Dean Winters is a familiar face on television, from his insurance commercials as the character of “Mayhem” to his new starring role in the CBS series “Battle Creek.”
Not bad for a guy who died almost six years ago.
Winters woke up on June 18, 2009 with a bad fever. He decided to try to sleep it away. But, he woke the next day to see that his entire body was gray because of a bacterial infection. On his way to the hospital, his heart stopped for 21/2 minutes.
The paramedics brought him back. That was the start of a three-week stay in the intensive care unit.
While he was in the hospital, Winters figured his career was over.
“I had no idea what I was going to do. It was the darkest time,” Winters says.
Gangrene developed and doctors had to amputate two toes and half a thumb. He would eventually have 18 operations, including skin grafts and the use of a muscle from his arm to rebuild his hand.
Winters was pulled out of that darkness by a nurse who took him to the hospital’s children’s burn unit. He was moved by the sight of eight kids with prosthetic legs playing soccer .
“That was the moment when I turned everything around. I learned how to walk again. I came back. But it took awhile. The Allstate commercials helped and then Tina Fey gave me my first job,” Winters says.
Winters appeared on “30 Rock” the day after he got out of the hospital from his 10th surgery. He had casts on both arms and his leg, all hidden from the cameras.
The experience changed Winters.
“I’m a much more thoughtful actor now,” Winters says. “I take my time more. I never said no to anything in my career. This has censored me a little because I have physical limitations.
“It’s a little embarrassing to go to the writers and tell them we have to fix certain things but so far everyone has been very beautiful to me.”
Whether it’s a fairytale character or a character from the comic book world — as was the case with his “Thor” — director Kenneth Branagh brings an understanding of how important it is to respect the mythology behind the character. These are the elements fans are going to expect when they see a big-screen adaption of a character.
In the case of “Cinderella,” there was only one question Branagh was asked when he would say he was directing the movie.
“Everyone wanted to know if GusGus would be in it,” Branagh tells me during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Branagh didn’t want to disappoint fans. That meant he had to come up with a way to make the mice — who talked and wore clothes in the animated version of the movie — fit into his more realistic world. That was accomplished by giving them distinct personalities and a chatter that sounds like speech.
Chris Weitz, who wrote the screenplay for the new feature film starring Lily James and Richard Madden, created lines for the mice to say. But, their chatter has been changed so it no longer sounds like words.
Branagh also knew Cinderella fans would want a pumpkin and the midnight dash from the palace. His instinct was to stay true to what has been working for centuries.
“I leaned on that structure but also refreshed it through the clear starting point of Cinderella,” Branagh says. “We were already a big, new fresh thing because we were live action and animated. I felt if we could combine that with the character re-invention we could be quietly revolutionary inside what appears to be a classical format.”
Branagh’s always had strong female characters in his films, and “Cinderella” is no exception. She still feels the wrath of a stepmother, but Branagh has James play the role so that Cinderella isn’t a damsel in distress. It’s through the goodness in her own heart that she sets in motion events that would lead her out from under the foot of her oppressor.
She’s also a woman who can find the strength to forgive and demand she be accepted for the person she is.
Branagh never expected to make “Cinderella.” The director thought if he were to ever direct a live-action version of a fairytale it would be more along the lines of “Pinocchio.”
That’s because “Pinocchio” was the fairytale that scared him the most as a little kid.