Mary, Full of Grace

No stranger to the Sundance scene, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is making another appearance in a film that is, safe to say, quite unlike any other.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a lot on her proverbial plate at the moment. On the heels of last week's Mercy Street premiere (PBS's new Civil War drama being heralded as the next Downton Abbey), the L.A.-based actress is moving to Brooklyn to begin shooting her new series Braindead, which will be followed shortly by the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a J.J. Abrams post-nuclear fallout movie, in March. But sitting down with Winstead in L.A. on Monday, you would never have guessed that, in addition to everything else, she was about to see her latest film, Swiss Army Man, for the very first time the next day.

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With past roles in films including Live Free or Die Hard, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 31-year-old Winstead is no stranger to Hollywood. And as she gears up for her third movie at Sundance, Winstead discusses what first drew her to Swiss Army Man, showing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, and why the bizarre and rather macabre plot line will draw you in, too.

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"Sundance is the best—it's such a great group of creative people and I'm so excited to go back. I was pretty much caught when I heard Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan were writing and directing a new movie. I'm a huge fan of their short films and music videos, and I think they're just two ridiculously talented, weird, weird dudes. The script for Swiss Army Man was unlike anything I had ever read before, and if I didn't know that the Daniels were directing it, I might have been too scared to be a part of it. But this is what the Daniels do—they take the strange and the over-the-top and they make it human and great."

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"The film stars Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, so right away I was like, 'I'm pretty sure I'm going to want to do this.' Swiss Army Man is about Dano's character who is stranded in the woods and befriends a dead body, played by Radcliffe. Dano's character teaches it about life and love and how to exist in this world—it's a very sweet but strange tale."

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"It's a fun challenge as an actor to read a role and think, 'That's not me at all.' But then you find ways you connect on a personal level until these little lightbulbs go off and you're like, 'Oh wow, this character's actually not so different.' In the movie I play Sarah, who Dano's character is obsessed with. She tries to present herself as having this perfect life on social media, but when you chip away at her exterior, she's a stressed-out mother who's trying to figure out what she really wants. Sarah was a unique role for me to play because every time I talked to the Daniels about who she was, her backstory would change a little bit. For example, one day she became obsessed with the band Creed."

"Swiss Army Man is exactly the kind of movie that I'm dying to see. At this point, I feel like we've seen everything, so it's really special when a project comes along and you can't compare it to anything else—I think that will catch everyone's attention. But, at the same time, it has some pretty extreme aspects in terms of where the movie goes with the comedic element, so I'm curious to see who's going to respond to it."

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