There’s no better way to feel like a complete troll than to cram into a trailer and sit next to Mary Elizabeth Winstead for an interview. I wanted to apologize for daring to breathe the same air as the beautiful young actress, who is as nice and funny and sincere as any actor of her generation. Winstead probably didn’t remember me, but we had met before when she attended screenings of cool old movies at the New Beverly Cinema, first at the nights Edgar Wright programmed and then at other, random screenings.
Those Edgar Wright screenings were before Scott Pilgrim vs The World was in production, but the collected movie nerds at those screenings buzzed about what a great Ramona Flowers she would make, if Edgar were to cast her. We were right. Winstead is the center of the film in a very real way, and her nuanced, adult interpretation of the character single-handedly explodes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.
Ramona Flowers is someone who is mysterious, remains mysterious – but also has to have vulnerability to her. It’s complicated.
It was definitely the most challenging role I’ve had to play. When I took it on I was a little nervous, to be honest. How do you play a character who is seemingly unfeeling but make her likable – or at least someone you don’t hate? It works in the books, and I certainly like Ramona in the books. I felt for her. But at the same time you have that fear that in the condensed two hours of the film you lose that human side of her. I hope I injected enough humanity in there.
What is the secret to injecting humanity into this dream girl?
What helped me a lot was that Bryan O’Malley gave me a number of things that happened to Ramona in the past that made her who she is, and most of them were tragic and sad. It made me realize that it’s all a facade. The whole thing she puts out is so that nobody gets closer and finds out who she is and what she went through. So I had to take that with me the whole time but cover it up; I was constantly building up this emotion and then blocking it off and pretending I didn’t feel anything and hoping something would come through even though I was covering it up.
Do you identify with her?
I do. Personality-wise I think she comes across the opposite from how I do. I have a hard time not smiling and I’m almost overly friendly at times, so I think the people who know me were surprised that I would be taking a role with this. But I found things I could identify with; I could identify with people making a big fuss over you for no reason and not asking you what you want in the situation. I’ve had guys in my past that I’ve treated thoughtlessly. I’ve tried to break up with them by disappearing.
You’ve done the old ‘don’t return their phone calls’ gag.
I’ve done that. That’s something I understood how Ramona was trying to get away from being that type of person. It made me realize what a heartless thing that is to do, and that I’ve done it before.
What’s cool about the movie is that the emotional center is real. As crazy as everything else is, the emotion is real. How do you balance that with the wackiness and the big fight scenes?
It’s a challenge. For me the main thing was to bring that human element but bring it into this world with that tone and the comedic element and the pacing and everything. Even though my character isn’t one of the comedic characters – she’s the straight man – but at the same time I had to stay in the tone of this world. I think it’s a testament to Edgar for bringing everything together in a way that culminated and that worked when we got there [on set]. It got easier as we all moved along.
Edgar has the most insane energy of any person ever. But I also know that on set he’s very detailed – he knows exactly every shot he needs and he knows exactly what motion he needs from you in that shot. Is it tough as an actor to have your performance become so technical?
It’s hard. Sometimes I would spend an entire day doing nothing but whipping my head to the side, over and over again. As an actor you have to let that not get to you or frustrate you because you know it’s going towards the greater good of the film. Being fans of Edgar helped us understand that. We know he has the potential to bring this movie to such heights that we can’t even imagine, so trusting that he knows what he’s doing and that we’re there trying to make it as perfect as possible made it easier on us. We were all in it together, saying ‘We’re going to spend the day looking to the left again and again – and we’re going to do it together! It’s going to be a blast!’
This cast is made up of guest stars. You’re in the core group but you have these other actors who come in for their moments. What is that energy like?
It was weird because we’d always get really close and then it was like saying goodbye. They would always say that it was like leaving summer camp and saying goodbye to all the friends you made. But at the same time it was really fun for those of us who were there for the whole thing – every month we had a new wave of energy. It was like we were doing all these different movies within one. I remember one of the running jokes I had with one of the ADs when we were doing the Gideon sequence on the pyramid – we were on that pyramid for like a month – and we would be like ‘Can you believe Chris Evans is in the Pyramid Movie? It’s the same movie!’ It was crazy.
I’ve seen the movie a number of time – both endings. I’m curious what your take is with the new ending.
I think they both work. I wasn’t unhappy with the original ending – I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. But when Edgar approached me with the new ending and I read it I thought for Knives’ character it was better. I don’t want to spoil anything, but for her arc I think it’s cooler. Scott and Ramona learn a lot about themselves and they learn that they haven’t been the greatest people how they treated other people in relationships, and they both come to that conclusion in their arcs, which is nice.
Do you think they’re back at square one?
I think in a sense they are, but they’ve both learned a lot and grown up a lot. They’re back at square one with a better understanding of themselves.