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The first word out of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s mouth when asked about The Thing, the Universal Pictures prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic, is a single name: Ripley.
“I love Ripley and I love the Alien movies,” the actress said, telling Spinoff Online and other members of the press that her character Kate Lloyd is partly based on Sigourney Weaver’s tough-as-nails heroine.
“The comparison was coming up in pre-production,” Winstead said, adding with a smile, “I love the comparison!”
Opening Oct. 14 nationwide, the prequel tells the story of the Norwegian and international science team that finds the alien monster, the titular Thing, frozen in the Antarctic ice. Dovetailing into the Carpenter film, the new Thing explores what happened to those initial researchers, and how the Thing got loose in the first place. Describing herself as a huge fan of the 1982 film, Winstead said that unlike her scream-queen roles in films like Final Destination 3 and Black Christmas, paleontology grad student Kate isn’t a victim, but rather a competent take-charge woman.
“It was fun to be able to play a character as a woman in a movie who’s that smart and that strong and that put together and not neurotic or shrill or sexy or whatever the things women usually are in movies,” she said. Comparing the role again to Ellen Ripley in Alien, Winstead added, “The character, to be honest, was so refreshing it was just kind of a no-brainer — I had to do it.”
A fan of the horror movies of Carpenter’s era, Winstead said she was also attracted to the role because she thought the new Thing was attempting to capture some of that Carpenter magic.
“For me it evokes a time period of my favorite horror films, the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I feel it has a little bit more of that kind of classic slow burn,” she said. “The first half of the film is slow and suspenseful and then when the terror kicks in, it kicks in and it doesn’t let go.”
The chance to burn things on set with a giant flamethrower only sweetened the deal. “It was cool getting to burn an actual person!” Winstead laughed.
Explaining that she had to wield a heavy flamethrower for half the movie, Winstead said, “I burned a lot of practical creature effect-type stuff, and then one of our last things I shot was me flaming a stunt guy with flame-retardant gel all over. It’s just crazy because you’re just hoping nothing goes wrong!”
She laughed again as she recalled how quickly the film’s crew caught on that she loved to use the equipment. “I had this crazed look on my face, like I was so excited to be burning something! I looked gleeful in every shot.”
Turning away from human immolation for a moment, Winstead praised the decision by director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. to use monster robots that looked like the Thing. She said she loved the detail lavished on everything from the Thing puppets to the crashed alien ship.
“There were certain things that were green screen, but the ship was a set, and it was really beautifully made,” Winstead said. While she had some experience working with green screen films like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Winstead said she always prefers practical effects.
“I think any actor would prefer there be something really there to react to,” said the actress, who’ll next play Mary Todd Lincoln in Vampire Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. “There was always something practical there to react to, it was never like being in front of a screen not knowing what the world was.”
Wrapping up her talk with reporters, Winstead again emphasized her love for the original film. She added that The Thing was a special project for her as she felt it was different from not just other contemporary horror films but from most of her previous roles.
“I feel it’s a horror film for adults which we don’t get a lot of now,” she said. “I feel most horror films are made for teenagers or about teenagers, and I’ve done a couple of those horror films so there’s nothing wrong with that, but the older I get the more I starve for more adult material.”