Interview: Scott Pilgrim's Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ellen Wong

In Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World there is a great emphasis on Scott (Michael Cera) and his battles against the mostly male line-up of evil exes. But don’t be fooled: the women in the cast kick their own fair share of ass, most notably Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Ramona, and Ellen Wong, who plays Knives Chow.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the two actresses and discuss their role in the film, from the initial casting to promoting the film at this year’s Comic Con (not to mention an incident where Ellen accidentally stabbed Mary in the face).

You girls really get to kick ass in this film.

Both: Yeah!

How much fun was that?

Ellen: It was so much fun.

Mary: It was really fun.

E: It's funny because this is what we're getting after people are seeing the film and I think, going through it, Mary and I, we weren't like 'Oh yeah, we're going to play these female characters who kick ass. It was more like we were really concentrating on the circumstances of each individual. It's really cool now to see the reception that its gotten. It's cool because this is what we need. Girls like this exist and it's neat to see females in these sort or roles where they're equal to their male counterparts and they're the same in their intellect and what they want in life. It's neat to see that they can be so strong. It's cool.

Did either of you have any evil exes who reappeared to complicate your life or give the current boyfriend problems?

M: Oh, I've had a couple of pestering, past individuals who've kind of come around. Certainly no fist fights or anything like that but little annoyances here and there I would say.

E: I've been asked that question and feel like I'm so boring because I don't have anything like that. I don't know but I'll give you a shout if it does happen.

What was nice to see about this is the female characters can be vulnerable and have issues but they can still be smart and be on the same level is no many ways. Is that something you jump at when you see it [in a script]?

M: Absolutely. I think when we walked on set and saw how many talented, funny interesting, strong girls there were in this film, not only to be playing such a cool character and to be playing somebody so strong and interesting but to have so many female characters in one movie who represent so many different types of strong women was really exciting. I found so many more women to admire in my own life which is inspiring and cool and I felt so lucky to have been a part of that.

Did each of you like your look in the film. Ellen, your look changes and Mary, you change hair but did you like the look or keep anything from the wardrobe?

E: I got to keep some of the clothes from my wardrobe but that was because there was this little joke in the costume department that my look was really boring because I was always wearing a hoodie and jeans on the set so they gave me some of Knives' clothes and said 'Try to wear some of this'. It's cool because I cut off twelve inches of my hair for the role and I also wore a wig too so I definitely went through a lot of different changes. The look of the character coincides with what she's feeling on the inside too which is cool. You see so much change in her and that's pretty much what she's going through on the inside too; trying to figure out where she fits in, what works, what doesn't. I think she gets it in the end. I really do.

M: I loved it all. I loved the way that it helped me become a different person. That was the thing I really loved about it. I didn't really take anything from Ramona's wardrobe because I couldn't really imagine actually using any of it in my own life because I'm so different from Ramona in the way that I look and dress but it was fantastic as far as getting into character. It made a huge difference for me.

Was going down to Comic Con, was it surreal to see people dressed up as your character?

M: Yes! It was very surreal. I took photos with a bunch of Ramonas. They even had hammers that were exact replicas of what I used in the movie. It was pretty amazing. I think we were all pretty overwhelmed by the whole experience, just seeing the fans there and feeling that excitement and their genuine passion and love for these books and then hearing their cheers and laughter when they watched the film, it was like 'Wow! We really got it right' because these are the harshest critics if you got it wrong. They really reacted to it in the most positive way I could imagine.

Do you think the movies are catching up to comic books in the way they portray women, because you have Wonder Woman and going back to the really strong female superheroes that haven't made it near a screen yet. I most movies, women are the girlfriend, the victim.

E: Yeah, I think what's cool about Scott Pilgrim is that it shows that there is a superhero within all of us. There's not one ideal image of what a superhero looks like and you don't really see that until the end of the film. What does it mean to be a superhero? We're all fighting for the better good. But, at the same time, I think what stands out is, as superheroes, you don't give up, you don't surrender. I think that's what makes a superhero. It's not just our characters that were the superheroes. I think all of us, in our own way, have that in us. It's about fighting for the better good of something around you or for yourself. I think that's really clear. I think it's a new way of looking at what a superhero is.

Can you talk your relationships in the film? Both of you had to have a true relationship with Scott Pilgrim in order for us to care about the movie. Talk about how important that was and how you developed it.

M: It was incredibly important to me because Ramona really rides that fine line of being likeable and unlikable and doesn't really show her emotions. So, how do you like a person who is that guarded and who never smiles? It was certainly worrisome to me, on some level, that there would be an audience who would be like 'What's her appeal?'. So, I felt like I really had to bring some sort of humanity to her and I had to really show that there was some attraction and love when she looks at Scott even thought she might not show it in the same way that Knives shows it; quite the opposite way. Yeah, that was something that was really important to me and especially in our whole love scene sequence, it was really important to me that we really connected on that and that that really worked. I was really happy the day that we shot that because I really felt that I could see my character falling for Scott in that moment and I could feel it all being so real.

E: That was probably her most vulnerable moment.

M: Yeah. And I was allowed to break a little bit during that scene and I was [thinking] 'Okay, this is the most important part of their arc together' and believing that there was a relationship there if everything goes well.

E: I think, with Knives, it's hard because she was not thinking too much about what Scott was thinking about her. What's cool with her is that everything she goes through in the film, it's her first time feeling it. I think she's so uninhibited, her feelings are so unconstrained and, in a way, I think Scott was dating her because she's easy but she doesn't see it that way. She's going on this ride, this journey and trying to figure out what it means to be in love, what it means to have your heart broken. The way she takes that on in the film is the only way she could have been able to handle all the situations because it really was her first time. She didn't know how to put up her guard or judge certain situations or scenarios because she hasn't yet been tainted by the realities of this world.

What was it like working with Edgar Wright and his particular filming style?

M: It was fun. It was challenging. He has a way of bringing out the best in you and raising the bar of the level of what you think you can do without being much of a taskmaster or being too hardcore about it. He brings us really passionate, fun energy to set and he lives and breathes the film that he's working on. The fact that I don't think he's slept since he started preproduction on the film...

E: He drank a lot of coffee and espressos. I've never seen anybody drink so many...

M: Me either.

E: And Smarties.

M: Yean, the Smarties. He was big on those. He'll go sleep for about three months I think, once this is done being promoted. But to see that kind of dedication and hard work, I think, made all of us go 'Okay. We've got to really step it up and we've gotta do whatever we can to be the best that we can in this film because we've got a director who's not gonna settle for anything less.' So, I think we all just really wanted to make him happy.

Can each of you give us a Michael Cera moment, whether it's funny or endearing?

E: Oh, there's so many moments with Michael. For me, one that stands out is that it was my first film and I was so nervous. On the first day, and the first scene I shot was where Knives was at the door meeting Scott's bandmates for the first time. I thought that was so appropriate because I was so scared and so was she in that moment. So, here I am, by myself behind this door and Michael opens the door with 'You promise to be good?' and I deliver my line, he closes the door 'Cut' and we're waiting to reload the camera and in that time, Michael opens up the door, peeks his head out and goes 'Ellen, you're doing a really good job. Keep it up' and that just goes to show you what a genuinely nice guy and sincere he is and how he is who he is and what you see is what you get.

M: I have a lot of moments like that as well. He's so sweet and genuine and after spending a few days with him you just love him. He's such a great guy but one of the things that was funny to me was his sense of humor is sometimes really kind of subversive and he kind of messes with you a little bit. It took me a while to figure that out. It's not in a way that's out and out funny. Sometimes he likes to just needle in there. I remember one of the first days that we were training, I was just trying to make conversation and the whole thing with Rihanna and Chris Brown had just happened and I was like 'Michael, did you hear what happened with Rihanna and Chris Brown? Is this crazy?' And he was like 'Who are these people? I don't know what you're referring to. Brianna? Is she a musician of some sort?' And was like 'Oh my gosh, you don't know who they are? I feel stupid. Rihanna and Chris Brown...' and I was explaining who they were and two days later I was like 'He knows who they are. He was messing with me'. It was constantly stuff like that in really subtle ways that I eventually sort of figured out. He was always doing stuff like that.

E: He could walk up to you and say stuff like 'I'm half Chinese' and you'd be like...

M: Really?

E: You almost want to believe him because of the way he delivers it.

Did you notice the number of girls who had real Ramona haircuts wondering around Comic Con?

M: Oh, like their own hair? Oh yeah.

Were you like 'Right on!' or was it a little bit creepy?

M: Oh, I think it's cool. I actually got a haircut to match Ramona’s when I got the part, I sort of cut my hair in that style to get into character even though I was wearing wigs through the whole thing. It's fun. It's cool. I think that goes to show how representative it is of a generation. That's what they want to look like and not to emulate the movie necessarily, but because it's a cool haircut. I think it goes to show how Bryan [Lee O'Malley] really got it right.

Have you gotten to read the last book?

E: Yeah.

M: Um hum. She read it first.

E: I went to a midnight release in Toronto and it was really exciting because then we're on this train going to San Diego as a cast and I'm like 'Look what I have'. I was like the cool kid. They were like 'I want it!' And it was funny.

M: I was the first one to find out that she had it so I quietly stole it and was reading it on the trip 'Nobody's going to know that I have this'. I read it really quickly and it was really cool to see how certain elements of it really matched up with the film even thought most of that stuff we did without knowing what was going to be in the book except for just a few rough ideas that Bryan had given Edgar. It was really cool.

Ellen, how did you feel about Knives because her story kind of ends?

E: This is what I have to say to everyone, 'Be cool stay in school' [laughter].

Mary, can you talk a little bit about being in The Thing? Was that awesome?

M: Yeah. It was pretty awesome. I just wrapped it two or three weeks ago. I'm so excited about it. I think everyone involved was really passionate about making it a really great film for the fans of the John Carpenter version and also for people who have no idea. It was really focused on performance and the intensity and the paranoia and suspense and also really awesome animatronic and puppeteering work and special effects in it.

Who do you play?

M: I am a scientist.

I don't think there was a woman [in the Carpenter version] There was one who was more just eye candy in the original [1950's version].

M: Yeah, they're bringing a female into the mix and it's interesting because it shakes up the dynamic a little bit. I think it's a good way of separating it because it's not a re-make, it's a prequel so it's a completely different group of people. You're not trying to recreate the same characters that were in the John Carpenter version. We're trying to bring in new ones. Having a female there brings a new dynamic and makes it its own story. The way they interact is completely different having a girl in the middle of all of that.

I'm sure you're a strong girl, though. M: Oh yeah, I kick all sorts of alien butt!

A lot of people were calling Scott Pilgrim the first of its kind. Do you see that and do you see it as a great role model film? Will you be pissed off if people start to copy it?

M: It's going to be interesting. I know that there will be films coming out that will say 'If you like Scott Pilgrim, you'll love...'

E: But I think it's exciting. It's an exciting journey to be part of a film that's so refreshing and new and different and in a way, we were saying that it's kind of like the Brat Pack films that John Hughes created with the ensemble cast and having characters you can relate to but it's our generation of that kind of a movie. I think it's cool to be part of something like this.

M: Absolutely. When we saw it at Comic Con and we felt the reaction and how it made us feel ourselves was like I think we've created something that's really going to hit people in a way they aren't expecting and that's just really exciting.

Can you give me favorite scene and most challenging scene?

M: I think our favorites and the most challenging are the same scene. We both loved the fights so much because we worked so hard on those and it's so rewarding to see it on screen.

E: I remember walking into the room and seeing the big pyramid and we were like 'It's here! Let's do this!' It was the time for us to finally implement all the stuff that we were training for here on top of this pyramid. It was cool.

You trained really hard for this, right?

M: Yeah, absolutely and the fights go by in a flash so it seems like 'Oh, they must have shot that in a day'.

E: In ten minutes.

M: No. Each fight took at least a week or a week and a half to do.

E: Yeah, I think the last one was like two and a half weeks. We were shooting on that location for almost two months.

M: On that pyramid. We started calling it 'The Pyramid Movie' and we were like 'Can you believe Chris Evans is in The Pyramid Movie? This is the same movie as the Chris Evans movie.' It was kind of surreal being in that same place every day.

E: Yeah. It was a Groundhog Day thing. You wake up, 'Oh, you again'.

M: In the same clothes.

E: 'Let's do this differently today'.

M: So that was definitely the most challenging sequence of the whole film but it was so much fun and also having Jason [Schwartzman] there who was probably the kind of craziest of all the cast members.

E: But of course this was at the end. We'd been shooting for so long and here comes Jason all fresh-faced and like 'Hey guys, let's do this'.

M: And he was there improvising and coming up with ideas for his character and we were like 'We've been living this our whole lives.'

So, Mary, by the time you got to The Thing, you probably took that action training with you?

M: Oh, definitely, yeah. I didn't have to do any training for The Thing. There were a couple of the same producers on that so it was a Universal film as well. So they were like 'Oh, Mary can handle that' so it was cool.

But, Ellen, you were training a lot before this movie, right?

E: Yeah. I was training in Tae Kwan Do and still do. I also was sparring competitively as well but I had to stop during the filming process and then I also started taking up weapons to do double short swords and Bo staff. It was interesting because I was so used to fighting Tae Kwan Do style and sparring so it was actually very difficult to learn how to fight for film because it's so different. You're not actually hitting the people.

M: No, you're not allowed to [laughing].

E: You have to stop and it was really hard to control myself so I felt like even though I had the martial arts training, I was the one who was having the hardest time getting because I would naturally want to go all the way with my move as opposed to stopping whereas, I think, for everyone else, they were 'All right, I've done this before....'

Did you ever blow it and hit Mary?

E: I'm not gonna lie. There was a moment where I'm sitting on top of the pyramid crying because the paramedics had to come to take Mary because I kind of slashed her face with my knife. This is true.

M: And it's so funny because, at first, I was kind of freaking out because I was in a lot of pain but as soon as it was over, I was 'Ellen, no, it was my fault'.

E: Mary, I'm so sorry. But it's funny because when we were training for it we had this huge space. We had all this room to move around and when we started shooting, we had this little space at the top of a pyramid and we've got an entire crew up there too so it was different.

M: And it turned out fine but it was a shock at first.

E: You can't have seven fights without an accident.

They gave you real knives?

E: They were metal and pointy. You couldn't slice cucumbers and tomatoes with them, maybe faces but actually I think it was after that incident that they put little foam tips on them and I was like 'I feel so downgraded'.

M: They were so careful after that. That's why I felt bad is they were like 'We have to be very careful with Ellen. She's dangerous. I was like 'It's not her fault! It's my fault'.

E: Those knives have a life of their own.

How did you get the part, Ellen?

E: My agent called me 'Hey there's this really great role'. I had this little paragraph of lines for Knives Chow and I went and had to put myself on tape pretty much in just a few hours so I sent in a tape and I remember having so much fun with the role because she's just so liberated, free and uninhibited. I loved that. Then I looked up the film a lot more and saw that Mary was in it and Michael was in it and it was also a comic series and I went and got all the books and got really into it and was like 'I don't know. I shouldn't have done that because I really want this role and if I don't get it, I'm gonna be really sad'. A month goes by. Edgar is in Toronto and he calls and said he wanted to see me so I did a call back in front of him, then did another one and then I had to do a fight test as well which I have never done so that was fun for me and I got to meet the stunt team and we went through a bunch of different fight moves and choreography and, from that, I flew to L.A. and did a screen test with Michael Cera for the first time and this is all over about six months of my life then I got the part. The phone call came and I was really excited.

M: Ironically enough it was offered to me, which is ridiculous. I don't know how that happened. That's very rarely happened to me in the past even for small little supporting roles in small films I'd have to go in five times and then not get the part. So I certainly was shocked that a film like this would be offered to me but I think it's a testament to Edgar's imagination, the fact that he saw me in Death Proof and he said 'That's Ramona'. He knew it because he trusts his gut enough to know that I could pull it off so it's all thanks to him.

How did you feel about the “Ciao, Knives” line at the end?

M: That was a Michael improv.

Bryan mentioned that he was a little unsure about it.

E: That was Michael having fun, being him and coming up with something cool and it's hilarious but it's cool the way that knives just shrugs it off and 'Oh, you idiot, just go. I'm letting you go now. Stop' so it was cool.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.