Listen closely to the whispers at various Sundance events this week and you’re likely to hear the name Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Starring in James Ponsoldt’s Smashed, the 27-year-old actress—previous credits include Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Live Free or Die Hard—plays Kate, an alcoholic whose relationship with her husband Charlie (Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul) is based on their mutual addiction. When Kate decides to get sober, the foundation of their marriage is called into question. Winstead’s controlled and affecting performance has already elicited phrases like “breakout performance” and “Sundance darling” from audiences; Rosemarie DeWitt, who’s here starring in Nobody Walks, told us, “She’s incredible. Just go see it.”
We did. Then we asked Winstead a few questions.
ELLE: Who are Kate and Charlie?
MEW: For a young couple they are really a lot of fun, but their whole marriage is really based around drinking. At a certain point, Kate’s life starts to spiral out of control and she decides to get sober. But Charlie is not really on board because he loves the life they have together. So the film is about them trying to make their relationship work in spite of these challenges. It’s a role that was totally challenging and terrifying to me in a lot of ways. I really wanted it.
ELLE: What was it like acting opposite Jesse Pinkman?
MEW: [Laughs] It was amazing. He’s so warm and giving and willing to do whatever for the sake of the character. That’s exactly what you need when you do a film like this. He was just so kind and when you play this kind of part you really want to make sure you’re surrounded by people you feel comfortable around. But it’s so funny walking around with him here—he gets stopped constantly!
ELLE: Is this your first time at Sundance?
MEW: I actually grew up in Salt Lake City so I used come and walk around Main Street, but this is my first time here as an actress. The premiere last night was just so incredible and emotional. It was one of the best moments…ever. But it was such a nerve-racking and emotional day that at the end of it all I was exhausted. I just went home and crashed.
ELLE: Are there other films or performances you’re most excited to see?
MEW: I have a lot of friends who have films this year so it’s really exciting. My friend Aubrey [Plaza] has Safety Not Guaranteed. Mark Webber has three films here! I want to see Nobody Walks and Hello, I Must be Going. I’m staying through the end so I’m going to try to see it all later this week.
ELLE: The red carpets here are pretty casual. Was it hard deciding what to pack for your first Sundance?
MEW: It’s definitely hard to be super high fashion because you have to be functional. But I brought things that had a bit of a pattern or a pop of color to bring a bit of interest to what I’m wearing. And obviously you need a good parka and good boots—then you’re set.