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Mary Elizabeth Winstead Bio
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (born November 28, 1984) is an American actress and recording artist. Winstead is known for her scream queen roles in the horror films: The Ring Two, Final Destination 3, Black Christmas, Death Proof, The Thing, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but has also branched out to other genres, including as John McClane‘s daughter Lucy in Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard, Ramona Flowers in the comic-to-film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and as an alcoholic who struggles through sobriety in the Sundance-selected drama Smashed.
The youngest of five children of James Ronald and Betty Lou (née Knight) Winstead, Winstead was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Winstead’s grandfather was a cousin of actress Ava Gardner. Winstead was only five years old when her family moved to Sandy, Utah, a Salt Lake City suburb. As a girl, Winstead attended Peruvian Park Elementary, where she excelled academically and attended advanced classes. A talented dancer and singer, Winstead studied dance in a Joffrey Ballet summer program in Chicago, Illinois and was also a member of the International Children’s Choir. During her youth, Winstead initially hoped to pursue a career as a ballerina and appeared in local ballet productions. As she entered her teens Winstead was forced to quit ballet due to her height. She later stated “I realized pretty early on that I was already too tall by the time I was 13… You know, your body has to stay that way for your entire life, and it’s pretty hard on your muscles and your bones”. Realizing that her career as a ballerina was unlikely, Winstead turned to acting instead; as she was still a teenager at the time, this required her to be homeschooled through most of high school.
Early work (1997–2005)
After leaving ballet to pursue an acting career, Winstead first appeared on Broadway during Donny Osmond‘s successful run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. After her brief performance in Broadway, Winstead began making appearances in various television series and earned guest roles in Touched by an Angel and Promised Land. She gained her first major role when she was cast as Jessica Bennett in the NBC soap opera series Passions. Winstead was a series regular and held the role from 1999 to 2000 before leaving to pursue other interests. Winstead later stated, “I really had one of the smallest roles on Passions, so I didn’t get too involved… I was able to leave pretty easily”. After leaving Passions, Winstead’s next significant television role was in the short-lived CBS drama series Wolf Lake (2001–002), where she portrayed the daughter of Tim Matheson‘s character. The series lasted ten episodes before being cancelled. In 2004 Winstead played a supporting role in MTV‘s made-for-television film Monster Island. In 2005 Winstead played a minor role in the indie comedy Checking Out. Winstead gained a much larger role later that year as the main antagonist of the Walt Disney Pictures film Sky High. The film, also starring Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, and Bruce Campbell, was well received by critics, holding a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, and fared well at the box office.
Breakthrough and mainstream success (2006–2011)
After her appearance in Sky High, Winstead began to work with horror producers James Wong and Glen Morgan, previously known for their contributions to The X-Files. Their collaboration began when Winstead starred in Final Destination 3 (2006) as lead character Wendy Christensen. The film did extremely well at the box office and, although it received mixed reviews from critics, Winstead’s performance was praised. Winstead also co-starred with Chelan Simmons, having first appeared with her in the 2004 MTV film Monster Island. Her next film appearance that year was in the slasher-film Black Christmas, where she once again collaborated with Morgan and Wong, as well as Crystal Lowe, whom she co-starred with in Final Destination 3. Black Christmas fared poorly with critics, but earned her a nomination for Scream Queen at the 2007 Scream Awards. Winstead inadvertently received a chance to lampoon horror scream queens when Tonight Show host Jay Leno, unaware of who she was, knocked on her front door and included her in a comedy segment spoofing horror films. She also appeared in Emilio Estevez‘s Bobby, a film depicting the last hours in the life of Robert F. Kennedy. Winstead became interested in Bobby after learning that Anthony Hopkins would also appear in the film. The movie boasted an ensemble cast, also including other heavyweights such as Shia LaBeouf, Harry Belafonte, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Ashton Kutcher, Christian Slater and Sharon Stone. A moderate box office success in selected theaters, Bobby received mixed reviews with many criticisms directed at the film’s script. She and her co-stars were nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast in a Motion Picture but won the Hollywood Film Festival Award for Best Ensemble Cast.
In 2007, Winstead appeared in a pair of high-profile event films. Quentin Tarantino cast her as a well-intentioned but vapid and naïve actress in his high-speed segment of Grindhouse called Death Proof, his half of a double-billed feature. Death Proof is the second film to feature Winstead with Kurt Russell (the first being Sky High), although Winstead only filmed scenes with Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms and stuntwoman Zoë Bell. Grindhouse opened to positive reviews but performed poorly at the box office. Winstead won the part of John McClane‘s estranged daughter Lucy in Live Free or Die Hard, beating out other candidates for the role including Jessica Simpson. The fourth film of the installment saw her co-starring alongside Bruce Willis, Justin Long and Timothy Olyphant, and was financially and critically acclaimed. The following year, Winstead screen-tested for the role of Wonder Woman in the film adaption of Justice League. She starred in a lead role in Make It Happen, a dance film. The film went straight to DVD in the US, and fared poorly upon release in the UK, which eventually led to its financial failure. Nevertheless, the film proved a delight for Winstead to shoot, as she had always dreamed about becoming a dancer. Critics agreed that the film’s biggest and most universally-agreed asset was Winstead. Reviewer Mike Martin says, “Winstead infuses every moment with an amazing amount of charm”. Matthew Turner of ViewLondon even goes to say that Winstead “compensates for the generally poor direction.”
Winstead co-starred opposite Michael Cera in the comic-book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, under the direction of Edgar Wright. The film sported an ensemble cast that includes Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza and Johnny Simmons. Filming occurred from March to August 2009. For her role, Winstead went through fight training for two months and performed most of her own stunts. The film was released in 2010 to critical acclaim but lackluster box office returns, though it did considerably well once released to DVD. Winstead’s performance was received generally well, and snagged her a Teen Choice Awards nomination for Choice Actress Action.
In February 2010, Winstead was cast in the lead role as paleontologist Dr. Kate Loyd in the prequel to The Thing. The movie was released October 14, 2011. Winstead stated that there was no romantic subplot for her character as she felt it would be out of place in the context of the film. Winstead based her performance on her sister, a neurologist. Critics singled out Winstead for praise in her performance as the lead. “[Winstead] stands out with her portrayal of a paleontologist. She keeps a cool, logical head whilst others around her start to panic. It’s a refreshing change from your traditional horror film where the lead characters do moronic things as if to prolong the story”, The Film Pie wrote. Las Vegas Weekly wrote, “Winstead makes for an appealing protagonist, and Kate is portrayed as competent without being thrust into some unlikely action-hero role”. Winstead tested to be the female lead in the Spider-Man reboot and the lead opposite Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo, a film adaptation of Benjamin Mee’s autobiographical novel of the same name, although she was not chosen in either case, losing out to Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson, respectively.
On February 17, 2011, it was confirmed that Winstead had been chosen to play the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, alongside Benjamin Walker, in the film adaption of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The film was released in summer 2012 to mixed reviews, but critics praised Winstead’s performance. San Jose Mercury News calls Winstead “a standout”, whereas Illinois Times says, “Winstead humanizes Mary [Todd Lincoln] by giving her a fiery wit and sense of resolve in the face of considerable adversity”. Winstead has also been commended for scenes with opposite Benjamin Walker, with Little White Lies saying they share “a sweet chemistry that gives their handful of scenes an endearing warmth”. Winstead was also a potential candidate for the role of Maria Hill in Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers film, losing out to Cobie Smulders.
Indie-film route and return to TV (2012–present)
Winstead was next cast opposite Aaron Paul in Smashed, an independent film directed by James Ponsoldt. According to Winstead, the film took a mere 19 days of shooting. Screened during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Winstead’s performance earned her rave reviews by critics, with JoBlo.com calling it “[…] the type of performance that could be Award-worthy if given the right kind of build-up by whichever studio picks it up”. The film was released theatrically on October 12, 2012, and saw Winstead snagging the Dallas International Film Festival Award for Best Actress. During a promotional interview for the movie with website Collider, she expressed pride about working in an independent project: “It’s something I’ve been trying to do for years and years […] It’s almost like my first movie in a weird way, cause it’s my first movie in this world, which is a world I’ve been trying to break into. [I’ve wanted] to be around filmmakers that are trying new things [sic] and not part of the system, so to speak, and they’re doing things on their own terms.”
Winstead was also cast in Roman Coppola‘s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, as Kate, “the best friend of [Charlie Sheen’s] girlfriend who just broke up with him. She is not so supportive of their relationship.” The film, released in selected theaters, sees her reuniting with Jason Schwartzman and Aubrey Plaza after their collaboration on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Winstead was cast in A.C.O.D. as Lauren Stinger, “long-time girlfriend of Carter (Scott) and the rock in his increasingly chaotic life.” She starred alongside Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Jane Lynch, Jessica Alba, Clark Duke, Amy Poehler and Catherine O’Hara. Although the film received mixed reviews, Winstead’s acting was singled out by Washington Post, who says “Winstead brings surprising depth to a small role, in which she has little to do except wait for her boyfriend to grow up, or to at least let go of his cynicism about love.” ScreenRant also says “[Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jessica Alba also deliver in their contributions – though both of their characters are mainly designed to be mirrors for Carter to examine his own life and choices.” The movie premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was later given a limited release.
On July 25, 2012, it was reported that Winstead and Topher Grace are cast in The Beauty Inside, a project dubbed an “interactive social film“. The film is broken up into six filmed episodes interspersed with interactive storytelling that all takes place on the main character’s Facebook timeline. The main character, Alex, wakes up every day with a different appearance; Winstead played the role of Leah, a woman whom Alex falls in love with. The web series acts as a campaign by Intel and Toshiba; The first episode airs online on August 16 and the project wrapped up on September 20. Winstead collaborated again with James Ponsoldt in The Spectacular Now as Holly, the sister of Miles Teller‘s lead character. Winstead co-starred alongside Brie Larson (whom she co-starred with in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler and Bob Odenkirk. The film, based on the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp, opened to favorable reviews and good results in its limited release with a total gross of $6 million over a production budget of $2.5 million. Next, Winstead reprised her role in the film A Good Day to Die Hard, shooting her scenes in only one day. Winstead stated in an interview with Yahoo! that she was not expecting another sequel but “[had fun reprising] the father-daughter rapport.” Winstead’s scene was only available in the theatrical version, and was cut from the unrated version. On October 12, it was revealed that Winstead was Marvel‘s top choice for the role of Sharon Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the role was eventually given to Emily VanCamp.
In 2013, Winstead was cast as the lead role in Alex of Venice, a film directed by Chris Messina and penned by Jessica Goldberg. Winstead played “an environmental lawyer who is left to raise her 12-year-old son alone after her husband bolts.” Premiering at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, reviews for the film were mostly positive, with many critics praising Mary’s part in the film; Variety magazine called her performance “extraordinary” and stated that the film “belongs to Winstead, whose minor-key thesping proves as compelling as her heavy lifting in “Smashed.” Alex’s gradual metamorphosis into a richer, more fully realized young woman is accomplished in hundreds of tiny emotional brushstrokes, flitting across her girl-next-door wholesomeness in ever-shifting patterns”. Website Twitch Film also expressed praise for her part, ramarking that Winstead “has matured from her early roles in horror films, to more impressive fare such as Smashed. She has grace, courage, knows how to move the audience and the camera loves her. While her resume up ’til now is a mix of blockbusters (Final Destination 3, Live Free or Die Hard) and indie favorites (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), this will change as she continues to grow into her profoundly blossoming career. This is an actress ready to do great things. As Alex, she always wears a look of determination, even when she’s exhausted and losing the new battles thrown at her: learning how to be alone, taking care of her family and keeping the job she’s worked her entire life for. Alex is a tender soul but does her damndest to keep it together. It’s an admirable trait not many can do, let alone be challenged with.”
Winstead was next reported to co-star in the Cinemax drama pilot, Quarry. The project, set in the 1970s, is based loosely on a series of books by Max Allen Collins. In July, Winstead was also reported to star in Stearns’ debut feature film Faults. Winstead and her co-star Leland Orser were praised for their performances, with Film School Rejects calling it an “exceptional performance” and Indiewire saying “[Winstead’s] inscrutable expression epitomizes this unique movie’s enigmatic appeal”, and even “ranks among her best”. Winstead was next cast alongside Jeremy Renner and Rosemarie DeWitt in Kill the Messenger. The thriller tells the true story of investigative journalist Gary Webb. Winstead played the role of Dawn Garcia, the editor of the San Jose Mercury News, where Webb worked. It was given a limited release on October 10, 2014, to favorable reviews but little interest in its theatrical run.
In March 2014, Winstead was cast as the lead of ABC‘s drama pilot Exposed. Winstead will play Anna, “an investigative journalist who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth, including making questionable alliances.” On June 6, Winstead was cast in A&E‘s US remake of the French drama series The Returned. Winstead will star alongside Sandrine Holt and Agnes Bruckner for a 10-episode run. Fans have also started a campaign to have Winstead play as Mary Jane Watson in the next sequel for The Amazing Spider-Man, set for release in 2016. Next, Mary joined the cast of John Krasinski‘s The Hollars. She starred alongside Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick and Mary Kay Place yet again, after their collaboration in A.C.O.D., Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Smashed respectively, as well as Sharlto Copley, Josh Groban, Charlie Day and Margo Martindale. In August 2014, Winstead was cast in Bad Robot and Paramount‘s thriller Valencia. The film, helmed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Dan Casey, will see her starring alongside John Goodman.
On 25 Feb 2015, Winstead has reportedly signed with United Talent Agency.
In May 2015, Winstead was cast in the leading role of Mary Phinney in PBS‘ civil drama Mercy Street. The six-part series tells the tale of two volunteer nurses on opposing sides of the Civil War, and will air in winter 2016. In June, Winstead was also reported to headline Swiss Army Man, an indie comedy-drama directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The movie, also co-starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, is scheduled for release in 2016.
In September 2015, Winstead continues the TV route in CBS‘ political horror comedy BrainDead, as leading character Laurel. The series, set in Washington, D.C., is planned to air in summer 2016 with 13 episodes.
Winstead has expressed her interest in singing, but initially did not plan on pursuing it as a career. “I wasn’t ever really going to be a singer, but it’s just something I’ve always loved.” For her part of the Grindhouse film, Tarantino had Winstead sing an a cappella cover of The Shirelles‘ hit recording “Baby It’s You“. She was asked impromptu to perform the song and the cast were reportedly “gob-smacked” by her singing.
“We did a song together, and then one song kind of turned into five, and then we just decided to make an album out of it. So we’re currently working on it, going at our own pace, and not putting too much pressure on ourselves.”
In 2009, Winstead and music producer Thai Long Ly co-wrote a song, “Warmth of Him”. Although first rumored to be a pre-release single, Winstead has since then confirmed that she was just exploring her interest and does not plan on releasing any music albums.
In an interview with Complex for the June/July 2012 issue, Winstead revealed she was working with Dan the Automator and is indeed planning on releasing a music album. “The inspiration behind it is, like, French ’60s pop—Jane Birkin, and stuff like that. It’s kind of married with Dan’s sensibility, which is his beats and a little bit of that low-key hip-hop vibe. So it makes for something that’s very unique; it’s very lounge-y and light. It’s got a little bit of a French quality,” Winstead discloses.
I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now (2014)
In summer 2013, Winstead and collaborator Dan the Automator formed the band Got a Girl, and released their demo “You & Me” on May 21. The album is at first reported to be set for release in January 2014 via EMI, but its release has been bumped to July 2014.
In June 2014, Spin.com revealed that the album, titled I Love You But I Must Drive Off this Cliff Now, will be released on July 22 via Bulk Recordings. The album’s full tracklist is also revealed on AllMusic. The first single, “Did We Live Too Fast” premiered on June 3.
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