If you’ve seen Final Destination 3, Live Free or Die Hard, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, or The Thing, odds are Mary Elizabeth Winstead isn’t just on your radar. You’re probably pretty much obsessed. With 39 credits on her IMDB page, the 29-year-old is one of the hardest-working young actresses in Hollywood. And to top it all off, she’s spent the last three years working on the coolest side project: an album with veteran producer Dan the Automator (of Handsome Boy Modeling School, Deltron 3030 and more). The two met on the set of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, for which Dan did the music. And after Dan saw a clip online of Winstead singing in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, he asked her to collaborate with him. The result is an album of ’60s French pop-inspired songs for the cheekily-titled I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now. I spoke with Winstead about Got a Girl (the duo’s stage name) and her love of French style. Read on for our chat!
Lucky: How did you first meet Dan the Automator and how did you start working together?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I had been a fan of Dan for a long time, since like my late teens. I was really obsessed with his album Lovage, this project he did with Jennifer Charles and Mike Patton. When he said that we should try to do something together, I was just in shock because nobody cool like that had made an offer to work with me musically, so I was pretty excited and I didn’t know if he was serious or not. And it just slowly progressed. He lives in San Francisco and I live in L.A. so it was just emailing back and forth. He eventually sent me a track and said, "Try to write something to this—and if it’s good maybe we’ll record it, and if it’s not good maybe we’ll scrap it and move on." It ended up being “Did We Live Too Fast.” So we recorded that and just sort of slowly turned it into an album over the course of a couple years. We got together every couple months and did a song, and it just kind of worked itself out.
The sound of the album and the visual components have a very ‘60s, Mad Men, Bond girl kind of feel to them. Where did that come from?
I guess we really lucked out in the sense that Dan and I have such similar sensibilities, in terms of music and film. So we really didn’t have to talk about it too much more when Dan said he was interested in exploring a kind of French-girl vibe. I was like, “I’m there,” because I love New Wave film, and I love ‘60s music, particularly French pop. So it was really easy for us to connect. It just felt really natural.
The short and silly teaser videos on YouTube are so clever, and definitely play off that ’60s vibe.
Thanks! I hope they drive home a little of what we’re trying to do—it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, which to me is the spirit of a lot of those ‘60s French pop albums. They are so serious, but with a wink. A lot of our songs are really melancholy and serious love songs, but we’re just really having fun with the whole thing.
I loved the concept for the “Did We Live Too Fast” video [check it out below]. How did that come about?
I knew that my friend Hope Larsen wanted to get more into directing—she’s been a graphic novelist for a while and a cartoonist, and she had directed a short film. I thought she would want a shot at pitching an idea for a music video and she came to me with this idea. Immediately it reminded me of old Twilight Zone episodes and we took inspiration from that and mixed it with a nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s films. I knew Dan would love it because anything that has a weirdness to it is right up his alley. Hope and I got together a great group of people and friends and just scraped a few thousand dollars together and made the video over a weekend in Los Angeles. We actually found the house on Airbnb and asked the ownerl if we could shoot there and she said yes. It was the perfect little cute house—exactly what we needed.
How did you and Dan choose the name Got a Girl?
We were really just spitballing — that’s kind of how a lot of things in this project came together, us sitting in a room shouting things out. We were stuck on a name and were walking around San Francisco going into different book stores and art museums and things and trying to get inspiration. Dan said it at some point, like, “I got a girl, got a girl,” and we both just started saying it over and over agin. There’s something really snappy and catchy about it. That’s what we were looking for, something that had that kind of energy to it and just clicked. It’s the same with the album title [I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now]. We just said it as a joke one day and we kept saying it, and kept saying it, and it just stuck.
Are there elements of the ‘60s French girl in your personal style?
Definitely. I mean, I kind of amped it up for the Got a Girl project, but I’ve been really into that aesthetic and Anna Karina has been a huge style inspiration of mine for years and years. I try to mix it up and go through stages of different style changes, but I always come back to that kind of ‘60s French-girl cool thing. It’s a very aspirational thing for me to try to emulate that.
What style phase would you say you are in right now?
Since I’m in Vancouver working [on a new drama for A&E called The Returned], I’ve been wearing a more grungy kind of style, really laid back. A lot more of a sneakers and military jacket kind of thing. I’m enjoying the trend of really comfortable clothes. That really works. Especially when I’m working, the lazier the better. If anything lazy is in style, it works for me.
You have great style. Where do you like to shop: vintage, online, boutiques?
All of the above. I would say I used to be almost exclusively vintage. I still have a lot of vintage stuff in my closet, but I’m starting to like things that are more vintage-inspired with a modern edge and made with modern fabrics. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I can’t really wear polyester dresses anymore. I just can’t sit through the itchiness and the scratching. Now that I’m pushing 30, I need more of a relaxed vibe.
What are you favorite brands or designers?
Well, I don’t buy them often because they are things I aspire to wear or wear on the red carpet, but I love Marni, I love Miu Miu, I love Roksanda Ilincic. They all have a kind of retro inspiration but feel very right now and unique. You feel like you’re wearing a piece of art. In terms of actual shopping, I’m more of a boutique small brand shopper. I love finding local designers in whatever city I’m in. Online. I love Need Supply Co. and I just discovered The Outnet and I’m obsessed with it. That’s been really dangerous for me lately.
Is there someone in music or film whose style you admire?
I’ve always been really into Alexa Chung, even though it’s become cliche to say that, because she’s been the It Girl in fashion for a while. But I just think that she always looks so effortless and so cool. And just pretty much every French girl, I aspire to that. Lou Doillon fits right into that idyllic, effortless chic thing. She tends to be someone I look up on Pinterest when I’m looking for style inspiration.
When can we see you acting next?
I have a film coming out in October called Kill the Messenger with Jeremy Renner. There are so many incredible actors in it; I feel amazed to be part of the cast. It’s a pretty cerebral political thriller. Jeremy plays a journalist who breaks this really huge story about the government and their link to drugs and the crack epidemic in the 1990s. It’s a true story. I play the editor, and it’s about how the story backfires on him and our newspaper. It’s a really crazy story that I think people have sort of forgotten about. At the time, in the mid-’90s when it was happening, people were talking about it and I think later it got brushed under the rug.
Got a Girl’s I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff is available for digital download starting today!