Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s guide to acting drunk

The Smashed star talks us through the fine art of getting half-cut on camera.

As told to

Adam Woodward


She’s best known for her scream queens roles in sci-fi/horrors Final Destination 3, The Thing and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s latest film, Smashed, required a more staid performance from the 28-year-old rising star. Specifically, she had to get used to pretending to be out-of-her-mind drunk. A lot. Here, Winstead serves up her top tips for acting blotto on the big screen.

Know Your Limits

“Every actor has a different set of skills for acting drunk. I had never done it before so I had to find something that worked for me. I found this book called ‘The Power Of The Actor’, it has this chapter all about playing drunk and all the different techniques you can use.”

“The main thing I did was this almost hypnosis thing where you close your eyes and you take yourself through every single minute detail of what it feels like to get drunk, starting with the taste on your tongue through the burning down your throat to the warm dizzy feeling when the alcohol starts to take effect. If you take it far enough it can have a really powerful effect, to the point where when you open your eyes they’re glazed over and you feel really out of it.”

Mix it Up

“In the more extreme scenes I would do things like spinning non-stop, really fast while staring at the floor. I’d keep spinning until by the time they called ‘action’ I’d have to hold onto something just to stop myself from falling over. When you’re drunk you’re often acting in a silly, childlike way, so spinning around helped me to get into that mindset.”

Stay on the Wagon

“I thought about going method as an option, but ultimately filming is unpredictable; you don’t know when you’re going to be filming a scene; you don’t know how long it’s going to take so if you’re relying on a substance that could evaporate at any moment you may find yourself thinking ‘Oh shit, I’m not drunk anymore, what am I going to do now?’ Or the opposite can happen where you get so drunk that you can’t take direction or you can’t remember your lines. There’s a lot of ways that could go wrong. People definitely do it though, I have plenty of actor friends that have done it and ended up regretting it.”

Be Yourself

“I deliberately didn’t look at any other drunk performances because I knew that if I got any sort of performance in my head that it would just effect it in a way that I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be consciously aware of what it looked like or what it sounded like. Try to find it in the most authentic way possible. There’s a lot of what I’m like when I’m drunk in the performance.

“I’m very silly and childlike when I’m drunk, just very dance-y and constantly moving. The karaoke scene is a good example of what I’m like when I’m drunk – kinda goofy and carefree.”

Published 11 Dec 2012

Tags: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

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