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The Transformation Of Mary Elizabeth Winstead From Childhood To Kate

Mary Elizabeth Winstead has embraced her new role as an action star in the Netflix film "Kate." Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the high-octane thriller follows an assassin as she seeks revenge on those who have cruelly wronged her, including a powerful and lethal crime syndicate. Along with Winstead, the star-studded cast includes Woody Harrelson, Michiel Huisman, Miku Martineau, Miyavi, Tadanobu Asano, and Jun Kunimura (via IMDb).

In "Kate," Winstead plays the titular protagonist, a ruthless trained fighter who has grown up under the tutelage of her handler, Varrick (Harrelson). After completing an assigned mission, she spends the night with a charismatic stranger. Upon waking up, she undergoes hospitalization due to the sudden onset of debilitating physical pain. Learning that she has been fatally poisoned and has less than a day left to live, Kate decides to wreak vengeance on her unknown perpetrators. While discussing her decision to star in an action film, Winstead praised the script's subversion of stereotypical tropes. She explained, "It felt like a rare opportunity to get to be real and raw and bloody and messy, and not slick and pretty or sexy in any sort of traditional way" (via GQ).

For years, Winstead has imbued each and every role with an unwavering pathos and grit, expertly transitioning from a variety of genres, including horror and comedy. Here's a look at Winstead's transformation from an ambitious dancer to a savvy and fearless actor.

She originally loved ballet, but a school play changed everything

Winstead spent most of her childhood in Salt Lake City, Utah. During this time, she devoted herself to the arts, particularly dancing (via Under the Radar). Her passion for ballet led her to dance programs in both Chicago and New York. At the time, many of her dance teachers encouraged her to become a professional ballerina. However, as Winstead grew older, her height ended up working against her. While speaking to Interview Magazine, she noted, "I went and auditioned for them again and they were so disappointed with how my body had changed and grown."

Luckily, Winstead discovered a newfound love for acting when she was cast to play Juliet in her school production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." She threw herself headlong into the character, including repeatedly re-watching Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film adaptation (via Interview Magazine). In the same interview, she described her burgeoning obsession with performing. As she explained, "From that moment on I was convinced I was going to be an actress."

A few years later, Winstead got her big break with a role on the NBC soap opera "Passions." From 1999 to 2000, she played recurring character Jessica Bennett. By 2005, she had joined the production of the successful Disney film "Sky High," gamely stepping into the shoes of popular cheerleader and antagonist Gwen Grayson. From then on, Winstead worked to establish herself with memorable parts in a number of commercial and indie films.

Winstead made her mark as a Final Girl

By the mid-2000s, Winstead began to gain recognition for her forceful contributions to the horror genre. From the wild and violent chaos of "Final Destination 3" in 2006 to the frigid destruction of "The Thing" in 2011, Winstead made a name for herself as a powerful and poignant Final Girl (via GQ).

During this time, Winstead's thoughtful eye and nuanced character work helped elevate a distinctive range of horror films, including the dark holiday slasher "Black Christmas" and the madcap action-drama "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." In these movies, Winstead commits to the humanity of her characters, often adding greater depth and dimension to unexpectedly bizarre situations. While on Bloody Disgusting's Boo Crew Podcast, Winstead explained, "I love being part of things that are just completely left-of-center. Out of nowhere. Just wild ideas."

While discussing her career, Winstead also acknowledged the ways in which horror is often sidelined and dismissed, typically facing exclusion from the echelons of "high art." However, she emphasized that she personally disagrees with this sentiment. For her, "there's no higher art" than horror films (via Bloody Disgusting).

She earned critical acclaim for her indie roles

Along with earning the proud horror moniker "Scream Queen," Winstead also acquired acclaim for her captivating range of indie performances. In 2010, she played the iconic character Ramona Flowers in Edgar Wright's film "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." While the movie largely failed to gain traction upon its initial release, it slowly transformed into a cult classic, spurring an onslaught of social media love for the entire cast (via Entertainment Weekly).

In 2012, Winstead's role as a struggling alcoholic in the indie darling "Smashed" garnered widespread praise from critics (via Rotten Tomatoes), who appreciated her subtle and compassionate portrayal of a woman struggling to stay afloat. In an interview with Glamour, Winstead cited the film as a significant turning point in her career, specifically because it allowed her to tap into the bulk of her faculties as an actress. She noted, "That totally changed the way I saw myself as an actor and types of roles that I wanted to play. It really just set me in a clear direction in terms of what I wanted to do."

During this time, Winstead surfaced in a number of other independent films, including "The Spectacular Now," "Alex of Venice," and "Swiss Army Man." Here, Winstead continued to demonstrate her multifaceted skills as an actress and storyteller.

She's open to whatever comes next

While Winstead remains committed to her acting career, she also keeps an open mind when it comes to other creative projects. After singing in Quentin Tarantino's 2007 film "Death Proof," Winstead caught the attention of record producer Dan the Automator. After meeting in person, the duo began collaborating on an album (via GQ). In 2014, they released their first studio album "I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now" under their band name "Got a Girl." A year later, they toured multiple cities, performing their music live for a number of venues (via Fast Company).

Along with music, Winstead continues to search out new and exciting film projects. Rather than select scripts based on their commercial prestige, she is more interested in finding work that speaks to her. As she explained, "If I got the chance to work with a renowned filmmaker who makes films of that caliber, that would be incredibly exciting. But I mean, if not, then cool. I'm okay either way" (via GQ).

Currently, her recent forays into the action world, including the DCEU film "Birds of Prey" and the recently released "Kate," further illustrates her broad impact as a performer. Considering Winstead's riveting range, it will be compelling to see what she does next.