Childhood & Early Life
Mary Elizabeth Winstead was born on November 28, 1984, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, USA, to Betty Lou Knight and James Ronald. She has one elder brother and three elder sisters.
At the age of five, her parents decided to move to Sandy, Utah, near Salt Lake City. She was a bright child and was admitted to ‘Peruvian Park Elementary.’
Her talent was not limited to the classroom as she joined a ‘Joffrey Ballet’ summer program in Chicago, Illinois to improve her dancing skills. Her singing abilities led her to perform in the ‘International Children’s Choir’ at the early age of 12.
Winstead initially strived to be a ballerina and even participated in small ballet productions. But she was compelled to abandon her ballet career when she was 13, as she grew too tall. She realized that her body was changing too much to meet the requirements of a typical ballerina and hence focused on acting. This also meant that she had to be homeschooled for most of her high school years. She graduated in 2004 while pursuing a career in acting.
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Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s first appearance was in the musical ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ where she starred as ‘Donny Osmond’ in 1996. She was only 12 years old at the time.
Her performance in the show was appreciated and she landed quite a few guest roles in TV series. In 1997, she appeared in the uncredited role of ‘Kristy Cordis’ in an episode titled ‘A Delicate Balance’ in the series ‘Touched by an Angel.’
In 1998, she was cast as ‘Chloe’ in the series ‘Promised Land.’ Her acting skills were noticed in the episodes ‘Denver, Welcome Home’ and ‘Recycled’ and this led to her first major break.
In 1999, Mary Elizabeth Winstead landed the role of ‘Jessica Bennet’ in the NBC series ‘Passions.’ She appeared in 89 episodes and won praises for her performance. She also played ‘Annie Jacobs’ in the movie ‘The Long Road Home’ in 1999. The following year, she played ‘Tara’ in the movie ‘Father Can’t Cope.’
She received her first major role in the supernatural thriller ‘Wolf Lake’ which was aired on CBS. In the series, she played the role of ‘Sophia Donner,’ making her first appearance in the pilot episode ‘Meat the Parents’ on September 19, 2001. Low ratings led to the cancellation of the series after 10 episodes. The final episode ‘If These Wolves Could Talk’ starring Winstead was aired on May 1, 2002.
In 2003, she acted in the TV movie ‘Then Came Jones.’ She also appeared in one of the episodes of the TV series ‘Tru Calling’ in 2004. She then played a major role in the action-horror-comedy made for television movie ‘Monster Island.’
Mary Elizabeth Winstead made her film debut in 2005 when she was cast to play ‘Young Evelyn Borden’ in the supernatural psychological horror film ‘The Ring Two.’ The same year, she also had a small role as ‘Lisa Apple’ in the comedy movie ‘Checking Out.’
Walt Disney Pictures’ superhero movie ‘Sky High’ was the highlight of her career in the year 2005 as she played the role of the primary antagonist in the film. By 2006, Winstead had already started working with critically acclaimed directors and producers like James Wong and Glen Morgan. She was cast in the lead role as ‘Wendy Christensen’ in the movie ‘Final Destination 3.’
She went on to work with James Wong and Glen Morgan for the movie ‘Black Christmas.’ Her acting won her a nomination at the 2007 ‘Scream Awards,’ and an appearance on the ‘Tonight Show with Jay Leno.’ She also starred in the 2006 movie ‘Bobby’ which was based on Robert F. Kennedy’s last hours before death. She also played a small role in the movie ‘Factory Girl.’
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The year 2007 saw Winstead being cast in Quentin Tarantino’s and Robert Rodriguez’s double-horror feature ‘Grindhouse.’ She played the role of a naive actress alongside the likes of Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, and Zoe Bell in ‘Death Proof’ which was directed by Tarantino. Despite the lack of commercial success, the film and the cast received critical acclaim.
Her praiseworthy performance in ‘Death Proof’ earned her a role in the popular ‘Die Hard’ franchise, starring Bruce Willis. She portrayed ‘Lucy’ in the fourth installment of the franchise, ‘Live Free or Die Hard.’ The film was a major success and made more than US$380 million.
She also received positive reviews for her performance in the 2008 dance film ‘Make it Happen.’ In spite of the film being panned by the critics, it was noted that her acting and dancing were the only saving grace.
One of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s most famous roles came in 2010, when she went on to star in the movie ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.’ She starred as Michael Cera’s love interest ‘Ramona Flowers’ in the movie. The actress underwent rigorous training and did most of her stunts herself. She also appeared as ‘Ramona Flower’ in Brie Larson’s music video ‘Black Sheep.’
She played the role of ‘Kate Lloyd’ in the 2011 movie ‘The Thing’ which served as a prequel to the 1982 movie of the same name. Although the film was met with mixed response, Winstead’s performance was singled out as most appealing.
Like many actors of her time, Winstead took the indie film industry route and ended up appearing in James Ponsoldt’s ‘Smashed’ in 2012. Her enigmatic performance as a recovering alcoholic wife was praised by the critics at the 2012 ‘Sundance Film Festival.’
She portrayed ‘Mary Todd Lincoln’ in ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ in 2012. The same year, she appeared in the TV mini-series ‘The Beauty Inside.’ She also found herself working with her co-stars from ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’ in Roman Coppola's ‘A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III’ in 2013.
She acted in the movie ‘A.C.O.D’ and had a brief appearance in ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ in 2013. She was also cast in the romantic comedy-drama ‘The Spectacular Now’ in 2013.
In 2014, she played the title role of ‘Alex’ in the movie ‘Alex of Venice’ and had major roles in the movies ‘Faults’ and ‘Kill the Messenger.’ By 2015, Winstead was playing the role of ‘Rowan Blackshaw’ in the TV series ‘The Returned.’
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In 2016, she appeared in the film ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ which was directed by Dan Trachtenberg. The movie and Winstead’s performance were praised by reviewers and critics. In 2016, she was also seen in the indie movie ‘Swiss Army Man’ alongside Daniel Radcliffe. She then made a brief appearance in John Krasinski's ‘The Hollars.’
Known for playing versatile roles, the actress astonished everyone with her performance in the TV series ‘Mercy Street’ which was set against the backdrop of ‘American Civil War.’ The series had her playing ‘Mary Phinney,’ one of the lead characters. She also appeared in the CBS TV series ‘BrainDead’ in 2016.
She was cast in the dark comedy-crime drama series ‘Fargo.’ In the series, she portrays ‘Nikki Swango’ and appears alongside actors like Ewan McGregor. In 2018, she played ‘Nina Geld’ in the comedy-drama film ‘All About Nina.’ The following year, she played ‘Danny Zakarewski’ in ‘Gemini Man.’ In 2020, she portrayed ‘Helena Bertinelli’ (The Huntress) in the superhero film ‘Birds of Prey.’
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also an accomplished singer. She is one half of the musical duo ‘Got a Girl.’ Their first album ‘I Love You but I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now’ released in 2014, and was well-received by music lovers.
She also sang a cover of ‘Baby It’s You’ by ‘The Shirelles’ in Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof.’ The alternative hip hop trio ‘Deltron 3030’ featured the actress in their songs ‘The Agony’ and ‘Look Across The Sky.’
Awards & Achievements
Mary Elizabeth Winstead was nominated for ‘Best Young Actress in a Daytime TV Series’ in 2000 and 2001 for her role in ‘Passions.’
In 2006, at the ‘Hollywood Film Festival,’ she won the award for ‘Best Ensemble Cast’ for her work in ‘Bobby.’ The movie also earned her a nomination for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture’ at the ‘Screen Actors Guild Awards.’
In 2013, at the ‘Dallas International Film Festival,’ she won the ‘Shining Star Award for Best Actress’ for the movie ‘Smashed.’ In the same year, she also won the ‘Daytime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding New Approaches - Original Daytime Program or Series’ for ‘The Beauty Inside.’
For her performance in ‘10 Cloverfield Lane,’ Winstead won the ‘Best Actress’ award at the 43rd ‘Saturn Awards’ in 2017.