Winstead was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., the youngest of five siblings after three older sisters and an older brother. At age five, the Winstead family packed up and moved to the Salt Lake City county of Sandy, Utah. At Peruvian Park Elementary, Winstead shone academically, eventually reaching the upper echelon of the school's advanced classes, but her performance skills also began to emerge with interests in ballet and acting. She put her acting talent to use in the fourth grade, starring as Juliet in a school production of "Romeo and Juliet," which was around the same time her parents revealed she was a distant cousin of screen legend Ava Gardner. During her youth, Winstead appeared locally in the Mountain West Ballet's version of "The Nutcracker." Expecting to become a ballerina, at the age of 11, she received the opportunity to study dance in a summer program of the prestigious Joffrey Ballet School in New York. There, she studied ballet and jazz, but decided to also segue into acting lessons as well. Winstead ended up appearing on Broadway during Donny Osmond's six-year-run of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," in which she would also appear along with her choirmates back home at Kingsbury Hall. Back home, Winstead went on to Midvale Middle School in the seventh grade, but into her second year there, began landing parts on local Hollywood productions, putting in a guest appearance on some of CBS' family friendly shows like "Touched by an Angel" (1994-2003) in 1997 and two appearances on "Promised Land" (1996-99) in 1998. Following eighth grade, Winstead made the leap toward Hollywood, heading to Los Angeles after being drafted into the soap world of NBC's "Passions" (1999-2008). In 1999, she originated the role of dutiful daughter Jessica Bennett, which she filled until 2000, while being home schooled. The role netted Winstead a Young Artist Award nomination in 2001. Winstead soon began a long flirtation with darker material on another CBS' drama, starring as the sheriff's daughter Sophia Donner on the short-lived werewolf series, "Wolf Lake" (2001-02). After the demise of that series, she found herself trapped with different beasts on "Monster Island" (2004) for MTV. In 2005, Winstead officially made herself known to mainstream moviegoers in a slew of mainstream genre films, kicking off with the long-awaited "The Ring Two" (2005), in which she briefly appeared in flashback as the mother of the murdered, evil Samara. Trying her hand at comedy, she went the independent route as the Jewish daughter of a large zany family in the indie feature "Checking Out" (2005), but her screen time fared better in the more mainstream Disney confection, "Sky High" (2005), in which she memorably starred as Gwen Grayson, the in-disguise alter ego of the supervillain Royal Pain.With some strong exposure, 2006 saw Winstead forge a working relationship with the director-writer team of James Wong and Glen Morgan, formerly best known for their memorable work on "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002). Winstead and her "Sky High" co-star, Ryan Merriman, landed in the path of the grim reaper's master plan in "Final Destination 3" (2006). She had failed to land a part in "Final Destination 2" (2003), but found her place in the third installment, which many deemed the best of the franchise. Morgan and Wong wanted to work with her again and got her to reluctantly do a turn in their sorority slasher remake of "Black Christmas" (2006). One day, Winstead inadvertently got a chance to poke fun at horror scream queens when "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, unaware of who she was, knocked on her front door one day and included her in a "Jaywalking" segment on horror movies.Looking to branch out, Winstead was well-suited for "Bobby" (2006), writer-director Emilio Estevez's love letter to the optimism of Bobby Kennedy, in which she channeled some of herself into the role of an aspiring actress. As the more established star of Andy Warhol's orbit, Ingrid Superstar, Winstead moved on to "Factory Girl" (2006). The promise of some exciting, diverse prospects loomed as Winstead raced into 2007, ushering her into the high-stakes era of "event" filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino earmarked her for the lone innocent of his high-speed "Death Proof" segment of "Grindhouse" (2007), a double-billed feature which ultimately did not sit well with audiences. But that summer, hot off the heels of its release, Winstead had her shot at some action with a tentpole sequel, "Live Free or Die Hard" (2007), ending up the filmmakers' choice to inhabit the much-coveted role of daughter Lucy McClane, the apple of former officer John McClane's (Bruce Willis) eye, all grown up 20 years later.Winstead continued to be a favorite for casting directors looking to layer genre projects with talented actors, and she made an indelible impression as the anime-haired punk/dream girl whose seven evil ex-boyfriends must be defeated by Michael Cera in the graphic novel adaptation, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010). She followed with the lead role in Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.'s prequel of John Carpenter's seminal science fiction horror classic, "The Thing" (2011). Despite the disastrous reception of the latter film, Winstead stuck with horror-tinged genre material for her next project, appearing as Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (2012). Directed by effects virtuoso Timur Bekmambetov and written by Seth Grahame-Smith from his mash-up novel of the same name, it performed reasonably well with audiences during a crowded summer release schedule. Nonetheless, Winstead's minor role in a movie many found to be a frivolous venture did little to elevate her stature as a mature actress. That perception changed, however, when festival audiences were treated to her breakthrough performance in the indie drama "Smashed" (2012). Winstead played a young elementary school teacher whose shared love of alcohol with her husband (Aaron Paul) careens out of control. Winstead's attempts at sobriety not only lead to her facing certain truths about her past life, but the basis of her party-all-the-time marriage, as well. Though seen only in limited released, "Smashed" earned Winstead widespread critical praise, as well as an Indie Spirit Awards nomination for Best Actress. Supporting roles in Roman Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" (2012), young adult comedy-drama "The Spectacular Now" (2013) and Adam Scott-starring comedy "A.C.O.D." (2013) followed, as did a return to the "Die Hard" universe in a cameo in "A Good Day to Die Hard" (2013). Winstead teamed with her then-husband, writer-director Riley Stearns, to produce and star in indie comedy-drama "Faults" (2014). The same year, she starred in Chris Messina's drama "Alex of Venice" (2014) and political thriller "Kill the Messenger" (2014). Winstead next co-starred on Carlton Cuse's atmospheric TV drama "The Returned" (A&E 2015), which lasted only one season. Returning to the big screen, Winstead co-starred in the Daniel Radcliffe black comedy "Swiss Army Man" (2016), John Krasinski's "The Hollars" (2016) and J.J. Abrams' conceptual sequel "10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016). During this period, Winstead also starred in political satire "BrainDead" (CBS 2016), a self-contained summer event series, and Civil War-era medical drama "Mercy Street" (PBS 2016-17) before joining the cast of anthology series "Fargo" (FX 2014) for its third season, starring opposite Ewan MacGregor as a rural Minnesota couple caught up in a double murder. The series led to the gossip pages, as Winstead and McGregor began dating in late 2017 after leaving their respective spouses.
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