Hatfields & McCoys Star Mare Winningham Talks History—Her Own and America’sQuick: What do you know about the Hatfields and the McCoys? Chances are, you remember that they were two families embroiled in a rivalry, but that’s about it. Well, the History channel wants to change that by bringing to life this epic Civil War-era tale of love and hate, violence and vengeance, in a new miniseries. Snakkle spoke with star Mare Winningham about Hatfields & McCoys—and her own remarkable history. By Nina Hämmerling Smith
They were friends and neighbors across state lines. Then one resentment led to another, they ended up on opposites sides of a legal battle, and the conflict turned violent. Soon the whole country was following along with the multigenerational struggle of the Hatfields and the McCoys, and we’re still talking about it 130 years later.
“It’s good vs. evil defined,” says star Mare Winningham, who plays strong, long-suffering clan matriarch Sally McCoy. “These themes of feuding and hostility and joining forces against your neighbor are things that, unfortunately, bind us as human beings. It’s the baser nature of ourselves.”
Winningham, who has starred in numerous historic TV shows (Young Pioneers) and movies (Wyatt Earp), enjoyed immersing herself in the period. “I am tickled with how great actors [like costars Bill Paxton and Kevin Costner] love growing a beard and holding a gun,” she says. “It was such a delight to be one of four or five women among 70 men who were told, ‘Don’t shave.’ ”
One of those few other women was True Blood star Lindsay Pulsipher, who told Snakkle that Winningham is one of her “new favorite people.” Winningham returns the praise: “She’s a very strong person and a very strong actress,” she says of Pulsipher.
Winningham herself had a number of mentors, “amazing women” she met on-set over the years with whom she “would connect over the blend of being a mom and an actress.” Among them were Jill Clayburgh (her costar in Shy People), Sissy Spacek (Hard Promises) and Blythe Danner (the TV movie Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues).
“I was the TV-movie queen for a while there in the ’80s, when movie stars weren’t doing them,” Winningham says with a laugh. “People will recognize me from Lifetime reruns. I get a lot of, ‘Do I know you—oh, wait, you were in that TV movie!’ ”
Many still identify with her from her breakout role in a brat-pack classic. “I get a lot of St. Elmo’s Fire, because that movie reached people in a way,” she says. “It defined a certain generation.”
Winningham is also an accomplished country-folk singer; she performed her own vocals for the Oscar-nominated title role in Georgia.
In fact, it was a musical role that first got her noticed—playing Maria in The Sound of Music as a high school senior … opposite Kevin Spacey. “We both got our agents from that,” says Winningham. “We were really serious about our theater department in high school, and there was a core group of kids who were wonderful actors.” Clearly, “There was something in the water!”
Hatfields & McCoys airs May 28, 29 and 30 at 9/8c only on History.
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