Mary Elizabeth Winstead has had a ripper couple of years. Following her star turn in Final Destination 3, the North Carolina-born actress scored parts in such high-profile pics as Bobby, Grindhouse and Factory Girl. She also won the role of Lucy, John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) daughter in the last Die Hard movie – beating hundreds of other actresses to the coveted part.
Her latest film, Make it Happen, is the icing on the cake. Having had to give up dance as a teenager, the musical-drama offered Winstead a chance to strut her stuff again.
Every one of those blisters was well worth it, she tells CLINT MORRIS.
I better be careful what I say to you because aren’t you John McClane’s daughter?
I am! [Laughs]
Speaking of, Make it Happen is a lot smaller a film than Die Hard – definitely more intimate. What interested you about it?
Actually when I signed onto it it was an indie. It was much smaller. What interested me about it was that it was a chance for me to spread my wings and take on a lead role. It was also a chance for me to dance [on film] – something I’ve been doing since I was a kid.
So you were a dancer?
I was. I danced until acting took over. I did ballet every day for the majority of my life – until I got tall and grew hips. I fell so out of the mould of what it takes to be a ballerina.
So when did you give it up?
Well, I gave it up on a professional level – for a while there I was being groomed to be a professional ballet dancer – when I was a teenager.
Did you have to brush up on your dancing to do this film?
Yeah, I was pretty rusty. The training sessions were pretty brutal. It was pretty rewarding when you see the results though.
Who did the dance choreography on the film?
It was Tracy Phillips and Dominic Carbone, sort-of a dance duo. They were fantastic. They do a lot around L.A. They dance and choreograph at this club called Forty Deuce. They do a lot of the burlesque cabaret type stuff there that you see in the film.
Speaking of, did you have to visit a lot of these kinds of clubs?
I went to see them – that was a lot of fun, and I totally just wanted to be Tracy… she’s just sexy. I wanted to emulate her in some way.
Were you ever nervous doing some of those sexier scenes?
Um, well, I think it was just so exhausting that there wasn’t any room for nerves. You just had to go through it and do it as good as you can possibly can.
Where was the film made?
It was actually shot in Winnipeg Canada.
Oh really? So not Chicago?
We did a little bit in Chicago – we had like two days there where we just went guerrilla-style and filmed the streets.
I think the film has a lot of similarities with Flashdance. Would you agree?
Definitely. I think Flashdance is one of the only other dance films that’s simply the story of a girl trying to be a dancer. All the other films have been more of a concept about trying to put on a show, or get into a group, or what have you.. and this is just the story of a small-town girl who wants to be a dancer – and will do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Did you relate to the story?
Oh yes. As both a dancer and an actress. I can definitely relate to the rejection. You have to be passionate about something in order to keep doing it. You have to persevere.
So have you had nerve-wracking auditions like Lauren does in the movie?
Yeah, I went through a lot of them. I used to audition for dance schools all the time. You wear the number on your leotard and they don’t care who you are or what you do they just kinda look you over. It’s pretty brutal.
What are some of your favourite dance films?
Flashdance is the number one for me. I love them all though. I think, coming from a dance background, I just can’t help but be entertained by every single one. The choreography and the different directions… they’re always exciting to watch.
Being a dancer yourself though, are you always picking up errors?
No… but when I watch them my body wants to dance with them! I start jerking in my seat because my body is so accustomed to dancing [Laughs]
Do you like Centre Stage?
Yeah, I remember going to see that when I was younger. I had just come out of ballet school and I felt I related to it so much because of all the drama that goes along with being at ballet school.
Would a movie like it, or Make it Happen, work as well with a non-dancer in the lead?
I think it’s so much more fun to watch if the actors are really doing it. I know it can be faked with body doubles, but it’s not as good.
I actually didn’t know if you were really doing it – I didn’t know you were a dancer. It was hard to tell in some scenes because you had the hood over your face.
After we did that I said to them â€˜They’re going to think that’s not me’ but the thing is, that was part of the script, and part of the character that she’s always hiding behind the hood, so it was like â€˜Oh man, whatever’. [Laughs] Can’t always make people believe. Some people think I did. Some people think I didn’t.
How important do you think the music is in a film like this?
Super important! The hard thing about it is that we were dancing to different music when we were filming it. They would then replace those songs with other songs in editing. That was hard.
And if you had to do another job could you be a bookkeeper?
No, No! [Laughs] I’m not big on numbers.
You’ve had such a varied career- already! You really like to mix it up! What’s your favourite film that you’ve done?
I love all of them, and I’m honoured to have been involved in all of them, but I think working with Quentin [Tarantino, on Grindhouse] was a highlight because I was such a fan of his. I remember thinking in the audition that even if nothing happens I still got to audition for Quentin Tarantino. Such a joy. So exciting for me.
I was so cheesed when they split the films up here. You?
I spoke to Josh Brolin recently and he told me he was very disappointed in the treatment of Grindhouse.
Really? Yeah, I know – it’s such a shame in a way. Still, it was fun to be a part of it.
And Die Hard was fun too?
It was great. It was different because it was such a big film and it took so long to shoot – I’d work for a day, and then I’d be off for like a month. So it wasn’t that experience of being there every day, and being really close to everyone – it was kinda just like being thrown in and out. It was really cool to see that it all worked.
Now originally, wasn’t Justin Long’s character supposed to be the son?
Yeah, I think that was true – and there was no daughter character. That was changed just before shooting which is why I was thrown in at the last second.
Were you up against a whole bunch of actresses for that part?
I’ve heard…I’ve heard lots of people went in on it. It was in development for a long time, so over the years, a lot of actresses went in. I don’t know how they ended up with me [Laughs].
I do! You were great – besides Bruce, you were the best thing in the movie. Your Lucy was spot-on – you could tell she was John McClane’s daughter. Feisty as hell!
Ooooh, thanks so much!
I especially loved the uncut version they bought out on DVD. That was more Die Hard than the theatrical version. Don’t you agree?
What are you working on next?
I have a film I’m going to start, with Michael Cera and directed by Edgar Wright, called Scott Pilgrim vs. the world. I’m extremely excited about it. I actually just started Kung-Fu training for it today!
Oh really? Wow!
Yeah! It’s going to be really cool. I’m such a fan of Edgar’s – I can’t believe I’m going to be involved with it.
Edgar is great. A real film buff. We did an interview for Hot Fuzz a year or so ago and all we talked about were Steven Seagal movies – or more precisely, possible titles for future Steven Seagal movies.
Really? That’s so funny. He’s great. Like Quentin [Tarantino], he’ll talk for hours.
I remember we also talked a lot about Die Hard – and he was really cheesed that Bruce didn’t have…
…his hair. Yeah I know [Laughs]. I got that too.
Oh really he’s still going on about it!?
Are you back to Kung-Fu training this week?
I don’t really know. Started today, and we’ll see the schedule soon. I’m hoping to be pretty bad-ass by the end of it.
You must be sore. You go from dance to kung-fu?
I know [Laughs]. My body gets a beating.
Have you heard any rumblings of another Die Hard movie?
I haven’t. I’ve read things online here and there, but I’m not sure how reputable they are. I haven’t heard anything from the studio or from the director.
Are you contracted to do another?
I don’t think so, but I hope if they do another one they bring ol’ Lucy back!
I hope “Make it Happen” gets a release in the states there soon for you!
Me too. All the other dance films have done well here. It should too.
MAKE IT HAPPEN opens Thursday around Australia