Mary Elizabeth Winstead Is Redefining the Femme Fatale in 'Fargo'

Emma Dibdin
Photo credit: Matthias Clamer + FX

From ELLE

"I've never killed anybody before!" exclaims Ewan McGregor's sad-sack Ray in the third season of FX's Fargo. There's a first time for everything; he's dispatched a would-be assassin with the help of his ex-con girlfriend Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). "Well sure," Nikki replies calmly, considering. "But, you know, life's a journey."

It's this unexpected blend of ruthlessly amoral pragmatism and sunny zen that attracted Winstead, who is a fairly recent addition to the growing number of movie actors crossing over into television. Speaking to ELLE.com last week, Winstead spoke about redefining the role of a femme fatale, her initial misgivings about Fargo, and working with McGregor, who plays the dual roles of Ray and his slicker, more successful twin brother Emmett.

Winstead was as skeptical as anyone else about the prospect of a 'Fargo' TV series.

"I've been a huge fan of the movie since I was really young. I remember falling so in love with everything about it, particularly Frances McDormand's performance as Marge. So when I heard they were doing a series, I was terrified. I actually met with [showrunner] Noah Hawley about the first season, but I ended up not being available, and then when I saw the show I was like, 'Okay, I need to make myself available!' So when he called about this season I said yes without hesitation, without reading anything or knowing anything about my character."

Nikki was not the character she expected to play.

"Because I signed on without knowing anything, I really expected to be cast as a totally different kind of character. I never expected somebody like Nikki, and I was really excited but also a little scared, because it was something that I hadn't played before. But once I started, I realized that Noah really knew what he was doing, because it's turned out to be one of the roles I'm most suited for out of everything I've played. Sometimes it takes a while for you to realize that there's so much of yourself in a role."

Winstead relished the chance to play an unusually bubbly femme fatale.

"She's incredibly smart and morally ambiguous, but she has such a positivity and a warmth underneath the hardened ex-con exterior. I didn't have to try and play her as some sort of femme fatale cliché. That 'Life's a journey' line she has...she just has such a bubbliness about her! I would have been bored if she had to be this sexy, serious bitch character, and I hope the audience will grow to like her despite her actions throughout the season."

She witnessed Ewan McGregor's transformative Spanx journey.

"Everything sort of hinged on that bathtub scene with the two of us, because we were both gonna be naked, and as Ray he needed to look like he was actually overweight. So he was putting on as much weight as possible, and meanwhile I'm in the gym doing squats, which I never thought I'd have to do on Fargo, of all shows! So he's gained all this weight for that scene, and Emmett's supposed to be kind of slim and a bit more dapper, so Ewan definitely went through some Spanx phases as the show's gone on. As soon as we finished that bathtub scene, I think he was so ready to start losing the weight."

Photo credit: FX

She only had one question for Noah Hawley: Does Nikki really love Ray?

"Based on the first episode, I wasn't sure whether that was a true love or whether she's manipulating him. And Noah said without hesitation that they're a real couple, that they're in love, and that was sort of all I needed to know. I think Nikki and Ray make a good team: She likes that he's this puppy dog that adores her and will let her call the shots, and he in turn likes having someone to worship a little bit, who he's in awe of. I think they feed off each other's energy, and maybe it's not the healthiest relationship because of that, but it's still sweet and true and heartfelt. Even if they're not always doing the right thing, we still root for them."

"I would have been bored if she had to be this sexy, serious bitch character"

It took Winstead a while to be won over by television.

"I was slow to get on the TV bandwagon, because I was so attached to doing movies, and I'm still not willing to completely let that go. But at the same time, as movies and the way they're made has started to change, the fact that television exists as a platform for creative people to tell the stories they really want to tell is a blessing. As soon as I caught onto what was happening, I embraced it wholeheartedly, because really it doesn't matter. We just want to do good work, and if TV is the place that's giving us those opportunities then so be it. I hope to continue to do both, and I also hope that maybe some of this TV success that's been happening will rejuvenate the film industry a little bit too, and bring back some non-action blockbuster movies to theaters."

She's making a conscious effort to work with more female filmmakers.

"I've only worked with a handful of female directors in my entire career, and I've been doing this for about fifteen years now-it shouldn't be such a rarity! As an actress, it's such a different energy working with a woman director. The director-actor relationship is such a special thing, and when it's a man and a woman, it's different. It's a certain kind of dynamic. So I really try to seek that out as much as I can now, and try to get more projects that have women in all departments. I don't like being the only woman on a set."

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