- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Mary Elizabeth Winstead has cemented her status as a top-tier action star thanks to her most physically demanding role yet in Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s neon-soaked actioner, Kate. Set in Tokyo, Winstead plays the eponymous Kate, a poisoned assassin who only has 24 hours to find the man responsible for her impending death. Despite having a few months off to recover from another taxing role as Huntress in Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, Winstead knew that Kate was going to push her to the limit, which prompted her to make an understandable request.
“I was really tired after Birds of Prey. Just the way that that film was shot was pretty taxing because there were really long takes,” Winstead tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Most action movies break it up into pieces, and just the way that Cathy [Yan] directed it, she wanted these beautiful, long, cinematic, no-cuts kind of movements. And that looked really cool, but it was really hard to pull off. So I was coming off of that, and I remember meeting with Cedric [Nicolas-Troyan], and just going, ‘Okay, but can we have some edits in this? Because I don’t know if I can do just one long take anymore.’ So he was just really lovely and really assured me that we would do it how I needed to do it and that it would be okay. And by the time we got there, I was so ready to go again. I was ready to do whatever needed to be done.“
Since Birds of Prey‘s release in early 2020, Warners and DC Films have announced three HBO Max-exclusive films including Black Canary, starring Winstead’s Birds co-star Jurnee Smollett, as well as Batgirl and Blue Beetle. While she’s unaware of any current plans, Winstead would love the chance to reprise her role as Huntress/Helena Bertinelli in either her own film or Black Canary’s.
“If it came together in the right way, it would be so much fun,” Winstead shares. “I know that Jurnee [Smollett] is doing a Black Canary movie, which I’m so excited for. She’s amazing and she’s going to kill that, so I can’t wait to see where that goes. I don’t know if that’s going to involve Huntress or not, but I love that character and I love the version that we were able to create in Birds of Prey. But I also know there are lots of different versions and iterations of Huntress that have been out there before, whether it be in TV or comic books. So there’s lots of different places she could be taken. If that’s with me, that would be really cool, and I’d love to see where that goes. But I’m also happy to watch whatever direction it goes in.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Winstead breaks down the biggest action sequences from Kate, and explains how she nearly crossed paths with co-star Woody Harrelson when she was up for Zombieland in 2008. She also reflects on the “unexpectedly joyous” Scott Pilgrim vs. the World reunion that took place during 2020’s version of the pandemic.
So what were you actually drinking in those Boom Boom Lemon bottles?
(Laughs.) I’ll have to remember back to what our props department cooked up for me, but I think it was water with a little vitamin lemon flavoring in it or something. It was based on a drink called C.C. Lemon, which we could not get the rights to, but that’s kind of what we were going for.
Since your job has the potential to ruin certain foods or drinks that you really like, it’s probably wise that you didn’t use a drink you really enjoy.
Right, that’s true. I never thought about that. Luckily, I didn’t have to drink it so much because most of the film, I’m trying to get it, but not really getting it. So it’s sort of like that holy grail at the end when I finally get my Boom Boom Lemon. I really was wanting it myself by that point.
Has a past job ruined a certain food or drink for you due to the sheer number of takes with it?
Oh, I’m sure. I remember having to eat a bunch of McDonald’s hamburgers once for something. So I was off that for a little while, but those burgers are kind of like crack as well, so eventually you go back to them. (Laughs.)
Kate was forced to grow up too fast as her childhood was stolen from her. Did you view that soda as a remnant of her lost childhood?
Absolutely. I thought of it as this child-like, really simple pleasure. It’s something that you might lose as you get older, but for Kate, it’s something that she retained because, in a way, she’s a bit stunted. So for her, just the pleasure of having this drink was enough to bring her some small bit of happiness because she didn’t really have very many adult pleasures in her life.
Ani (Miku Martineau) also gives her a brief moment or two to be the child that she never got to be via the t-shirt and sunglasses. Ultimately, she’s trying to protect Ani’s childhood from being ripped away like her own.
Yeah, when Kate looks at Ani, she sees herself. She sees the potential of who she could’ve been if her life didn’t go the way that it went. So I think there is this sort of fascination of looking at someone who is just a regular kid and the potential that they have in their life to be a fully-fledged person and a fully-realized human being who gets to go out in the world and be what they want to be. So I absolutely think it rubs off on her, but it’s also something that she eventually realizes and hopes that Ani is able to hold on to.
(Laughs.) Pretty much. I did a play in between. So I went and did a bunch of talking in between doing more action, which was something I felt I needed to do at the time. (Laughs.) So I did that, and went straight back into training for Kate. But it was perfect because all of the training for Birds of Prey was still alive somewhere in my body, so I didn’t have to do as much training for Kate as I otherwise would have. All of the basic training was already done.
Were you pretty beat up from Birds? Did your body need that small break?
I did. I was really tired after Birds of Prey. Just the way that that film was shot was pretty taxing because there were really long takes. Most action movies break it up into pieces, and just the way that Cathy [Yan] directed it, she wanted these beautiful, long, cinematic, no-cuts kind of movements. And that looked really cool, but it was really hard to pull off. (Laughs.) So I was coming off of that, and I remember meeting with Cedric [Nicolas-Troyan], and just going, “Okay, but can we have some edits in this? Because I don’t know if I can do just one long take anymore.” So he was just really lovely and really assured me that we would do it how I needed to do it and that it would be okay. And by the time we got there, I was so ready to go again. I was ready to do whatever needed to be done.
Did any of the fighting styles carry over from Birds? Or was it all fresh?
Yeah, a lot of the basic techniques carried over. A lot of what 87Eleven and 87North do is really jiu-jitsu based, so you start out learning a lot of jiu-jitsu moves and then build from there. So a lot of it was still based in that kind of basic training, and then we added knife work, a lot more gunplay and just built off of what I had originally trained for with Birds.
So just for the record, of all your physically demanding roles, is Kate officially the hardest?
Yes, I would say it was the most demanding, but not necessarily the hardest, if that makes sense. Just because my skill level had grown so much by the time I got there. I’ve had a much harder time on films where I’ve had much less action because I wasn’t as prepared for it and my body wasn’t as ready for it. But on this film, I felt like I honed in on it, and so, in a way, it felt really natural and a bit more effortless than some of my action roles in the past.
Which role was quite difficult given your skillset at the time?
I would say Gemini Man was harder for me because that was my first big step up in the action realm. I did a lot with Scott Pilgrim, which was also really hard. But I trained a really long time for that as well, and then had a bit of a break. I did action films, but I didn’t have as much stuntwork to do in them until like ten years later. And then I jumped into Gemini Man training, but I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to have to really feel like I was nailing it. So I did it, and while I hope I did it well, I was a bit stressed out from wanting to get it right. (Laughs.) And with all the gun work and choreography, and especially being there with Will Smith, I was just a little intimidated. But now, with Birds of Prey and Kate, I feel like a much different person in the action realm than I did with Gemini Man.
So Kate is poisoned early on in the film, and she’s basically given 24 hours to live. Since you probably shot out of sequence, did you try to chart how sick she should be, prior to shooting each scene?
Definitely. And Cedric was really helpful and would remind me. Occasionally, he’d just pop his head in and go, “Okay, remember, you’re dying. You should be a little bit more out of breath.” He was really good about reminding me of that. But also, the makeup and the wardrobe was so helpful because I couldn’t really ignore the fact that I had three hours of makeup that day. I thought, “Okay, I’m in three hours of makeup with gunshot wounds, my veins protruding and my eyeball sticking out of my head. I’m really rough right now. I’m not going to be very spritely in this scene.” So I had a lot of visual reminders for myself every time I looked in the mirror.
You trained so hard to make the fight choreography look flawless, but at the same time, you had to account for Kate’s rapidly deteriorating health during those fights. Was that a tricky balance to strike?
It was great because, in so many action films, you’re trying to get things perfect and slick. And that’s what can sometimes be a little bit stressful about it for me. But in this film, she’s really angry, she has nothing to lose and she’s dying and deteriorating. So I felt like I could get thrown on set and give it my all, and as long as I was really going for it, if I fell down, if I tripped, if I missed or whatever, it was okay because my character is not supposed to have it all together. (Laughs.) So there was something really liberating about that for me. It made it really easy for me to be totally free in those scenes, and I really loved it.
The indoor restaurant fight is the first extensive action sequence. What stands out in hindsight?
When we were learning that fight, the most intimidating thing about it was the length of it. It’s a really long fight and it’s comprised of several sections. It just keeps going and going into different rooms. So trying to keep all of the choreography in my head was the most stressful part of that one for me. There were so many small and little movements. One moment, I have a gun and then I don’t have a gun. And then it’s hand-to-hand combat and then I have a knife. There were a lot of different weapons coming in and out. So that was more mentally difficult than physically difficult.
The marketplace shootout that followed is incredible as well. I particularly love that moment where you’re positioned against the two walls and you slide down to finish the kill.
Yeah, with the whole marketplace fight, melee or whatever it was, we didn’t really have time to rehearse it very much beforehand. They were building the sets and really figuring out what needed to happen right up until the last minute in terms of the choreography with Cedric and [stunt coordinator] Jojo [Jonathan Eusebio]. So every day, when we were shooting, I remember going, “Okay, I still don’t know what I’m doing once we get to that.” Because in the script, it just described a big shootout, but you didn’t really know how it was going to play out logistically in reality. So every day that we were there on that location, Jojo would just throw stuff at me. He would just be like, “Okay, today, you’re going to be hanging up on this wall, you’re going to shoot the guy, you’re going to slide down, you’re going to get up, you’re going to punch this guy, you’re going to run around the corner, you’re going to come around the other side and then we’ll cut.” (Laughs.) And then we’d do it. And then we’d move on to the next thing and he would describe to me what I would do. And then, we’d rehearse it a couple of times and then I’d just do it. So there was something really fun about that improvisation, but with action. It felt really good to be at the point where I felt comfortable doing that, and it was great to be along for the ride with him.
And what sticks out from the kitchen fight with Miyavi?
That’s really my favorite fight. That’s the first fight that we shot, and I just love the raw brutality and spontaneity of it. I also loved the fact that we end up fighting each other with random objects from the kitchen and whatever’s at our disposal. It really felt like unknown territory because we hadn’t shot any fight scenes yet. And also, Miyavi and I had barely rehearsed together because he had been performing on tour. So I was mainly rehearsing with his stunt double, but we couldn’t really shoot with stunt doubles in that scene just because of the nature of the location and the way that we were shooting it. We just got thrown in there to see what would happen, and so there was something a bit dangerous about it. When I watch it and see us looking at each other, getting ready to throw a punch, I know that it felt real in the moment. It wasn’t, like, “One, two, three, punch.” It really felt like, “I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me, who’s going to punch first?” (Laughs.) So it felt a little bit scary, but also real and exciting.
Woody is one of those guys who’s worked with everyone, so I was surprised to see that Kate was your first project together. Did your paths ever cross prior to this movie?
I don’t think so. Over the years, I’ve probably auditioned for a couple of his films. I remember being up for Zombieland at one point. So there are close calls in those kinds of ways, but I don’t think I’d ever met him before. Obviously, I’ve been a huge fan of his work, and he’s exactly who you hope he would be. He’s so laid back, funny and warm, and he was a great new energy to have on set whenever he came around. And he was very easy to form a rapport with, which is what we needed to have.
How’d you spend your downtime in Thailand?
Well, we shot almost entirely nights. So that made it a bit tricky to have any real downtime because we’re sleeping during the day. So on the weekends, I’d be sleeping during the day, and then I didn’t have a lot of energy to go out partying in Bangkok at night. (Laughs.) So I tried to see some sights. There was an amazing crew there, so I had a couple of people that would take me around to some restaurants, The Grand Palace and some other beautiful tourist locations. I was blown away by everything there, and I loved the people and the culture so much. So I’d love to go back there when I have a little bit more time to spend in the daylight. That would be great.
I don’t think most viewers realize that night shoots can run from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Do you ever get used to that lifestyle?
Not really. I probably got the most used to it on Kate than I have before because it was the most consecutive nights I’ve ever done. But it was still odd. I never really got a full good sleep. I was always lying there in the daytime, going, “I should be sleeping right now, but I can’t.” So there’s always something odd about it for me. I’ve never really fully been able to get turned around that way.
So this is the part of the interview where I beg the universe to make a Huntress movie. Have you daydreamed about that at all?
If it came together in the right way, it would be so much fun. I have no idea. I’ve genuinely not heard any plans. I don’t have any details about anything that’s in the works or anything like that. I know that Jurnee [Smollett] is doing a Black Canary movie, which I’m so excited for. She’s amazing and she’s going to kill that, so I can’t wait to see where that goes. I don’t know if that’s going to involve Huntress or not, but I love that character and I love the version that we were able to create in Birds of Prey. But I also know there are lots of different versions and iterations of Huntress that have been out there before, whether it be in TV or comic books. So there’s lots of different places she could be taken. If that’s with me, that would be really cool, and I’d love to see where that goes. But I’m also happy to watch whatever direction it goes in.
Jurnee’s movie is the third DC movie being made for HBO Max [Batgirl, Blue Beetle]. So there’s at least a possibility since streaming is such a priority now. Plus, Huntress probably had the most character development in Birds, so there’s a lot of places you could take that awkward assassin.
It would really be so much fun. I was so happy that I was able to bring a bit of humor to that character. When you’re playing an assassin, it can be so easy for things to get so self-serious, but it was great to be able to have a little bit of fun with her. So I would love to get to do more of that.
2020 had very few silver linings, but one of them was your Scott Pilgrim vs. The World reunion table read. Was that a welcomed balm at the time?
It was. It was really such an unexpectedly joyous thing to be a part of. I think we all knew that we would have fun with it and that it would be great to see each other again, but it was really a surprise how good it felt to revisit that, say those lines again and see all of their faces. It was just really, really lovely, and I couldn’t believe how well everyone slid right back into their characters. It was really like going back in time. Everybody’s voices, intonations and line-readings were exactly the same as in the movie. It was amazing to see how little had gone and how much had been retained. It was really cool.
I’m sure everybody wanted to have huge box office back in the day, but what’s happened with that movie since — and its status as a cult classic — is probably more rewarding.
Absolutely. And I don’t think any of us expected it to happen. Of course, you hope that your work will be appreciated down the line, especially when you make films that aren’t appreciated in the moment. So it’s something that you hope for, but it’s been really, really lovely to see it unfold and to see it gain traction and gain a bigger and bigger audience over time. There’s something really poignant about it for me. It’s just really sweet because it was such a huge thing for me when we made it. I spent, really, years of my life revolving around the making of that movie, then putting the movie out and the experience of it, and the friends that I made through it. So it means a lot that people are still watching it and enjoying it.
Please forgive the analogies, but when a movie doesn’t work out for whatever reason, can the feeling be compared to a bad breakup or a hangover? In other words, is it weeks of pain and suffering or just 24 hours?
I assume it’s different for everybody. I don’t tend to dwell too much on those things. I would imagine that if I was the director, it might hit me a bit harder because you can’t move on as quickly after dedicating years and years of your life to one project. But as an actor, I try to just go, “Wow, okay, I’m surprised that that didn’t work, but on to the next thing.” I try not to dwell on it too much. With Scott Pilgrim, I remember just being sort of perplexed because we all loved the movie so much and we were all so excited for the world to see it. I remember there being a couple of quiet days and just going to myself, “Huh, that’s interesting. Okay. That’s surprising, but alright.” (Laughs.) And then you just keep it rolling. I don’t think it does much good to dwell on it too much.
So you really showed up to set one day on Death Proof and were told you’d be singing out of the blue?
Yes, I did. I had been told that I would be singing something in that scene, but it was never given to me and it was never really talked about again. I thought it was going to be something like humming along to the radio. I thought, “Oh, they’ll play a song, and I’ll just bop along to it.” I didn’t think that [Quentin Tarantino] wanted me to actually sing out on my own. So, yeah, that was a last-minute thing that was thrown at me that day.
So in the future, if you’re asked to play your fifth character named Kate, are you going to draw a line in the sand at that point?
(Laughs.) I don’t know. It could go either way. Either I have to put a stop to it, or I have to really embrace it and turn it into a joke. Maybe I need to only play characters named Kate from now on. (Laughs.) So I’m not sure which way I’m going to go.
If there’s ever an issue with a character name, is it considered bad form to discuss a potential change?
It’s just not something I would ever think to do. It’s like reading a book and going, “I don’t like the name of this character. I’d prefer if they had a different name.” So I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before. I don’t know if that’s something you would necessarily feel when reading a book, so I feel like it’s the same thing when reading a script. You just kind of go, “Oh, that’s this person’s name. That’s their name.” You take it at face value because it’s part of who they are. So it’s not something that I’ve considered in the past.
Did an idea for a 10 Cloverfield Lane sequel ever materialize with your character, Michelle? When an inexpensive movie makes seven times its production budget, a follow-up is practically automatic.
No, not that I’m aware of. I remember it was something that was being talked about. It was like, “Oh, maybe there’ll be another one,” in a very vague sense. So nothing specific ever came up, but I would love to do it. I loved that world and that character. It’s just the kind of movie I really like to make, where it’s every genre mashed into one. So I would love to revisit that as well.
As I get older, I regret not keeping in touch with people as often as I should. Since you create temporary families and intense bonds with your various casts and crews, do you feel that type of regret quite often?
I feel that all the time, yeah. Because you’re constantly going from set to set, it takes a lot of work as an actor to keep those relationships really alive. And oftentimes, they just eventually fizzle out because everyone’s traveling and away and busy. It’s difficult. So I have managed to hold on to a few lifelong friendships that I’ve made through sets, and there’s some that I wish I had kept on to longer. They have become occasional texts through the years and things like that. But yeah, it is hard, and I wish that I was able to have all of those people in my life on an everyday basis.
What constitutes a good day on set for you?
When I feel exhausted from the work that I’ve been doing, when I feel emotionally and physically depleted but still happy, that’s a really good day for me. (Laughs.) Just knowing that I put everything out there and that I’ve given all that I have to give is a feeling that I’m always chasing.
Lastly, without stating the reasons why, are you in any hurry to get back to work?
I’m just starting to look at stuff now, but I don’t really know when I’ll actually end up back on set. So I’m not rushing. I’m going to just do it when it feels right, but I am just now starting to read things at least. I’m giving five minutes here and there to at least open an email occasionally. (Laughs.) So yeah, I’m excited about what this new version of life will look like when it happens.
Well, Mary, congratulations in more ways than one.
Thank you so much!
Kate is now available to stream on Netflix. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day