CS: Did James try to shoot in any sort of logical order in terms of the stuff you had to do while drunk or sober?
Winstead: A lot of the drunk stuff was early on, but it was really all over the place because we shot mainly by locations, so all the school stuff was the first few days and then the second week was all the stuff in the house, so Aaron and I, all our scenes together we back-to-back, which was great, because there wasn’t any time for us to disconnect from each other. It was every day that we were in it together. It was crazy. I think Aaron worked maybe ten days but it felt so real when we were shooting it. Are we really going through this intense dissolving of a marriage? That’s really what it felt like. It was a surreal experience, having it feel so real in those moments, it was really nice.
CS: It was surprising to see Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, who tend to be comedic actors, doing more serious roles, and yet they’re still funny.
Winstead: Definitely, yeah, they were great. They’re both so funny but they both brought a lot of vulnerability and I think Nick, you could really see the kind of sadness under all that goofiness. He really brought something interesting to it, and I think that character could have easily been lecherous or creepy or unlikable, and you just really just feel through him. You’re just like, “Oh, this poor guy. He has these feelings that he doesn’t really know how to deal with.” So you root for all the characters in spite of the fact that everybody is really flawed, which I think is one of the great things about the film.
CS: I spoke to both Aaron and James about the humor of the movie and how people laugh at certain things in the movie, like the classroom scene or when she wakes up after smoking crack, but then when you think about it, you realized that you’re laughing at something really dark. Are you surprised when you see the movie with an audience what they laugh at?
Winstead: Some of the things I’m surprised got so much laugher, like those things that I knew were intellectually funny, but I didn’t know that people would have such a big reaction to it. Like when we screened it at Sundance, people were like howling (laughs). I was kind of surprised by some of it, but I was glad because it is funny. The thing is that her whole story is that it’s slowly starting to not be funny anymore, and that’s kind of what you see in the film. It’s like “Oh, she’s hilarious. Look at the drunk girl, she’s always funny” but when you see it in the cold light of day, it’s like, “Oh no, it’s really sad” and I think that’s the heart of the film by the way.
CS: It’s really weird seeing the movie once at Sundance and then at a small screening room where I felt like I was the only one laughing at parts.
Winstead: It’s interesting. Most of the Sundance screenings the first one was a lot of laughter and even the other ones people were reacting to the funny parts and then in Salt Lake City, I went to a screening there, and it was interesting. Everybody was really into it and they were reacting but they were more into the drama. They were gasping at the part where I smoke crack, like “No!”
CS: Right, but you also have to remember that you’re in Mormon country where many people don’t drink at all.
Winstead: Yeah, but they didn’t really laugh at anything, but they were really invested in the drama of it, which was interesting.
CS: I didn’t even think about what a weird place that was to premiere the movie.
Winstead: Yeah, definitely.
CS: Here in Toronto, it seems to make a little more sense.
Winstead: Yeah, I’m excited to see it with this crowd.
CS: Last time I saw you was at the junket for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” so what have you been doing since then? You’re going to appear in James’ next movie?
Winstead: Yeah, I did. I have a smaller role, like a supporting role, but it was really fun. I played a rich housewife who doesn’t really have a life of her own. It was very very different than Kate, so it was fun to work with James with a very different role, and that film is going to be great. I’m really excited for that.
CS: Do you have anything else?
Winstead: Yeah, I’ve basically been doing a bunch of little movies. I did this movie called “A.C.O.D” with Adam Scott and Jane Lynch, Catherine O’Hara and Amy Poehler. They screened it while I was out of town recently so I haven’t seen it, but I know they’re really close to finishing it and it should be a festival type thing. I don’t know which festival it will start at, but that’s what they’re going with. And then I’m in the Roman Coppola film with Charlie Sheen and Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman. He’s a really cool, interesting guy, and again, it’s a really small part, but it’ just been kind of fun doing back-to-back small interesting projects with cool people and I had a good time.
CS: And you’re also coming back for “Die Hard”?
Winstead: Yeah, I do. I was on set for a day.
Interview with Director James Ponsoldt – Part 2
CS: I assume you’ve had a number of Q n As after showing the movie so what have the reactions been like, either from alcoholics or recovered alcoholics.
Ponsoldt: It’s been really amazing. I mean, I think there were two fears before we showed up for the very first time at Sundance: One was that people aren’t going to laugh. What if they don’t laugh and I’ve made a miserable sobriety story – which is not what we want to do? Another fear was, what if people in the sober community that are struggling are going to call it out as bullsh*t? That would just break my heart. In both cases–I mean, you were there at Sundance–people laughed, which was such an amazing feeling, but the really moving thing was during the week at Sundance, over the course of all the screenings, normal people at the end of the film would come up, in some cases, crying, either someone coming up with their partner or spouse and saying, “We’ve been sober 23 years and this is the best movie we’ve seen about getting sober. There’s no bullsh*t, there’s no pity, it feels real.” Or I’ve had a ton of people I knew well or knew peripherally that came to me and shared very personal things about their own struggles or things that they were having to face themselves. We did not set out to make a social issue movie or a message movie at all. I think those could be the most tired and boring movies. They say that if you want to send a message, use FexEx, and I totally believe that. I believe in stories about characters and story and relationships, but it really seems to connect with people who are struggling with addiction of some kind. They find it honest and funny and I think letting people laugh gives them permission to really think and reflect. It doesn’t sort of indict or objectify. It allows for identification and seeing someone not as the other, but as perhaps yourself, really someone that’s very intimate to you that you love, like a friend, a spouse or whatever.
CS: So are you getting ready to shoot your next movie or have you already finished shooting it?
Ponsoldt: Yeah, I finished about two weeks ago, the new film.
CS: It’s from the guys who wrote “(500) Days of Summer,” so I’m pretty excited for that.
Ponsoldt: Exactly, yeah, I’m excited for you to check it out. We have to edit it. (Laughs) But it’s a really, really great book by Tim Tharp and an amazing, amazing cast. I really, really love the cast. I’m excited to share that film and see it.
CS: How’d that come together? Was the script out there and you made a pitch to direct it?
Ponsoldt: It was something that came to me directly because of “Smashed.” Some of the producers saw “Smashed” and really, really loved it. I wasn’t looking to direct a script that someone else had written, but I read it and it just was one of the fastest reads I’ve ever had in my life. I completely connected to it. There were certain sort of things that were important to me if I was going to direct that. It had to be shot in Athens, Georgia, where I’m from. We shot on anamorphic 35. It had to be certain actors. The producers were wonderful and supportive with all of those things, so we did it.
CS: Are those guys involved in the shooting?
Ponsoldt: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, because I’m a writer, I know within Hollywood that so often writers just get crapped on, but I think it’s completely backwards and ridiculous because they’re the foundation of every film and they’re the greatest asset you can possibly have on the set of a film. So, Scott Neustadter and Mike Weber, Mike Weber was there for the entire shoot, which was wonderful, then Scott was there for the first part, but his wife was having a kid and he was supporting her, so he had to leave someway through. At any given time, at least one of them was always there.
CS: Are you generally thinking that after you finish that you’ll work on writing another script to direct?
Ponsoldt: Yeah, I mean, that’s my first passion, just because I love to write. I like being involved in sort of the ground floor level of a film, but there’s so many great writers out there, so I would never say no to anything. If I read a script that blew me away–and I’m sure there are writers that are just way better than me– I’m open to anything. I just want to tell good stories. There’s something very freeing and very different about it gives you a level of objectivity when you’re able to direct someone else’s script, which is a new experience. I mean, “Smashed” is my second feature. In both cases, they were very, very personal scripts, and I probably had blinders on for a lot of it. (Laughs)