I am really thrilled to have been invited to do a guest post for Winona Forever. I had quite a few options what to write about, but most of all, I wanted to share some of the stories that didn’t end up in my biography of Winona, first published some 13 years ago.
I guess if I was writing the book today it would be quite different to the original version, and would probably, in parts, paint a completely different portrait of her. When it was being considered for an update by my publisher following the shoplifting saga and trial, the main criteria for the update would have been to re-write some of the inaccuracies that appeared in the original, which have only come to light in the years since publication. For example, her place of birth, which was not in Winona as it happens, but in the nearby city of Omstead County in Minnesota. Another would be to re-discuss her screen test for Lucas, which she actually did with River Phoenix – and also to include first-time details about her influences not mentioned in the book, such as Ruth Gordon and silent movie star Louise Brooks, and to talk about River’s Edge, the film she was meant to audition for in 1986, but due to a sex scene, her parents wouldn’t allow her to do it. I would certainly have set out to offer some insight into what really happened inside Saks Fifth Avenue in December 2001, and also to offer a definitive explanation into the infamous fallout with Gwyneth Paltrow.
I do hope you will be fascinated by what follows! Thank you so much to Winona Forever for allowing me to share some memories of what still remains my favourite book out of all the ones I have written over the last 20 years.
Huge thanks to you all, Nigel.
From Chapter 3: The Road To Hollywood
About Winona’s nightmare of moving to Petaluma…
Even the horror of stealing a comic book turned into an equal nightmare. She was immediately put under citizen’s arrest, handcuffed, and hurled into the back of a police car. ‘Then the police brought me home, and my parents tried to beat them up.’ To journalist Hilary Johnson it sounded ‘like the perfect childhood,’ especially when it turns out ‘that your parents beat up the cops when you get arrested for shoplifting!’
About Winona being asked to leave school after being beaten-up…
Even so the incident was enough to persuade Winona that she wasn’t going back there. All she could do was fall on her knees in front of her mother and plea, ‘Mom, I’m not going back another day.’ Outraged by the attack, Michael and Cindy agreed. But they were equally outraged by the school itself. It seemed rather than discipline the bullies for their violent aggression, the school chose to implicate Winona in their stead. Even more strange, as far as Winona was concerned, was the fact that ‘I’m this twelve year old, and Petaluma Kenilworth Junior High School, tells me to leave because I was a distraction. I’m sorry that gay bashing was such a distraction for them. I didn’t want to go back anyway. I was too scared.’
Kenilworth itself however could not uncover any record of the incident, or indeed of Winona being asked to leave. That’s not to suggest that it didn’t occur, or that Winona’s recollection of events isn’t accurate. Far from it. What is questionable however is whether the principal at the time had simply overlooked recording the details. Whatever the reasons, today the school is disheartened to discover that Winona’s time at Kenilworth was so traumatic, and more importantly, that no explanation can be offered for the absence of school records relating to the attack on her. During an investigation into the story Winona had told Life magazine for a December 1994 feature, Dr Kim Jamieson, the deputy superintendent for the Petaluma School District, could find no evidence, nor could he persuade Michael and Cindy to talk about it. He did however corroborate that any such abusive behaviour of students today would simply be targeted as unacceptable by Kenilworth or for that matter, any other junior high in California.
From Chapter 4: Hot Actress
About making her first movie…
Winona admits to finding her new world of cinema confusing and distracting, probably made worse by having to contend with her first period while making the movie. It was so symbolic, she recalls now. ‘I just remember feeling really horrible and – not to get graphic or anything – you don’t know really what’s happening but you do feel this is a really weird moment. I just remember saying this line – “Did you have a good summer, Lucas?” or something – and in the middle of saying it, feeling something inside me. And I just kind of knew it. Even then I was like, I can’t believe this is happening to me. It was just a drag. It’s not anything I ever wanted to get. My memory of the shoot was an impression of haste,‘ she laughs. That said, ‘I learned very fast.’ It was, after all, she continues ‘a great first experience,’ even if it did have similar parallels to high school, ‘you know, kids gossiping, kind of immature.’
And watching it for the first time….
But the first time Winona watched the film, ‘I was just really scared to see my face that big. It was such a shock that people had just seen me act.’ In the end though, she went to see it another two times. Once in San Francisco when it opened there at the Galaxy Theater in April 1986, and once in Santa Rosa, where Winona recalls ‘a lady sitting in front of me said to the guy she was with that I looked sad on the screen. I guess she meant the part about being hopelessly in love. I wanted to ask her what she meant, but instead I started really looking at myself on the screen but it’s hard to be objective about your own performance.’
Critical reaction, too, was delightful for both the film as a comedy classic, and the emergence of a new, fully-formed star. The New York Times critic Caryn James described Winona’s character as ‘the most intelligent comic portrayal’ in the movie, while another New York Times writer, Janet Maslin, thought that Winona’s Lydia drifting in and out throughout the movie was ‘much creepier than the ghosts themselves.’ An observation shared by Glen Shadix who played Otho, one of the Deetzes arty friends from New York. ‘It was no secret that Winona was at the beginning of a major career,’ he today recalls. ‘She was the most possessed and charming 15-year-old I’d ever met. This kid had projects in development and could come up with a movie idea and pitch it from beginning to end in the time it took to eat a tossed salad during lunch in the commissary. And she didn’t have a “slick child actor” bone in her body.’
From Chapter 5: Que Sera, Sera
About Winona’s ill health during the filming of Great Balls of Fire…
‘It was awful,’ shudders Winona. ‘I couldn’t sleep or eat or anything. I was on these penicillin-type drugs. Finally they brought a doctor in to give me a shot, and even he was freaked out. He thought the whole film depended on me surviving. he had this horse needle and he was so nervous that he kept missing the veins on my arms. So finally he just jerked it out of my arm and without even telling me, gave me a shot in the butt!’ It was, she said, ‘my only vivid memory of London.’
About the real Myra Lewis praising Winona’s performance in the film…
Myra, too, was full of praise for Winona’s performance. The two met when Myra was invited to attend one of the screenings of the dailies. It was where Winona, dressed in a Brady Boys T-shirt and jeans, would normally sit behind Jim McBride with her hands on his shoulders, and Dennis Quaid would slip into the chair behind her, to ease her onto his lap. Even attending journalists were quick to point out the closeness. ‘Whether she can’t keep her hands off the guys or they can’t keep theirs off her, she and her director and her co-star remain in pretty constant physical contact whenever they’re in the same room.’
But the day she watched Myra watching her, she was understandably nervous. ‘We were showing her some stuff where he was picking her up from school and says “I’m gonna marry you.” I looked over and she was crying, and I was so scared because I didn’t know what she was crying about. I didn’t know if she was crying because I was a bad actress or that it was so real. And then she turned to me, and hugged me, and said “You’re a gift from God.” It was probably the most amazing feeling that I’ve ever had in connection with acting.’ Equally astonishing, noted Premiere magazine, was ‘how precisely this young actress, this girl born in 1971, conveys the way thirteen year old girls looked at the boys in the ‘50s – whisperingly, if you will, with their mouths, but purely.’
From Chapter 8: Adult Roles
About Winona’s nude scene cut from Bram Stoker’s Dracula…
Winona, however, took pains to ensure that the erotic connection was not so uncontrollable that she would completely abandon herself to passion. In one scene, for example, when Mina tears wildly at her bodice as she writhes in the vampire’s embrace, her clothing remains firmly adhered to her body. But for another, seen by your narrator on a workprint video, and cut from the campfire sequence of the final movie, the script demanded she seductively pulls open her corset to induce Van Helsing (Hopkins) into caressing her bare breast and kissing her nipple. But with her face far-off camera, the moment is never more than insinuated it is Winona.
Besides ‘I won’t do nudity’ she repeated. It was even written in her contract to prove it. But if she was breaking her own cardinal rule to appear semi-nude, she had her reasons. ‘When you go through the whole process of becoming a vampire, you try to get everything off you. You become very animalistic, and an animal wouldn’t want to be in a corset. That’s why I was pulling on my clothing. There was a lot of footage, which they didn’t use, where I wasn’t doing that. It looks now as if that was all I was doing, when there were maybe two moments that I did.’
Obviously, continues Winona, ‘exposing yourself, just in general, is difficult. But when you’re working with people like Francis and Michael Ballhaus (the cinematographer) and our incredible camera crew, it’s a lot easier than working with real strangers. Everybody was protective; there was no gawking. It wasn’t an atmosphere where you felt unsafe. It was very respectful.’
Although Nigel’s biography of Winona has been unavailable for some years, it is now available again as an eBook from Amazon UK and Amazon US and is soon to be made available as a Print On Demand (POD) version for those who would prefer a print book to a digital version! For further information where to buy the ebook version, visit Nigel’s website at www.nigelgoodall.co.uk