(Lenny Gilmore / RedEye )
To bond as married alcoholics for the Sundance hit “Smashed,” co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul, appropriately, went out and got drunk.
“I don’t know what I really learned about myself from that particular night other than that I’m kind of a lightweight,” Winstead says with a laugh. “[Director/co-writer James Ponsoldt] took us out and he had this whole bar crawl set up for us and all these cool L.A. bars he was going to take us to, and we made it to two out of like seven. Because I was just done.”
A tequila-infused night like that is a rarity for the 27-year-old actress (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), who grew up in a religious Utah community and is now a “glass of wine with dinner” person.
It’s not that rare for her character in “Smashed,” which opens Friday. In the film, first grade teacher Kate (Winstead) engages in a variety of increasingly dangerous drunken shenanigans that endanger her marriage to Charlie (“Breaking Bad” star Paul) and lead her to attempt to get sober. She seeks help from recovering alcoholics Jenny (Octavia Spencer of “The Help”) and Dave (Chicago-area native Nick Offerman), the vice principal at school. (Offerman’s wife Megan Mullally plays the principal.)
At the Peninsula Hotel, Winstead talked about her drunken night with Paul, teenage alcoholics and if having Michael Cera fight seven evil exes for her love in “Scott Pilgrim” made her husband feel like he had to step up and fight for her, too.
How late were you out that night with Aaron and James?
Not that late at all. ‘Cause we started pretty early. We had dinner, it was probably eight o’clock. We were only out ‘til like midnight or something. [Laughs.] Because it just went downhill so fast. [Laughs.]
That’s when you know you’re not in that mind-frame anymore.
Exactly. I don’t know that I ever really was to be honest. Although I totally can very much relate to these characters and have tons of friends that can definitely relate to it. I was always the goody-two-shoes to be honest.
Did it seem like Aaron had an easier time than you did?
Yeah, although he was pretty far (gone) too. He took me up to my house and my husband, I sort of fell into his arms. He opened the door and he was like, “Aaron was pretty far gone too.”
Was Aaron carrying you?
No, [he] and James were sort of, they had one arm each [guiding me] up the stairs to my house.
“No, you guys are the best!”
Yeah, it was very much like that. [Laughs.]
You went to AA meetings to research this movie. Tell me a memorable story or interaction from those meetings that you haven’t gotten to bring up in an interview yet.
One of the interesting things was seeing so many young women. I went to a lot of different types of meetings. Some of them were older, working-class men or some of them were older women who had been through a lot. But there were some meetings where there were a lot of women in their early 20s or even girls that were 18, 19, who were getting their one-year chip. And getting to see that and listen to their stories, it really hits home how easily that could be me or my friends had my life gone down a different road, or had alcohol been something I was predisposed to be really attracted to. It just makes you realize that no matter how old you are, if you have a [drinking] problem it probably stems from the first time you drink and it’s going to be a problem for the rest of your life. And I think that those girls were really lucky that they discovered that about themselves so early.
How much was that people who started really early or was it more, “I’m 18 and I started when I was 17 and the last year has been tough”?
It was a bit of both. Some of them had been drinking heavily since they were 12, 13 years old and had spiraled out of control by the time they were 18. They were doing things they knew they should not be doing. And for some of them it happens much quicker. They start drinking 17, 18, by 19, 20 they know, “I am one of those people that can’t drink. My life just becomes unmanageable and I’m not the person I want to be.” And I think now AA has such a different—I think when it started the anonymous thing was very important, and now it just seems so much more relaxed. You can go to AA and be proud and talk to people in your life about what you’re going through. It doesn’t really have any shame or judgment about it whatsoever. Everybody feels very open and honest and you feel a sense of pride in that they’re figuring their lives out. And you feel really really happy for them.