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SXSW Q&A: actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars in cult drama 'Faults'

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars in Faults
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars in FaultsSnoot Entertainment

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars in Riley Stearns first feature "Faults" premiering in the Narrative Spotlight section of SXSW on Sunday, March 9.

Winstead recently answered a few questions about the film, in which she costars with Leland Orser.

Tell us about your role in Faults.

I play Claire, a young woman who has been indoctrinated into a cult. When her parents hire someone to kidnap and deprogram her, we learn a lot of things about her that I'd rather not give away!

What aspects of the character did you relate to most?

On paper, it was difficult to relate to her in a literal way. It's hard to imagine myself being in a position where I'd allow someone to brainwash me, that I'd give up my agency like that. But I knew how people in cults prey upon people who are at their lowest point, so I tried to focus on what got her to that place. That extreme vulnerability. I created a backstory for her that brought out a lot of empathy in me for her and her situation.

What did you know about various cults and mind control tactics prior to filming?

I've always been fascinated with cults, but I don't think I knew much more about them than the average person, just sort of surface level knowledge. It was an area I was excited to explore.

How did you prepare for the role?

I read a few books, mainly Ted Patrick's book "Let Our Children Go". Ted Patrick was one of the deprogrammers of the 70's era that loosely inspired Leland Orser's character and it was incredible to read about his experiences. Even though Riley Stearns never read this book, there were some striking similarities. It made me feel like we were unwittingly getting a lot of things very right, before the real research even began.

I also watched a lot of interviews with former cult members, as well as family members of people in cults. Particularly videos from the 70's and 80's, whatever I could find. It was such a specific time in the world of cults, where it reached this sort of fever pitch. I wanted to try and understand why it was happening so frequently, what was going on with the youth at that time.

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this film?

I think the character was incredibly challenging for me. She has so much going on inside of her, but doesn't show any of it. On top of that, I knew that Riley wanted it sort of dead pan and underplayed and I wanted to hit that style he was going for, while at the same time hint at the emotions trying to get out underneath. Not an easy one!

Tell us about working with director Riley Stearns. What was that process like?

It was horrible and I refuse to work with him again.

Truthfully, it was pretty awesome. We are married, and were warned by many people that working together might put a strain on our relationship, but it was really the opposite. We know each other so well that we always know what the other is thinking and going for, and so it makes for a pretty easy going working environment. I'm forcing him to write a role for me in everything he does from now on.

What do you hope audiences will come away with after seeing this film?

I'm very proud of this film, and I feel like it's completely different than anything I've seen before. So in that sense, I hope people have a strong reaction to it- that it makes them think. That it stays in there head for a good while.

What new projects do have coming up that you can mention?

I have a couple other films coming out this year: Alex of Venice, which will premiere at Tribeca next month, and Kill the Messenger with Jeremy Renner that will come out later this year. Very excited about both of those projects and currently reading and looking for the next project to jump into.

For more about "Faults" visit: http://schedule.sxsw.com/2014/events/event_FS14983