Mary Elizabeth Winstead killed us in Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, so it's only fitting she arm up to do battle against The Thing. Winstead is the lead in the prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic and sat down with Movie Fanatic to talk about finding her inner paleontologist who travels to the Arctic to help a Norwegian team unlock the mystery of The Thing they found buried deep in the ice.
Winstead tells Movie Fanatic what the frozen tundra shoot was like (hint: it was the warmest summer in Canada, so not so cold), working alongside the superstar of 2011 Joel Edgerton, her role as Mary Todd Lincoln in the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and what she most enjoyed about Carpenter’s original The Thing.
Movie Fanatic: You’ve done a lot of horror movies. What, for you, makes The Thing different from others you’ve worked on?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: To me it evokes a time period of my favorite horror films which are from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I feel like it had a little bit more of that classic, slow burn. The first half of the film is really kind of slow and suspenseful and then when the terror kicks in, it kicks in and it doesn’t let go. It doesn’t feel so modern and slick to me and that’s one thing I was really excited about going into it. And also the character was just so refreshing that it was just a no-brainer. I had to do it.
Movie Fanatic: The Thing is more dramatic, and less jokey than a lot of horror films. Was that also an appeal?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I feel like it’s a horror film for adults and I don’t think we get a lot of those. Most horror films now are made for teenagers; they’re about teenagers. I’ve done a couple of those horror films so there’s nothing wrong with that but the older I get the more I starve for more adult material. So that was one of the things that I really liked about this film and the character. There was a real maturity about it, I felt.
Movie Fanatic: Were you a fan of the original version of The Thing?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Yes! I was a big fan of the Carpenter version. I watched the Howard Hawks version when I first auditioned. I hadn’t seen that one. But I’d seen the Carpenter version many times and was a big fan.
Movie Fanatic: And did you recall that in your head before starting this to kind of get a feel for this world?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Oh yeah, I watched it a bunch of times. I think most of the actors did. Something that we talked about every day was if there was a scene that we felt was too similar to a scene from the Carpenter version, we’d all say, “Oh, can we change this around?” Or something that we thought was too outside of the Carpenter world. But every time I would have a question about something, the director (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) has seen it 18 billion times [laughs], so I’d always be like, “Hmm, I think I have a question. I don’t think this is quite right.” And then I’d always get smacked down because no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I have not seen it as much as the people behind the scenes of the film.
Movie Fanatic: How was filming in the snow?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Well, it was really hot by the end when we were shooting because we were shooting in the summer in Canada. So it was all actually fake snow [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: Some of The Thing filmmakers have referred to you as the Ripley of The Thing. Did you like that? Did you feel kind of Sigourney Weaver-ish?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I love the comparison, I tell you, for sure. I love Ripley and I love the Alien movies. The comparison was coming up a lot in preproduction so I tried not to think about it too much because I don’t want to copy her in any way. So I mainly tried to take it as a compliment and then move on.
Movie Fanatic: Are you generally that tough?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I don’t know! I try not to play her too tough because I didn’t want to try to be like, “Oh, she’s a tomboy, and she’s badass.” I really just wanted her to be a relatable woman who’s trying to be strong. So I like to think that I would be the same in that situation. But who knows? I might just be crying in a corner [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: What was it like working with your co-star Joel Edgerton (Warrior), who seems to be having quite a year?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: He is! I’m very happy for him because he’s the most deserving person in the world. He’s so talented, smart, funny, easy to work with, relaxed and down to earth, not pretentious in the slightest bit, just a sweet, fun guy, and he’s Australian. He’s just great, I love Joel.
Movie Fanatic: Did you have a favorite scene with the monster?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think the scene with the sort of two-headed monster creature, when Eric (Christian Olsen) was shooting that, it was the most disturbing thing, because they had this face of Trond (Espen Seim), who played Edward in the movie, and they were sort of conjoining the two of them. Eric is screaming and looking at this face and screaming and they’ve got it just pressing up against his face. It was just the most disturbing thing to watch being shot. It was incredible and freaky in that sort of form. And of course they enhanced things with CGI but that was one of the things that even without it, it was terrifying.
Movie Fanatic: How did you research the role of your character, a paleontologist?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I hung out with a paleontologist in Toronto a little bit and it was really fun. They have a really fun job and it’s really exciting. It was almost more like Indiana Jones than it was clinical. It was really relaxed and casual. There’s fossils hanging around and they’re picking them up and throwing them around, “Hey, catch this fossil.” It was really cool. So in that sense it would be a lot of fun… It was a lot of fun to be able to play a character as a woman in a movie that is that smart, that is strong, that is that put together, and not be neurotic or shrill or sexy or whatever the thing that women usually are in movies.
Movie Fanatic: Would you say your upcoming role in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is more history-based or is it more tongue in cheek?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: It’s hard to say. We all did a lot of research because there’s a lot of historically accurate stuff in there and it really follows the story of Abraham Lincoln in a totally factual way but then weaves in this completely fictional storyline. We all had to really know our characters and the history really well. And at the same time, once you get there, you have to be able to throw it all out the window and just know that you have the foundation, that you know the reality of the story but you have to go along for the ride of the fiction as well and let go of certain aspects of the reality and kind of have fun with it. That’s kind of what we did.