In the new Netflix film KATE (2021), Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a ruthless criminal operative who, after being poisoned, has less than 24 hours to exact revenge on her enemies and in the process forms an unexpected bond with the daughter of one of her past victims. While her character may be up against a ticking clock, the actress had roughly a year to prepare for her action-heavy role, thanks in part to the two similarly physically demanding roles that came before it. Ahead of the film’s Sept. 10 debut, we spoke to Winstead about how her previous films GEMINI MAN(2019) and BIRDS OF PREY (2020) helped prepare her for KATE and what attracted her to the role.
What attracted you to this role?
I felt there was something really unusual about the script and the character in the sense that it was this really brutal, fierce action film, but there was something soft and emotional at its core that I really connected to. Kate has this tough outer shell, but there’s a soft girl inside. There’s a heart in there. She’s someone who’s been through terrible things. She’s poisoned, she’s dying, and it’s physically gross, but there’s still something beautiful underneath it all. And I thought that juxtaposition was really rare. Also to get to be that ugly and real and raw was something I found to be a really exciting prospect.
Was the amount of stunt work required for the film a draw for you, as well?
Definitely. KATE is actually the third film in a row where I’ve had to do heavy stunt work. The first one was GEMINI MAN and then BIRDS OF PREY. So, this has really been an era in my life! I love working with the team at 87North. I’ve always loved stunt work, but they really took me to a different level and I just became incredibly comfortable in that world. They’re so positive, they’re your biggest cheerleaders, and they really want their actors to do it themselves. I felt really lucky to have the chance to do a little bit more with every film and take it a little bit further each time.
Kate marks a continuation of your work with stunt coordinator Jonathan “Jojo” Eusebio, who also trained you on BIRDS OF PREY. What was it like teaming up with him again?
I love working with Jojo and his whole crew. He’s so smart in the way that he trains. He sort of trains you to learn the choreography without really knowing that you’re learning the choreography. You’re learning all these moves, and then you’re slowly building them up and building them up and getting more comfortable with them, and then you’re ready to go without really realizing it. So, he sets it up in this way where he can throw different stuff at you on set, and you can roll with it and do it because you’re trained. And that’s an amazing feeling.
So, you essentially banked a year’s worth of training before you started working on KATE, which is incredible. Was there anything else that you needed to learn to elevate that skillset?
There was definitely a lot more gun action in this film than I’ve ever done before. I had a bit of gun training for GEMINI MAN and then for BIRDS OF PREY, I used the crossbow and I didn’t actually do very much gun work in that one. So, I definitely had to step up my game. I trained at Taran Tactical in LA and
had a great team of people in Thailand who were trained snipers in the military. They were on set every day and wouldn’t let me get away with anything that wasn’t correct, right down to the way you breathe when you’re pulling the trigger.
What about the knife work we see?
Well, working with 87North they give you a really good baseline in jiu jitsu. Then they throw in boxing drills and things like that. And that’s one of those examples, when I said I didn’t really know that I was learning the choreography. It became: “Ok, you’re punching like we’ve been doing in these boxing drills. but with a knife in your hand this time.” So I’m using the proper power behind the force of the punch now it’s a knife.” They’re just really smart, in terms of building it into your body in a way that you don’t even realize what’s happening.