Set in Tokyo, the Netflix thriller Kate stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Birds of Prey, Gemini Man) as the eponymous assassin who learns she’s been poisoned and has 24 hours to live — and 24 hours to find her killer. With help from the teenage daughter (newcomer Miku Patricia Martineau) of one of her past victims, Kate shoots, stabs, slices and kicks her way through the Neon City to get to the bottom of her impending doom. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), Kate features of the kinetic stunt choreography by 87Eleven Action Design, the same guys behind the brutal gun-fu in John Wick and Atomic Blonde. Speaking to and other press via Zoom, Winstead, 36, reveals what attracted her to the project and addresses the movie’s “White Girl on Asian Killing Spree” controversy.

1/ She almost said no to Kate.

After working on back-to back action pictures Ang Lee’s Gemini Man and the Harley Quinn-spin-off Birds of Prey starring alongside Margot Robbie, Winstead had reservations about making  another one. “I was a bit tired and I was also seeking a break,” says the actress who gave birth to her first child with boyfriend Ewan McGregor in June. But the script for Kate was too compelling to pass up. “Kate is such a great character and it was something that felt more challenging than anything I have done before on so many levels, physically as well as emotionally,” she says.

2/Birds of Prey helped make her life easier on Kate.   

Having worked with the 87North stunt team before on Birds of Prey, Winstead found their second collaboration much easier. “For Kate, I didn’t have to do a lot of preparatory training — which I was happy to skip over because it was really exhausting — because it had already been done on Birds of Prey,” she explains. “So I sorta jumped into Kate with [stunt choreographer] JoJo [Eusebo] straight into the choreography — the fun part — which is figuring out who Kate is and how she fights. [JoJo] was aware of what I was capable of and so he tailored the fights to what I can do.”

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Let’s go to work: Winstead with her ‘Birds of Prey’ colleagues. She says her fights in the DC movie was dance-like, “lyrical and required long takes” whereas ‘Kate’ is “a bit brutal and mess and more raw and gritty and realistic.”

3/ Her favourite fight scene to shoot…

…happens to be the first scene as well as the most challenging: the kitchen smackdown with Japanese rocker Miyavi. “There was a bit of dangerous energy in the air because Miyavi and I couldn’t rehearse together very much [because he had a tight schedule],” Winstead recalls. “He just showed up a few days prior to the shoot and picked the choreography really quickly. We had a couple of rehearsals together and then it was okay, ‘You’re on — let’s see what happens.’ We ended up beating up each a little bit but it was also really exciting. It was just so fun to get in there, to be totally raw with it.”

4/ She had a blast filming in Tokyo.

“It was really fast and intense,” says Winstead, who shot the movie in late 2019. “We were sort of shooting guerrilla-style on the streets — just getting shorts wherever we could. I was chasing Miku around with a fake gun, looking, I’m sure, a bit deranged to the local people who were hanging out in the streets around us. There was one point where we were actually tailed by a Yakuza gang, trying to figure out what we were doing. So it definitely felt like a life-threatening [situation] for a few minutes.” (Fun fact: Due to safety concerns, the Ginza car chase was shot in Bangkok.)

5/ She understands that some folks may have issues with Kate.

When the trailer dropped in August, it sparked outrage from netizens who weren’t thrilled a ‘white girl on Asian killing spree’ premise amid the rise of Asian hate crimes worldwide. Winstead says it wasn’t their intention to upset Asians when they set out to make Kate two years ago. Far from it, they wanted to pay homage to Japan and her culture. She hopes naysayers would reserve judgement after they’ve seen the movie. “When people see it, I hope that they realise that it’s a thoughtful film. It’s nothing exploitative about it in any way. It’s very emotional, there’s a lot of depth and humanity and dignity in the film even though there is also a lot of violence.”

Kate is now streaming on Netflix.

Photos: Netflix/Jasin Boland, TPG News/Click Photos