By Samantha Highfill
September 30, 2018 at 12:00 PM EDT
The Orchard

Spoiler alert: This post contains plot from the film.

In All About Nina, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a sharp-tongued stand-up comedian who wants nothing more than to land her big break. But along the road to success, she’s forced to face some dark demons from her past. It all comes together in one particularly powerful scene in the film when Nina, on stage and in front of an audience, reveals that her father sexually abused her when she was young. The result is a timely tale about what it means to be a survivor of sexual assault and how it can affect you. And it’s one that was particularly personal for director Eva Vives, who based the story on her own real-life experiences.

EW spoke with Winstead about taking on such an important role.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your interest in playing a stand-up comedian?
MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD: I wanted to do it because I was so scared of it. One of the last things I would ever picture myself doing would be stand-up comedy because I’ve always struggled with the idea of myself being funny. I had no experience and really didn’t know what I was doing when I first started the whole thing.

Did you do any actual stand-up to prepare for the role?
I had wanted to and we talked about it initially. I spoke to a few different comedians who were consulting on the film and there were moments when I thought about doing an open mic night, but I kept putting it off. I would only ever bomb and I’m absolutely sure of that.

Did the stand-up scenes in the film feel real?
They did. There were extras [in the audience], but they were instructed to react as they would. I didn’t know it, but the first time I did stand-up in the film, the extras were told not to laugh because our AD thought that that would be better for sound — so I actually thought that I was just bombing so terribly. I was sweating, I was trying different things and different cadences to try and bring out a laugh. It was really awful, but then as time went on, they started laughing when they felt it appropriate to laugh, so I kind of got somewhat of a real experience — or at least what felt real enough to me.

Because of those #MeToo themes in the film, was its timeliness a draw?
When I sat down with Eva, I still had no idea that it was based on her backstory and things that she’s actually been through. And when I learned that, I couldn’t believe that I was going to be lucky enough to be a part of that journey with her. I’m really proud to be a part of a movie that speaks so much to the change that’s happening within our industry and within our culture, and I think it’s great that there’s a lot of films that seem to be talking about things like this at the same time. It feels really amazing to add to the choir and be one of the many voices speaking up.

What was it like to film the scene where Nina talks about her assault on stage?
It was an incredibly intense day. It was toward the end of the shoot so it had been somewhat hanging over me the entire time. I knew that I had this huge scene and that I had this big monologue that was going to go to some dark, very emotional places and also was incredibly personal for the director of our film. So there was certainly a lot going on that day. I just remember it being very quiet, very focused. I think we shot [the scene] maybe three times. There was a lot of crying from a lot of people in the crew and Eva. It was a very cathartic moment for her, I think, and incredibly meaningful for me to get to be a part of that with her.

All About Nina is in theaters now.

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