talks about some of the challenges involved.
Q> Did you do all your own dancing in Make It Happen?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I did all of the dancing but I can’t say for sure if they used only my stuff. But I trained for a month, eight hours a day, I learned every move, every trick and worked really hard. I grew up a dancer, so I did have a dance background. I wasn’t just starting from scratch. The goal was to use me as much as possible, and kind of pepper in my double if they wanted to make things look a little more professional. But the goal was to use me as much as they possibly could in every shot.
Q. So at one point when you’re wearing the hoodie, was that to help your double blend in?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Actually, the hoodie was in the script, that was my character’s signature thing and a lot of that stuff where you can’t see my face is really me. But it’s kind of a character thing, the whole idea is that she was hiding herself and not giving herself fully, so she was hiding underneath the hoodie.
Q. Which is ironic, given that dance is a form of self expression, isn’t it?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Exactly, that was kind of her arc, she goes to this club and learns to let loose and be freer and find herself a little bit more.
Q. Did you get a chance to work in any moves of your own in the dance scenes?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think that once the choreographers started working with me they wanted to use my strengths to their advantage, so they would put in moves that I was good at and moves that I could look good doing. I didn’t really help that much with the choreography, except for maybe little things here or there, if I said: “This is more comfortable for me to do it this way, it’ll look better if I do it that way.” But as far as the style goes it was their thing.”
Q. Were the dance sequences done in one block or spread through the shoot?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Well, we had about a month of rehearsal before we started shooting, and then we started shooting and all of a sudden I had to act all the time, and it was hard because one day I might be dancing and yet it was weeks since I’d rehearsed. It was a little tough to try to balance that and get back into the groove of things.
Q. The film boasts a real fusion of dance styles from cabaret to hip-hop to burlesque, doesn’t it?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think they’re calling it ‘cabarlesque’. It’s not your typical sort of burlesque, the performances that the girls put on in the club are theatrical and big and elaborate. It’s interesting and kind of different from the recent wave of dance films, which have been very hip-hop centric. Ours has hip-hop in it but it also has this other element which is really cool.
Q. There seem to echoes of Flashdance in there too, with the thwarted ambition of a dancer whose radical style is at odds with a staid dance school…
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Absolutely, Flashdance is my ultimate dance film and it was my favourite growing up. When I read this script that was one of the things I liked about it, that it was just about a girl trying to make it as a dancer, it wasn’t about some kids in a high school trying to put on a performance, which is what some of the other dance films have been a bit more centred around. That’s great and very entertaining, but for me this was more a story of one girl’s struggle to be a dancer. I wanted to be a dancer for many years, my sister’s a professional dancer, I know how tough it is to make it in that world, so it was something I could relate to.
Q. Have you ever found yourself in the brutal world of those stage auditions?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I have, yeah. I used to audition for dance schools a lot. I usually got in but occasionally you’re not right for whatever they’re looking for. But you do wear a number, and you go in when they call out your number. In this film she’s auditioning by herself, but in my case it was usually in a big group. You’d be at the back trying to follow the choreography and they’re like: “You’re cut, you’re cut.” And you’re wondering how they can even see you back there. It’s brutal, they really don’t care to be nice or to let you down easy, they’ll just say: “You were awful!” But normally I had better luck because I was auditioning for ballet schools and I was a trained ballet dancer so I’d usually fit in. But there were some that were pretty tough.
Q. Aren’t you a little tall to be a ballet dancer?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: That was pretty much why I quit, I knew that if I continued I wouldn’t really be a ballerina, I would be a teacher or something like that because I wouldn’t be performing on stage. You have to fit the mould and I didn’t really fit it.
Q. What are your favourite musicals?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Funny Face, because I love Audrey Hepburn. And Natalie Wood is another actress I love to watch in films like Gypsy and West Side Story.
Q. When did you decide you wanted to be an actress?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I’ve been dancing, singing and acting the majority of my life. When I was about 12 or so I started focusing on acting and I started working professionally in little places here and there. When I was 14 I started working in Los Angeles, that’s when I kicked it up a notch and really started going for it. I worked on a soap opera and did a bunch of pilots throughout my teenage years and when I was about 18 or so I started doing all the films that are now on my résumé.
Q. Including a role in the last Die Hard movie. Did being in a film like that have a big impact on your career?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: It did, which was surprising. I thought I would go and do this little part, it’d be cool being in a Die Hard movie and then it turned out to be the biggest thing for my career. I didn’t expect that at all, I got offered the part right after I finished Death Proof with Quentin Tarantino, and I thought:: “Oh cool, sure, I’ll go do that.” But I really didn’t think it was going to make much of an impact on my career at all. It was nice that people actually realised I was in the film.
Q. Do you remember the first time you were recognised by someone who had seen your work?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I don’t know, but I remember when Sky High came out and there was a giant billboard with my face on it on Sunset Boulevard. That was pretty crazy, I couldn’t really fathom that people were actually driving down and seeing my face every day. I think I was with my family, and there was this tall skyscraper far off in the distance and I thought: “That’s me!” That was pretty crazy.”