Last weekend Flickering Myth was given the opportunity to view a press screening of 10 Cloverfield Lane and interview stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and director Dan Trachtenberg in a roundtable discussion with other journalists. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was charming and spoke highly of her passion for the project, her regard for Goodman and Trachtenberg as well as other interests she has. Its clear from her personality that she is a bright, talented young woman who has a real love for acting and pushing the boundaries of film. You can read our review here and check back later for our interview with Goodman and Trachtenberg!
Minor spoilers follow for 10 Cloverfield Lane so if you want to avoid any other information (which I recommend) check back after you’ve seen the movie.
Q: Mary, I spoke to John Goodman and he was raving about you. He said he could really trust you.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Ah, that’s so sweet!
Q: Can you talk about working with him on this movie?
MEW: Yes, it’s funny he says that because I think he’s one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with. I kind of started picking up on it a few days into production. When we would be shooting, when the camera was just on me and he was behind the camera he would turn up his performance even more so he would be even scarier, his voice would be even more booming and he would be even more intense. I could tell it was just to get a response out of me and help me as an actor. I just thought “Wow, that’s just so incredible”. It’s so rare that happens at all, let alone from someone who is iconic as he is so I was incredibly thankful for that. To me that was just a sign of how generous he is.
Q: You frame that in such a nice, positive way, but I’m sure actually being his prisoner was quite terrifying at many points during the making of it.
MEW: Yeah, he could be really intimidating. It was incredible the way he could turn on a dime. I mean, he could be so sweet and loveable and then as soon as they call action, I mean, his voice is what would really get to me. He has the power to be so intense.
Ricky Church: And he usually plays loveable, goofy characters.
MEW: Yeah, exactly!
RC: Seeing him with you up against the wall and he’s screaming “What are you doing!” was intense.
MEW: And he does it so well which was so surprising. You’re just like “Where did this come from? You’re the guy I’ve been loving since I was a kid and wanted to give a hug to and now you’re terrifying.”
Q: Do you have a favourite movie with him?
MEW: Of course The Big Lebowski, I watched the Roseanne show growing up. He was a part of my life with every Coen Brothers movie. He’s just incredible.
Q: Are you a claustrophobic person because my question is about the most difficult scene for you.
MEW: Yeah, in the vent, that was pretty intense. I don’t consider myself a claustrophobic person, but that was quite something. They basically built this thing exactly to my dimensions, but just a little bit too small so that I would actually have to really work my way through it. It was this very long vent that went straight up at the end for quite a ways so every take that we did I had to figure out how to get out of it. I literally felt like a hamster! I would have to get my way down it and then climb up it with no footholds or anything to grab onto so I had to figure out how to wedge myself in to create the balance to kind of keep getting myself up and then somebody else on ladders would have to pull me out at the top.
MEW: So it was a pretty intense thing and I always had scrapes and cuts all over my arms and things because it’s this metal thing so that was quite intense every time. There were several times they were like “We’re going to have to reshoot something in the vent” and they just knew, every time, because they were like “Sorry Mary…” Now it’s become a running joke anytime I see someone from the movie, they’re like “So I think we’re going to have to get you back in the vent”. (Laughs)
Q: I did notice a bruise on your arm for a lot of the movie. Was it sustained from the stairs or the vent?
MEW: That’s a John Goodman fingerprint!
RC: Really? Wow, so add that to the terrifying factor.
MEW: Yeah, I know! Well it was so sweet because anytime before when we’d do those scenes where we’re sort of struggling with each other physically, he would always be very careful and be like “Is this okay? Do you want me to go light” and I’d always tell him “Just go for it! Just go for it!” Then the next day I’d be like “Whoa! What happened? What did we do?” (Laughs)
Q: Time Magazine has an article this week where they say it’s scientifically proven there is other life in the universe other than us. What do you think about a theory like this?
MEW: Well if Time Magazine says it, it must be true! (Laughs)
Q: (Laughs) They’ve been wrong before.
MEW: I mean, I think it’s certainly in the realm of possibility and I can’t imagine ruling something like that out. Especially at this point we keep finding out things that seem impossible to be totally possible. I think I would find it to be very interesting and exciting if there is and we’ll see if it happens.
Q: Are you afraid after this movie?
MEW: No, not really. I probably should be. You’d think after this movie I’d have learned a few things! I would start prepping or something, but I’m very much the opposite.
Q: I was surprised at the end of the film. It made me think because you’re a woman and I think of Sigourney Weaver in the Alien movies. It’s really empowering to see an everyday girl become a wonder woman. Did you feel pressured by that? How did you see your role?
MEW: Right, that’s one of the things I was really drawn to. I love the fact that she is such an every woman. Like you said she doesn’t come in with any special skills. You don’t find out she was a Navy SEAL at one point or something. That’s why she’s so good, she’s just using whatever tools are at her disposal to help her situation. She’s kind of aspirational for me in thinking that if I was in that situation, maybe I would have the strength to carry through what she does. But nothing that she does is because she’s got any sort of brute strength or special skill. It’s really about what an average person would be able to do and that’s something I really liked about her.
RC: Building off that question, in your career you’ve played a lot of kick-ass women in several of your movies. I really liked that Michelle, like you said, she thinks on her feet a lot and improvises and is really down-to-earth that way. If you were stuck in a situation like that, what would be your go-to weapon you’d fashion for yourself?
MEW: Oh my god, my go-to weapon. I don’t know, I’d guess you have to go with whatever you have.
RC: I like the crutch in the movie!
MEW: The crutch was great! I feel like she comes up with so many things I never would have thought of. I don’t think I would be as fast of a thinker. Maybe if I had a stiletto or something, I could use that to my advantage.
Q: Also building on that, is there something you point to in the canon of great performances of women in peril that you would draw inspiration or influence from in some way?
MEW: Yeah, I do think, bringing up Sigourney Weaver in Alien that’s always been a touchstone for me because I love the fact she, even though she goes through an arc, she’s a strong, intelligent woman who has to use that. She doesn’t start out as weak and dumb and then becomes strong and intelligent, she is from the beginning. That’s something I like about Michelle. She doesn’t start out as this fragile, weak, weepy girl and then finds her strength. She’s from the beginning active, strong and smart and trying to figure it all out. Of course she has to gain even more strength and even more skills, but she’s not some dumb little girl who has to learn a lesson in order to progress.
Q: She can put her fashion design skills to use too!
MEW: (Laughs) Yeah! Hey, you know, if that’s what you got!
Q: Which was the most paranoid-themed kind of movie you were in? Was it Tarantino’s Death Proof or something else?
MEW: I’ve done quite a few movies of the horror ilk. The first main one I did was Final Destination 3 where I was being followed by Death and had to save people’s lives all over the place. That was my first big kind of break in the realm of the horror world. And then The Thing, which was a few years later.
Q: So the Tarantino one was not so scary?
MEW: Not for my role, it didn’t really feel like a horror movie when I was making it. It felt more like a comedy so that one I always forget about and then I’m like “Oh yeah, that was a horror movie”. It just didn’t feel like it at all.
RC: You are a big horror fan. Like you said, one of your big breaks was in the Final Destination film and Cloverfield Lane feels, at times, a bit like psychological horror because you’re spending a lot of the time questioning what is and isn’t real. How did you approach that aspect of it?
MEW: That’s something I was really drawn to because I think I was able to go into it thinking a bit more of this psychological horror character piece and less of this big, action sci-fi thing. So that was nice for me as an actor. It sort of took the pressure off, like I’m just going to go in and act with John Goodman and we’re going to have this cat and mouse game. It really felt, sometimes, like doing a piece of theatre or something because you’re really just on these sets and we’re playing the scenes out in chronological order.
RC: And it is essentially a bottle movie too.
MEW: Yeah, exactly. So that was a really fun acting opportunity to get to look into John Goodman’s eyes and not know what he was thinking and try to figure it out.
Q: You just mentioned theatre, is that something you would like to do one day?
MEW: I think so. One day I would love to. I’ve tried to a couple times and then schedule has never worked out and I’m also pretty intimidated by it, but I would love the challenge of it, at some point, to try it.
Q: Is there a role you would like to play?
MEW: Oh gosh. I would love to do some sort of musical theatre. I do sing, but I don’t really sing like that so that would be a kind of challenge to figure out how to do that and to see if I could have that kind of vocal range and stamina. I think, I’m not really sure what it would be, but I would like to try something in that.
Q: You have dance training?
MEW: I do, I wanted to be a ballerina for a long time and then switched to acting. Singing was something that was always peppered in, but never a focus so it would be fun to focus on.
Q: Were you too tall?
MEW: Yeah, I was too tall which people are always surprised by because people always think ballerinas are tall. They’re long, but small, you know? Proportionally off. (Laughs)
RC: A minute ago you mentioned singing and I didn’t actually know this until recently, but you have a band called Got a Girl. How did that start up?
MEW: It actually started quite a while ago. The other person in the band with me is Dan the Automater and he did a couple songs for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He came to set at one point and we all went out for a meal and I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time, since I was a teenager, so I went up to him and said “I’m a big fan of yours, really nice to meet you”. I ran into him again at the premiere for that movie and, at that point, I guess this other artist called Koala had shown him a video of me singing in Death Proof, which didn’t actually make it into the movie, but it was on the DVD extras. He said “I really like the way you sing, we should try writing something sometime” and I was just like “Whaaaaat!” (Laughs)
I was super nervous, but he gave me his number and said “I’m going to send you some tracks, you write them and send them back with the melody and lyrics and I’ll see if it’s any good” and it kind of took off from there. We started making stuff.
Q: Since the beginning, was the idea to do a sequel to Cloverfield? When you were invited to work on the movie, was this the idea?
MEW: The idea, when I came into it, was that it was something that would be in the spirit of Cloverfield. So it wasn’t something that was connected in a very linear way. It was “you know what we did in Cloverfield, we took this very big idea and sort of made it fresh and new and that’s what we want to do in this film”. While we were shooting the name Cloverfield was coming up a lot with the characters and the potential ways it could be connected were talked about peripherally a lot, but not ways that I was privy to necessarily. Just something that was in the air that I was hearing in conversations around me. I didn’t know what the title was going to be at that point, I didn’t know until the trailer came out.
Q: Did you approach Dan or he approach you?
MEW: He approached me. I got sent the script and –
Q: The whole script?
MEW: The whole script. Believe it or not. It was very, you know, “here’s the link and once you open it you have this amount of time to read it before it deletes” so it was very top secret.
Q: Is it true you got the sides on red paper?
MEW: Yes, everything was on red paper so you couldn’t photocopy it and your name is on it so much that you can barely read the words. It was secretive, yeah.
Q: How’s that third act hit you when you read it on the page and are imagining yourself in this movie? It was a surprise for the audience, let me tell you!
MEW: Yeah, it was exciting for me! I did not expect it at all and I think, selfishly as an actor, I was just thinking how cool that would be to play that out!
Q: You’ve worked in big budget movies and low-budget movies and this is an extremely low-budget movie. Is there less pressure to work on a movie like that?
MEW: I think so, a little bit for me. It leaves open opportunity for experimentation a little bit more and I think even in the marketing it sort of lets that opportunity open which I think is really exciting. I think for everybody it allows a bit more creativity and less of the pressure of “we need to make this much money” or you got to do this or got to do that. It’s like let’s see what we can do with what we have. That’s the kind of spirit I like to be around in general.
Q: But the pressure was probably on a bit since there were really big names attached to this movie?
MEW: That’s true, that’s true. I don’t know, I guess I kept telling myself it’s this little indie just so I could not feel pressured. That’s the way I chose to see it! (Laughs)
RC: Well this was Dan’s first full-length feature film. Did he feel pressured at all or did you notice any pressure from him from going from short films to, not a big budget film, but a big budget for him?
MEW: I’m sure he did, but he definitely didn’t show it. He was incredibly relaxed and easy going, created a really fun, kind of child-like atmosphere on set. He really did just seem like the biggest film fan in the world and really made you feel that enthusiasm. It was such an easy-going environment. We really were, in between takes, just hanging out and talking and making fluffer-nutters. He introduced me to fluffer-nutters which I’m now obsessed with and are in the movie.
Q: Playing board games too.
MEW: Yeah, playing board games, a lot of talking about childhood movies and board games. It was just a really fun atmosphere.
Q: How often did J.J. (Abrams) show up on set?
MEW: He wasn’t on set because he was filming Star Wars so he was a little bit busy. (Laughs) But he was incredibly involved. I really didn’t expect him to be very involved at all because I knew he was shooting Star Wars and I though it wouldn’t really be possible. But he was on the phone constantly, emailing constantly, ideas constantly. He was really just as involved as the producers who were on set. His opinion and his presence was felt very, very strongly which I was totally shocked by. I don’t know how he does it, he’s super-human! I’m pretty positive about that at his point.
Q: What do you think of the marketing of this movie? It’s been very secretive and it’s a small budget movie, but at the same time they had a spot at the Super Bowl and at the Oscar Awards also. I thought that was interesting, what is your thought?
MEW: I think it’s great! I mean, I think we’ve reached this point where there’s so much information out there about everything that it’s kind of hard to be surprised by anything anymore. I kind of love it. It’s not something I was privy to in making the film. I had no idea how it was going to be marketed or anything like that, it’s not something I’m ever really aware of. But now seeing how this has been handled I really love it, I think people are much more excited now because of that! I think it just turned out to be a really good thing and I love how the trailers were done. Everything was sort of leaving things a bit mysterious. I much prefer to see a movie having known very little about it. It’s exciting when you realize that, when you go to the theatre and you’re like “I’m going to go see this movie and I don’t know what happens in it! This never happens!” Normally I read reviews and I read all these things and I really educate myself and that’s just kind of what I’ve gotten use to. I think it’s fun when you can do the flip side of that.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to become an actress?
MEW: Probably when I was about 10. I did a school play and just became completely obsessed. Even before that I really wanted to, around the time I realized that was a job when I was pretty young. It’s really stupid, but I remember watching, I think it was, Three Men and a Little Lady and realizing the little girl was an actor. That that was something she was getting to do, hang out on a movie set. I can’t remember how I came to that conclusion, but I just remember thinking that I should be that little girl in that movie and that I should have that part.
Q: Did you ever go to school for it?
MEW: I started working very young. My first professional job I was 12 and then I came to LA when I was 14 and sort of working. I didn’t do any schooling or anything like that for acting.
Q: Did you have a role model at the time? Any actress you wanted to be like?
MEW: Its funny, at the time when I was about 10 or 11, my role models were Natalie Portman and Claire Danes. They were like the young, cool actresses and I decided “I’m going to go to Columbia or Harvard and then I’m going to go back to acting once I’m done my schooling” but that didn’t really happen. (Laughs) That was what I wanted because those were the girls I looked up to.
RC: So the tagline is “Monsters come in many forms”. Given that the original Cloverfield was an actual monster movie and in this one its much more human, what made you want to explore the monstrosity of regular people?
MEW: I think, as an actor, that’s kind of what I’m always interested in exploring to an extent. The most mundane version of whatever that is and I love the fact this played on that on so many different levels, getting to be a hybrid of this small, intimate character piece and also dealing with the monsters on a much bigger, kind of epic scale. To me, it was a great opportunity to have the best of both worlds.
Thank you very much to Mary Elizabeth Winstead for speaking to Flickering Myth about her role in 10 Cloverfield Lane! The film comes out Friday, March 11 in North America and Friday, March 18 in the UK.
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