Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Sydney Tamiia Poitier star in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof segment of Grindhouse, the collaborative effort of Tarantino and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. Poitier plays Austin’s hottest DJ, Jungle Julia, while Winstead plays an aspiring starlet in the action-packed thriller.
How much were your characters developed from conversations you had with Quentin?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “I think that was probably mostly Zoe because she plays herself, so literally all of her stuff was taken from her. But I think it was more conversations that he’s had with women that he’s known in the past. He kind of brought us into recreate those conversations.”
Sydney Poitier – “He spent a lot of time with his women friends just listening and observing. He’s so perceptive. Sometimes you’ll be having a conversation with him and you’ll be talking and you’ll see him go like this – he’ll start squinting and his head will start tilting. You can see his little Rolodex just taking things down for later. It wasn’t so much us but he has a gaggle of women he hangs out with all the time.”
How much are you like your character?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “I think we’re both pretty different from our characters.”
Sydney Poitier – “I’m definitely not the one taking charge. I’m probably much more like Arlene [played by Vanessa Ferlito], kind of along for the ride and there to have a good time.”
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “I like to think of myself as smart so I’m a little different from my character (laughing). But I love Lee. I think she’s a little naïve and young and not afraid to say something stupid if it pops into her head, which I think is kind of cute. I don’t think she’s stupid or vapid. I think she’s just a lot younger than the other girls and just trying to be cool and trying to keep up. I think my dynamic with the girls was kind of similar to that in a way because I was kind of the young newbie of the group. But hopefully just with a little more awareness.”
How many cheerleader movies did you have to watch?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – (Laughing) “I wasn’t assigned any movies like all the other girls were because I think my character was supposed to be kind of unaware of a whole lot of things anyway. I know Zoe and Tracie [Thoms] had to watch like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. I didn’t need to do anything. I had already seen, you know, Pretty in Pink. I guess that was the only thing I needed to know about it.”
At what point did you know that Quentin would focus so much on your feet?
Sydney Poitier – “You know, the minute I read the script I knew that the movie opened on her feet walking across and also Arlene’s feet up on the dashboard. I had heard that he sort of had a love of feet so I, in the audition one of the first things I did was I took my shoes off and I plopped my feet up on the table right in front of him. His eyes went (makes popping open noise). I knew the feet were going to play a big part.”
Were billboards of your character really up around town while you were shooting? How was that experience?
Sydney Poitier – “It was really, really interesting. The first day was surreal. I didn’t even realize it was up and I was driving by to get coffee or tea or something. I saw out of the corner of my eye this huge billboard. I looked up and I almost wrecked the car. I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ Like, ‘That’s my face.’ And then they just started popping up all over the city and it was really strange. But we were shooting nights mostly so it ended up not being as weird as you would think, because we were asleep most of the day and then we were up working most of the night. It’s not like I had people being like, ‘Are you the girl on the billboard?’ I had a few like if I would go to the market and stuff, but it was cool. I liked it.”
Do you think Quentin does a good job of showing women as both sexy and tough?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “I felt like every character is definitely sexy but it never felt like we were trying too hard or that it was kind of like pervy or anything, you know? It felt like we were all really comfortable in it. There was one scene where I had to bend over at a soda machine and he asked me to do that. He was like really worried that I was going to think that he was just being disgusting and doing some sort of shot that was not something I’d want to do. I was like, ‘No, that’s going to be good. It’s going to be cute. It’s not a big deal.’ Where normally on another film I would have felt weird about that. It’s kind of funny how I didn’t even think twice about bending over in my little cheerleading outfit.”
Sydney Poitier – “I think he has a real reverence and respect for women. I think his characters are so fully developed that the sexuality, like she said, was just innate in them. They really own their sexuality. They own their femininity. They’re strong, they’re confident. They have no issues about their bodies or who they are. I think he has a real appreciation for that and he really treated it really respectfully. One of the first things he said to me when I got the part was he’s like, ‘I’m going to be doing a lot of leg shots and a lot of butt shots. The camera’s going to lovingly caress your body but know that I’m a gentleman.’ And he really, really is, and so you never felt uncomfortable.”
You’ve gone from low budget Grindhouse to big budget Live Free or Die Hard. How was your experience on that?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “It was great but definitely different from this. On this we were working non-stop. It was like couple of takes, moving on. It was like a really fun kind of high adrenaline experience, whereas on Die Hard it was a lot of hanging out, really long set ups for the one shot where the cars are going to crash or something’s going…helicopters going to fly over. All day kind of sitting in the trailers, waiting.”
Are you in the dangerous scenes or do they CGI you into it?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “Oh well I’m not actually in a lot of that danger. I kind of used those examples. I get to throw some punches and I shoot a gun every now and then, but I’m not around when most of the big action stuff is going on.”