By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Scream queen favorite Mary Elizabeth Winstead returns to television Monday, March 9, as a series regular in the new A&E supernatural drama series “The Returned,” based on the acclaimed French series “Les Revenants.” The hour-long series airs Mondays 10 p.m/9C.
In the 10-episode series event executive produced by “Lost” creator Carlton Cuse, Winstead plays Rowan, a young mother who is picking up the pieces of her life after her boyfriend’s sudden death some years ago. Engaged to another man, her life is thrown off balance again when her former boyfriend turns up alive and well, and not a day older than the last time she saw him, in their small town. He’s not the only one. Several other people long presumed dead begin to turn up alive and un-aged. Strange phenomenon and a string of murders come to pass as these former residents try to reestablish their lives.
Returning to the different pace of TV production is an adjustment for Winstead, who was a regular on the soap opera “Passions,” as a teenager at the turn of the century. Now 30, the North Carolina-born, Utah-raised actress has quite an extensive list of movie credits, including “Final Destination 3,” “Black Christmas,” the remake of “The Thing,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” and playing Bruce Willis’ daughter in two “Die Hard” films.
The brunette beauty branches into feature film producing with the recent release of the independent psychological thriller “Faults,” which was written and directed by her husband Riley Stearns, and in which she stars opposite Leland Orser (the “Taken” trilogy, the “Revolution” TV series) as Claire, a young woman who is believed to be under the influence of a cult. Orser’s character, Ansel, is hired by a couple who say she is their daughter and they are willing to pay him a lot of money to “deprogram” her. Most of the action takes place in a seedy motel, where Ansel has brought the girl in hopes of reuniting her with her parents. The two engage in a battle of wits over several days, and surprises unfold. “Faults” is rolling out in theaters and is available on VOD.
Dressed in jeans and black blouse with a white collar for an interview, Winstead reveals she is pleased and feels lucky that 2015 is turning out to be such a productive year for her. She spoke about “The Returned” and “Faults” as well as other projects in the works.[private]
Q: You’re returning to TV with “The Returned.”
Winstead: Yeah. I’m super-excited. It’s really beautiful, and I love the original, although I hadn’t seen it before we shot our show, but I’ve since watched it, and it’s so beautifully done. Our show starts out in the same place but ends in a totally different place. So I kind of think of it as choose your own adventure. You can watch one show and see the characters take one path, or you can watch our show and see them go down a different path.
Q: Is it more sci-fi or spiritual?
Winstead: I would say “hauntingly spiritual.” It’s spiritual, beautiful and poetic, but there’s this sense of dread and foreboding feeling that there’s something bigger at play but you don’t know what it is, and you don’t understand why. It kind of plays a lot with grief and loss and what’s out there. It’s executed in a unique, beautiful, dark kind of way.
Q: Did you shoot all 10 episodes already?
Winstead: Yeah. We shot the whole season over five months—June to October. They’ll air and we’ll get to see if people like it. I hope they like it.
Q: Have you gotten any feedback yet?
Winstead: No. I’m used to film and how that happens and how the reactions come in. With TV, I’m like, “Is this normal?” I haven’t really heard much about it yet.
Q: Did it feel different, in terms of shooting?
Winstead: It was different. I had to let go of control over the character in terms of the arc, and things like that. I’m so used to being able to carve out a beginning, a middle and an end, and understanding where a character starts and where they end. With a show, from episode to episode, I didn’t know what was going to happen with my character, so I really had to let go of that and trust the writers. The directors were all amazing and wonderful to work with but you work with a lot of them. They come and go, so you have much more of a relationship with the writers and the showrunners moreso than the directors, which is a weird feeling for me because I’m so used to putting all of my trust in the director (in movies). So it was a bit of a retraining of my mind on a few of those things—to let go of what I thought was always the way, and open myself up to a different way of working, which I did. But I had to get rid of that uncomfortableness of something that was new to me.
Q: You also star in “Faults,” playing this mysterious woman Claire. She is a very different character for you, isn’t it?
Winstead: Yeah, I was very nervous about whether I could do it. When I read it, I thought, “Well, if my husband hadn’t written this, maybe I wouldn’t be the person people thought of for the role.” I’m so used to going out for roles and being told, “You’re not quite right.”
Q: You’re so wholesome looking.
Winstead: Yes, that’s what I hear all the time. For years, I heard that. So when I read it, I thought, “This shouldn’t be my role; somebody else should play this.” But Riley kept assuring me that I was right for it, and I was going to be good at it, so I kind of had to just go for it. I still didn’t know if I could pull it off until we were halfway through the shoot. I was definitely worried because such a fine line of a role, where it could easily go bad very quickly. (She laughs.)
Q: Some early reviews have compared it to “Fargo” in terms of the dark comedy.
Winstead: I love that. “Fargo” is my favorite movie. Ever. That tone, I knew, was what would set us apart because there have been other dramas about cults and cult members, but they’re usually a bit more straightforward. Ours has an oddball-ness to it that makes it unique.
Q: Did Riley do a lot of research into cults and deprogramming?
Winstead: No. It’s funny, he’s the kind of guy who just knows a lot of information about a lot of different things. He just kind of sat down and wrote it. He had a lot of vague knowledge on the topic because it’s something he’s always been interested in. He wrote it based on that, and after he wrote it, Leland and I read this book by Ted Patrick, who was a guy in the ‘70s, who was a deprogrammer. Riley was aware of him and read things about him. Ted was this sort of Wild West character, who would go in and kidnap people and do exactly what this character did. He had his own set of rules, which who is to say whether they were actually helpful at all. It also could be hurtful because you’re working with people’s psyches in a way that you’re not necessarily trained to do. So he was a very similar figure to Ansel in that way, but it’s all kind of a coincidence because Riley hadn’t read Ted’s book before he wrote the script.
Q: Did you get any bumps or bruises while filming this?
Winstead: In the world of indie filmmaking, you’re always going to come home covered in bruises, scraps and stuff, even if it’s not a physical movie. It’s just the nature of how you shoot things. There’s always some rough and tumble quality to it. So that definitely happened, but Leland had it so much worse than I did. He got beat up by everybody. He was giving it his all. In the scene in the van where he’s taking off the tape from my hands, he sliced his hand open, and continued with the scene. It was dark so I didn’t see what was happening. He continued like everything was fine. But I could feel something dripping all over me. When the lights came on, it was like a real horror film. I was covered in blood. He had to go to the emergency room and get stitches. There were a series of things like that that happened to him. So I really couldn’t complain.
Q: Did you have any problem getting Claire out of your head once you finished filming “Faults” or Rowan after you finished filming “The Returned?”
Winstead: I feel sad letting go of characters, especially when I loved playing a part. They usually stay with me for a little while, like, I’ll start incorporating things into my wardrobe. These jeans I’m wearing now I wore during my last project. I wore them every day and I’m still wearing them. They’re good jeans! I remember after “Smashed,” I started wearing flowy dresses that I’d never worn before, but there was something about it that I wanted to hold onto. So, in that way, I think I do but not consciously, I guess.
Q: You’ve also got “Valencia,” which was called “The Cellar.”
Winstead: That’s the one where the jeans came from. That’s with John Goodman. It’s all very contained. It takes place in a cellar. It’s just me and John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr. Then I have another film called “Alex of Venice” coming out in April, that I’m very proud of. It’s directed by Chris Messina, and he’s in it as well. So it’s a fun year—lots of good stuff to talk about.[/private]