Found some pictures from Noni shooting ” The Informers” outside Canters Famous Deli in Los Angeles, today. She’s absolutelly stuning!
The Informers: Noni filming in LA, October 17
Empire — March 1995
— by Jeff Dawson
She’s ludicrously beautiful, far too talented, and still only 23 years old. Jeff Dawson is granted an audience with the winsome, wondrous, and “waif-like” Winona Ryder… “Younger Women are really underestimated by Hollywood,” protests Winona Ryder. “I think they are really sick of seeing films about happy hookers. I know a lot of younger girls, and they say, ‘Why do they make girls look so stupid in movies?’ That’s what they say. ‘Why are girls just girlfriends? Why aren’t they smart? Do they think we’re stupid?’ And I’m sitting around thinking, ‘Well, er, yes.’ I think Little Women is actually something that could make them be inspired.”
Petite, delicately pale and — as fashion types are wont to put it — “waif-like”, Winona Ryder is certainly not someone Hollywood is underestimating. She’s never peeled her kit off on camera; she’s never played a character whose personal demons (as they say in California) don’t require a spot of wrestling; and she’s never entered into that John Hughes-ish world of rich brat high school designer angst. Yet, still only 23, not only does she have the power to greenlight a project — as she did with her latest, Little Women, her name placed well above the titled — but she can command $4 million for her trouble.
The most powerful actress of her generation? She’d certainly go 12 rounds with Julia Roberts…
Little Women is as refined as they come. Gillian Armstrong’s wonderful interpretation of Louisa M. Alcott’s required literary text, it is one of the finest classic adaptations in many a year. Unlike the agonising, sterile order of Martin Scorsese’s period drame, The Age of Innoncence, which Ryder also graced, it has soul. The corsets may be stuffed with whalebone, but behind each one beats a heart of gold.
“I read it when I was 12 and it really made a strong impression on me,” begins Ryder, taking a slurp of coffee to jump-start our breakfast meeting at Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons Hotel. “It was one of the only books around that explored women’s adolescence. In a lot of those books, either you were a girl or you were a woman — you were never in between.”
So, as Cilla Black once asked Alfie, what’s it all about? The answer, given that even those who did Little Women for English Lit. probably forgot all about it in a post-exam cider session, is the story of the March siblings, Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg, principally Jo (Ryder), who must choose between a life of cushy domestic bliss with childhood sweetheart Laurie (Christian Bale) or strike out for the big city, become a writer and shack up with older Professor Friedrich Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne). It’s a happy sisterly affair, presided over by non-judgmental mom Marmee (Susan Sarandon). In short, it’s a tale that translates perfectly into the modern era. As valid now as in 1933 when George Cukor made a previous notable version — Katherine Hepburn’s far more feisty Jo a reflection of those times as much as Ryder’s troubled soul is of 1995.
It’s also the fourth straight period piece (if you discount last year’s Reality Bites which, in its own way, will become a period piece a few years hence) in which Ryder has got trussed up — Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Age of Innoncence, and The House of the Spirits (“Just a coincidence,” she says). Maybe it’s a sad indictment of our own times that young actors, our own age, choose to take part in rose-tinted visions of a petticoated past?
“It’s actually weird, because I feel like such a romantic,” chirps Ryder who, dresses in black cardie, T-shirt and trousers, certainly doesn’t look like a big league player. Come to think of it, she doesn’t even look her age. “I really do romanticise the 19th Century. I mean, I go, ‘Ooooh, they made their own bread, they ride in those carraiges.’ Though I’m sure medicinally and scientifically it was a drag. But back then there was more emphasis on the importance of relationships between a family. You didn’t move out when you were 16. You communicated with people on a much more real level.”
Born Winona Horowitz (named after her birthplace, Winona, Minnesota), Ryder grew up on a sort of upmarket ranch commune in Northern California — plenty of wild horses, but no television. She’s the goddaughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary. Her parents, artistic sorts themselves, were big pals of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and once edited a book called Shaman Woman Mainline Lady, an anthology of writings on the drug experience in literature, which included, interestingly, a piece by — hey! — Louisa M. Alcott.
When “Noni” — as Ryder’s chums call her — was ten, they moved to Petaluma, near San Francisco, where she was enrolled in acting class at the prestigious American Conservatory Theatre. At 13 she had a video audition for the film Desert Bloom. She didn’t get the part, losing to Annabeth Gish, but was spotted by director David Seltzer, who cast her in Lucas as a tomboy with a crush on the local hero. When phoned to ask how she’d like her name to appear on the credits, she whimsically adopted the moniker Ryder, her father, apparently, having a Mitch Ryder (who?) album playing in the background.
Next came Square Dance (a crush on, er, Rob Lowe) and then, in 1988, her breakthrough with Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice in which she starred as Lydia, the goth daughter of Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones. Her status was on hold through the rather tragic 1969 (which she did because she was bored, apparently) and Great Balls Of Fire, as the 13-year-old cousin/wife of Dennis Quaid’s Jerry Lee Lewis, a film notable largely for the fact that it was the first to grace the cover of a then-fledgling movie magazine called Empire.
And then, just as decent scripts were beginning to come her way, she opted against safe teen roles — causing her agent to pull her hair out — by choosing the part of Veronica in Michael Lehmann’s mordant black comedy Heathers. Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael was a dud, but Mermaids (the nauseating Shoop Shoop Song notwithstanding) proved a success. Replacing Britain’s own Emily Lloyd — who was deemed to be too genetically dissimliar to her onscreen mum Cher — Ryder stole the show. Moving into a significantly bigger ballpark, she then copped the coveted role of Mary Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III…
Then the mill was positively beset by trouble. Having caught some kind of flu after filming Roxy and Mermaids back to back, Ryder flew straight to Coppola’s Rome set in January 1990 against the advice of her doctor. Unable to get out of bed due to a respiratory infection, she pulled out of the role, despite the fact that everything was ready to roll, citing her reluctance to let others down with a substandard performance. Sceptics pointed to boyfriend trouble — specifically, her rocky relationship with serial engager Johnny Depp (previous victims Sherilyn Fenn and Jennifer Grey) who’d unwisely got “Winona Forever” plastered all over his bicep, because, apparently, unlike an engagement ring, “You can’t lose a tattoo down a drain”.
Technically, pulling out of such a major number should have been the death knell for her career, but the “smouldering looks” and “panther-like” grace of Sofia Coppola were enough to convince casting agents everywhere that Ryder was, actually, rather good.
“I think she did a wonderful job,” insists Ryder against an overwhelming tide of public opinion. “I really like her a lot.”
Switching agencies to the all-powerful CAA, Ryder was deluged with scripts, including Edward Scissorhands and Night On Earth. she did both, the first with Burton again, opposite her Johnny, with whom she’d been going out since she was 17; and the second for Jim Jarmusch in the L.A. segmnet of his carry on cabbie saga. Another script caught her attention, however, that of Jim Hart’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Though she was originally down to do it as a TV movie with British director Michael Apted, she swallowed her pride and went back to Coppola, who she hadn’t spoken to for six months. Contrary to popular belief, she didn’t set the film up.
“Everyone’s saying that, like, I found the script and I gave it to him and he decided to do it and therefore I put it all together,” she says. “All I did was find the script. Actually, the movie didn’t turn out to be anything like the script I read; there were no effects, it was like this whole intellectual journal. I gave it to him and met with him and he said he’d do it. But I didn’t have anything to do with anything else, you know. I wasn’t behind the scenes.”
It was here that she first came across Coppola’s “Tough Love” directing technique, in which, if an actor is supposed to be upset, he/she is goaded into emotion by Coppola hurling insults at them. Thus, for the scene towards the end of the film where Anthony Hopkins and the others burst into the bedroom to catch Ryder’s Mina with Gary Oldman’s cheeky count, it was to the raucous refrain of “whore” and “slut”.
“It was completely ridiculous and didn’t work at all,” she explains, angered by the memory. “And, yeah, it was very upsetting. But it was the wrong kind of emotion for what he wanted. He’s very, er, experimental, I guess, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it. Not to disrespect him. I think he’s done some amazing work, but his methods didn’t work on me. I just get pissed off when somebody screams at me. I don’t cry, I just glare.”
How very different from the slumber party atmosphere generated by Gillian Armstrong and her largely female crew for Little Women.
“It’s an unspoken understanding, you know,” she coos. “When you’re with a woman, it’s different than if you’re with a man. You know, sometimes with male directors, and I’m not talking about anyone specific, they are really afraid they are going to offend you. They are really afraid to talk about sexuality and sensuality. They’re just scared. You know, ‘I’m not coming on to you, but can you do this.’ It’s just a little more tense when it comes to more sensitive issues.”
Nonetheless, it is Martin Scorsese, for whom she turned in an Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning performance as May Welland in The Age of Innocence, who still comes out on top.
“He’s just the greatest,” she gushes. “He’s just the best director in the world. With me, at least, it seems he’s telepathic almost.”
Now, as Empire has pointed out on a previous occasion, for someone so darned attractive, it’s a strange thing indeed that Winona’s onscreen love life is usually such a sorry mess. After The Age of Innocence, in which Daniel Day-Lewis preferred the delights of snogging Michelle Pfeiffer’s foot, and Reality Bites, where she was torn between Etahn Hawke’s slacker and Ben stiller’s clean-cut exec, came the lamentable The House Of The Spirits in which, among other tings, she had sex by a river and was then tortured. Winona, seemingly, never gets her man.
“Well, according to you I don’t,” she giggles…
Rest assured then that for Winona’s little woman Jo March, everything works out hunky-dory in the end, though not without the breaking of a heart along the way.
“Hahahaha, I still haven’t forgiven myself for the whole Laurie thing,” she sqeals. “When we were doing that scene where it really doesn’t work out between us, I remember saying, ‘Christian, can’t you just do something obnoxious, so that people won’t hate me so much for not choosing you?’”
Weren’t the male actors, though — arty-farty types though they may be — just a little bit isolated by the Little Women sisterhood?
“No, they were totally in on it,” she explains, prodding on of Peak Frean’s finest (or whatever the American equivalent is) around the edge of her saucer. “I thought we were gonna have problems because I’ve worked on movies, like on The House Of The Spirits where Jeremy Irons was, like, always looking for some guy to hang out with. But Christian was just like one of us, he was a girlfriend, as male as he is.”
Gabriel Byrne, though, soon had them all gooey.
“He came for a really short time and did all his stuff at once,” she explains. “It’s the only time I’ve seen a crew line up to be kissed when he wrapped, because he was such a dreamboat. And eric Stoltz was great. He’s really such a girl’s guy. I don’t think they fely uncomfortable. I think I can speak for them all on that.”
There is, however, a sad footnote to Little Women, the film being dedicated to Judy Scott-Fox, Gillian Armstrong’s agent, who died from cancer, and to Polly Klaos [sic], the 12-year-old girl from Winona’s hometown of Petaluma, who was abducted and evetually found murdered after a nationwide search in 1993. Ryder became involved — manning phones, doing a videotape and even offering a $200,000 reward for Poly’s safe return. Little Women, too, had been Polly’s favourite book.
“That is something people keep asking me about,” says Ryder. “Talking to me like it’s an actor getting politically involved in something. I don’t think that was the case. To me it isn’t an issue at all. She lived two blocks away from me. She was missing for two months. It was a 24-hour-a-day search everywhere and I’ve never been involved in anything like that. I felt pleased that I could help, that I had money to help and that I had the power to keep it in the press, because the press were refusing to write about it unless I did interviews, which was kind of sick.”
On a lighter note, however, Little Women is an undisputed critical triumph, with Ryder in line for another possible Oscar nomination. Next up is Boys, with Lucas Haas, a modern day version of Snow White, about a girl who gets knocked unconscious during a horse riding accident and wakes up in a boy’s school, followed by How To Make An American Quilt with fellow little women Samantha Mathis and Claire Danes. She’s even put her Johnny Depp woes behind her, getting all cosy with her new bloke, David Pirner from Soul Asylum, whom she met at an MTV Unplugged gig.
How times have changed since her first brush with the world of pop — dressed up in a blonde frightwig for Mojo Nixon’s 1989 song Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child, wrestling with a tiffany lookalike in a big tub of jelly.
“That,”concludes the millionaire award-winning actress, suddenly coming over all sheepish, “was a long time ago…”
Unknown Magazine (US) — 1995
— by Joan Goodman
She’s been acting for a decade and has appeared in 20 films. She’s been directed by Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola and Tim Burton. Now, at 23, Winona Ryder can choose the films she wants to make and the directors she wants to make them.
SHE’S never done teeny-bop movies, beach movies, gang movies, drug movies — indeed she’s never taken on a script that was less than literate. She doesn’t do nude, she wasn’t somebody’s girlfriend and she hasn’t been a model. From the beginning, she’s played character roles. Not all her early films were successful, but she always gets good notices. Among her credits are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Age Of Innocence, Beetlejuice and last year’s “Generation X” comedy, Reality Bites. In less than 10 years, and by none ofthe traditional routes, Winona Ryder, at 23, has become the actress of her generation.
She is the opposite of, say, Demi Moore or Sharon Stone. She has no flair for self-dramatisation. She’s not a natural schmoozer and can be tetchy, impatient, moody and defiantly silent. She just can’t get the hang of being a movie star. She doesn’t dress for it, not even grunge or street chic. She wears a simple black sweater and skirt over black tights and low boots, sort of nondescript-as-style.
She comes over as a cross between two actresses who have almost nothing in common beyond their surnames: the beautiful, fragile, gamine Audrey Hepburn and a latter-day Katharine Hepburn, witty, determined and sure. Ryder speaks to her generation. Now she has come of age as an actress in Little Women, a seminal American story about coming-of-age. One of her co-stars is Susan Sarandon, a fine actress who spent her youth playing people’s girlfriends: “I’m glad to see Nonie going for the roles she has. It’s taken my generation years to get to the point where she is starting out.”
Whether Little Women will have the same impact in the rest of the world that it’s had in the US, where it has won Ryder an Oscar nomination, is uncertain. It is a quintessentially American film from the classic US novel by Louisa May Alcott. An iconic work in America, it is considered irredeemably sentimental in Europe.
Little Women is set in New England at the time of the American Civil War. The four March girls, Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth, are being raised in a single-parent home by Marmee, while Daddy March is off fighting the war. Marmee (a noble Sarandon) teaches her girls morality and individual responsibility, which immediately exile them from their caste. The screenplay is laced with politics and the misery of discrimination and poverty as well as the struggles of women. The script takes additional material from accounts of Alcott’s own family.
The book is read by virtually every schoolgirl in the US and predictably turns them all into Jo wannabes. As played by Ryder, Jo is the rambunctious tomboy who spurns love and marriage to go off to New York to become a writer. There have been at least two other movies made of the book. But in recent years, Hollywood has considered it too saccharine for another remake.
There wasn’t a studio in Hollywood interested in doing the film until Ryder committed herself to the project. (The feeling is that she could get the telephone directory greenlighted.) Ryder concedes, “Everybody was scared of making Little Women — no one’s going to go and see it, it won’t make money and blah, blah, blah — I don’t think it would have been made at Columbia unless I said yes, or unless Julia Roberts wanted to do it.” There was a confluence of reasons for Ryder to do the film. She had read the book and loved it when she was 12, and her parents, writers themselves, have written about Alcott in two books.
“One book,” Ryder explains, “was about famous women writers who were under the influence of drugs when they wrote their masterpieces. Louisa May Alcott had contracted a disease while she was a nurse in the Civil War and was given morphine. She became addicted and was on it when she wrote Little Women.”
Ryder liked the feminist thrust of the book and the individudlism of the characters. Then there was the film’s proposed producer, Denise DiNovi, who had produced two of Ryder’s prior and favourite films Heathers and Edward Scissorhands. DiNovi and Ryder had become fast friends. DiNovi asked Robin Swicord to write the screenplay and Ryder fell in love with the script. That meant she was there at the very early stages and was involved in the choice of director.
“It was funny to be on the other side of it,” says Ryder wrinkling her nose. “I hadn’t really done that before, been to all those meetings and stuff, so I was just so surprised. There are a lot of executives who are women but they’re not all geniuses. They’re the ones greenlighting Disclosure or Indecent Proposal. Sitting around a table and hearing them talk, I thought they must be kidding and I would laugh. Then there would be kind of dead silence and I would go, Oh-oh. Luckily, Denise was there.” Between them, DiNovi and Ryder thought of Gillian Armstrong to direct.
“One of my mother’s favourite films when I was growing up was My Brilliant Career — I saw it maybe a hundred times. So I kept saying we’ve got to get Gillian to direct.” But Arrmstrong resisted. She felt Little Women was too close to My Brilliant Career. Finally she was persuaded to meet Ryder and talk. “I basically begged her,” says Ryder. “I bombarded her with compliments, she couldn’t even speak, I talked about how great she was visually and emotionally. That her films had substance and she got great performances out of actresses. I just talked her into it, thank God.”
For her trouble, Ryder has been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar; but she doesn’t want to talk about that. It’s a rare refusal. Normally she speaks with audacious candour. Her youth shows in frequent outbursts of giggles, and an occasional lecture on J.D. Salinger (along with George Orwell one of her favourite authors), sham values and the importance of music in her life.
She sits almost obediently, on a large overstuffed sofa, looking tiny and vulnerable and younger than her 23 years. She is luminous with almost no make-up. She has near perfect features, brown velvet eyes, porcelain skin and a swan’s neck.
Don’t let it fool you. There’s a strength, too. It’s in the directness of her gaze, the thoughtfulness of her words and the intensity of her emotions. She has stood up to bullying directors and she’s trusted her own judgment about the films she’s made. Maybe she’s given it up only recently, but she’s not smoking and she isn’t chewing her nails, though they are already bitten to the quick. Well, nobody’s perfect.
She’s nervous about the Oscar nomination and with reason. Most people don’t think she’ll win. It’s not just that her youth militates against her. There have been younger candidates. But Ryder’s not really a part of Hollywood, unlike Jodie Foster, who grew up in the industry and still lives there.
The comparison with Jodie Foster flatters and confounds Ryder. They come from opposite ends of the acting spectrum. Foster works from the outside in. She intellectualises a performance before internalising it. Ryder does it the other way round. She works instinctively, then brings a creative intelligence to bear. Hollywood and the Academy voters understand and appreciate Foster’s efforts. With Ryder, the effort doesn’t show. She makes it look too easy.
Ryder is an outsider both by circumstance and by choice. When she first began making movies at 13, she continued to live in her home-town of Petaluma, California, 38 miles north of San Francisco. She didn’t acquire a permanent Los Angeles base until, at 19, she bought her first house in the Hollywood Hills. It was then that her disenchantment began. “I never fitted in there,” she says. “It’s such a fake society. You get the feeling that everybody is scamming everybody else. You can’t tell if people are being nice because they like you or because they want to use you. Nothing is genuine. Everything runs on rumour and gossip. It’s really sick. ” She sought refuge and anonymity in New York, where she’d always wanted to live. She bought an apartment in Lower Manhattan. It worked out pretty well when someone was with her. Less so when she was on her own. “It was the crime factor,” she says. “I couldn’t deal with it and there’s no reason to live that way. If I got hungry in the middle of the night, I couldn’t go out and buy myself a pizza. I couldn’t go anywhere at night and besides I was too far from my parents.”
Ryder is that late 20th-century anomaly: the instinctively conservative child of unconventional parents who embraced the alternative lifestyle of the Sixties. Her father, Michael Horowitz, is a rare books dealer and archivist, who has been a chronicler of the counterculture. Allen Ginsberg is a friend, Timothy Leary is Winona’s godfather. Her mother, Cindy Palmer Horowitz, is a writer and video artist. Her sister and two brothers have Sixties names — Sunyata, Jubal and Yuri (for the first Russian cosmonaut). In that respect, at least, the family is reminiscent of the Phoenixes — River, Leaf, Liberty, Summer and Rain. The Phoenix parents were, like the Horowitzes, standard-bearers of Sixties values — missionaries in the Children of God sect, no less — but unlike Ryder’s family, led a nomadic life ranging across north and south America. Both families seem to have an unusual closeness; Ryder still talks often and fondly of her parents.
Winona was named for the Minnesota town where she was born in 1971. The family moved to Mendocino, California and lived communal-style with seven other families — each with their own house — on a 300-acre tract ofland. “There was no heat or running water or television,” Ryder recalls. “We had to use our imagination a lot. We were surrounded by books. I was never bored.” (After about a year, the family moved to Petaluma where they still live and where Ryder grew up.)
It was a very responsible way of life, Ryder points out, and apparently stable and secure, “My parents have always been labelled hippies and I’ve even joked that they were. They were actually much more on the intellectual fringe of the Sixties. They were liberals, kind of beatniks in a way. They weren’t spaced out or whatever goes is okay.” Which doesn’t mean that she never saw any evidence of irresponsibility: “For a kid to watch a bad trip is terrifying,’ she admits. “But my parents had very strong values and still do.
“I just spent last week with them in San Francisco and they’re still doing those things that get them labelled hippies. There’s an 83-year-old woman in San Francisco who’s been taking marijuana brownies to Aids patients because it increases their appetite and relieves the pain. She got arrested and she’s serving time so my parents have been helping her. I think that’s very responsible.”
Ryder has inherited that sense of responsibility. She discusses it with the disarming earnestness of a child. “I think it’s so important to be responsible. First of all, it’s gratifying and you can respect yourself. You look at your work and think, I’m really proud of that. That’s a great feeling. I’ve been offered those big films that are supposed to be smart career moves but if it’s something that goes against my values or if it makes me ashamed, then why do it? There’s nothing worse than a sense of shame or that you’re generating something bad.”
Ryder’s success has been all about choice. She’s a good advertisement for the benefits of a literary education. It’s enabled her to pick good scripts that have something to say and to avoid Brat-Pack fodder that stalled more careers than it started.
Her acting began at home with family performances; her mother ran a cinema in a barn. Ryder had few friends and spent hours watching movies. The result is she has some unexpected heroines for an actress her age: Greer Garson, Bette Davis, Maureen O’Hara, Ingrid Bergman, Anne Bancroft, Ginger Rogers — and the feline and rather fey British actress, Sarah Miles. “It was when I saw her in Ryan’s Daughter that I really wanted to be an actress. She bowled me over in that and everything I’ve seen her in. I think she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world, too.”
Because Ryder was odd-girl-out at her neighbourhood school, her parents thought she might be happier at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. When she was 13 years old, she was plucked from her acting class to audition for the role of Jon Voight’s step daughter in Desert Bloom, a low-budget movie. She was videotaped but lost the part to Annabeth Gish. The videotape, however, lived on. It won Ryder an agent before she had done any professional work, a rarity in the business. A year later, the videotape got her the role of a loner-turned-cheerleader in Lucas which launched her career. It was a good start for a 18-year-old, a film that dealt honestly with the problems of adolescent love. That was in 1986. She was the same age as Judy Garland when she made her screen debut, and a year younger than Elizabeth Taylor when she starred in National Velvet, yet Ryder was always thought of as an actress rather than a child actress. She completed nine films in the next five years.
“My parents really didn’t want me to be an actress at first’” Ryder recalls. “They were afraid that I was too young. That it would take me away from home. But I told them that I had to act and eventually they realised that I really wanted to do it.” Who knows what sturm and drang went on between those lines. Michael Horowitz has said that Winona “had a flair for the dramatic, even as a young child”, and she is still known as a great teller of tales.
At first her parents were cautiously supportive, guiding her into the right sort of roles, watching out for her. “My parents were never really stage parents in that awful sense,” says Ryder, giggling. “They didn’t involve themselves that much. They were always with me on location but even then they didn’t intrude. They were too starstruck by everyone to interfere. They would watch what was going on and who was there. It was almost embarrassing. But I was never on a location without one of them. The other one would have to stay home with the other kids.”
Lucas became a cult favourite and led to her second film, Square Dance, with Jane Alexander and Jason Robards. Ryder plays Gemma, a farm girl who shuttles between her mother and her grandfather trying to find her place in the world. She gives an extraordinary performance that matches the more seasoned actors. Her naturalness and instinctive behaviour are remarkable. In her nascent beauty, you see the woman she has become.
She made her first real impression with the sleeper success Beetlejuice when she was 16. As Lydia, the melancholy teenager, allergic to the sun and given to levitating and seeing ghosts, she showed a nice flair for comedy.
1969, which revisited her parents’ old stomping grounds in Haight-Ashbury, was a disappointment. Then came Heathers, the ultimate teen black comedy about murder and suicide, that is still one of Ryder’s favourite films. “I consider Veronica the part of a lifetime.”
Ryder particularly liked it because it was a movie that was made against all odds. “My agents begged me not to do it. They said if I did, my career would be over.” It was the wrong thing to say to someone who runs on “instinct”, “what feels right”, “what I’m passionate about” — not strategy and career moves. She flexed her artistic muscles, changed agents and did the film.
It was a slyly sympathetic performance and made her the hippest teenager in the business. It ensured that she would be offered all the more quirky and intelligent young girl roles. She took those that appealed to her: Myra, Jerry Lee Lewis’s 13-year-old bride in Great Balls Of Fire! with Dennis Quaid; the eponymous Roxy in Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael; and Charlotte, Cher’s confused teenage daughter in Mermaids.
“She proved herself in those parts,” says a director who asked for anonymity. “She proved she could rise above the material and bad direction and give weight to her characters and real believability to the performance.”
Having made three films back to back, Ryder stumbled famously when she withdrew from Godfather III after signing to play Michael Corleone’s daughter. She flew to Rome but never left the hotel room. “I was sick with a respiratory infection and 104 degree fever,” says Ryder with more than a hint of exasperation. “I was told by the doctor that I couldn’t work. I don’t know why nobody believed it. The truth was so simple.”
It would have been, except her then boyfriend Johnny Depp complicated the issue. He was set to play his first major role in Edward Scissorhands for director Tim Burton (Ryder’s old pal from Beetlejuice.) Burton wanted Ryder for the cheerleader who falls in love with Edward but the shooting schedule overlapped with Godfather III. She couldn’t do both. Rumour had it that Depp flew to Rome to persuade her to drop out of the Coppola film.
Ryder’s fever shot up and her respiretory virus worsened. She new home to Petaluma and a regimen of chicken soup and herbal tea. Within weeks, she was up and filming Edward Sclssorhands with Depp. The truth of the matter remains murky. What is sure is that Godfather III would have been a much better film had Ryder played the female lead as planned.
In the event, Ryder and Coppola patched up their differences when she sent him the script of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He agreed to direct and she agreed to star in it — not one of her best choices as it turned out. It was her debut as an adult, and however disappointing the film as a whole and however embittered her subsequent relations with Coppola, it did enable her to make perhaps the smoothest transition since Natalie Wood went from child star to Splendour In The Grass.
Ryder’s romance with Johnny Depp began when she was 18. Depp, famously, has “Winona Forever” tattooed on his right arm. Maybe not forever, but they were engaged, on the point of marriage, for three years. Things began to unravel during the making of The Age Of Innocence. Ryder’s new love is David Pirner of Soul Asylum, the Minnesota rock band. “I’m with him and I’m very happy,” is all she’ll say about him. She thinks she talked too much about Johnny Depp (currently Kate Moss’s beau). “It’s embarrassing now to read those things,” she says. “it’s all so private or should be.” She hates to be asked questions about Depp’s recent behaviour, the arrests and trashing of a hotel room. Pirner is the man on her mind.
“He’s all she talks about,” says a friend, “but I’m not sure how it’s going to play itself out. They are still discovering each other. And right now it looks pretty intense because Nonie is pretty intense. I’m just not sure that, given their different temperaments and lifestyles, Dave will be a permanent fixture in her life. Part of his allure is his outlaw persons status. It appeals to the deeply conservative side of her.”
Others who know them both say they have a lot in common emotionally and intellectually. Still, Pirner with his long, fowing crimped blond hair, his night-owl ways and his purported drug use seems light years away from Ryder’s prim looks and middle-class habits. (She doesn’t do drugs and half a beer makes her tipsy.)
Perhaps Ryder’s greatest challenge will be learning to temper her passion. She falls in love too easily. Not necessarily with men or sexually; she becomes obsessed with ideas, books, people, scripts and they begin to dominate her life. Last year in Portugal, where she was filming House Of The Spirits, she found herself in the midst of a nervous collapse. She had just finished The Age Of Innocence and Bram Stoker’s Dracula and had simply taken on more than she could handle.
“I was desperately unhappy. I couldn’t steep. There was so much drama in my life, I didn’t have time for the little things that make life fun and make me happy. I had to get back to a real life outside of my work. I know who I am now,” she says.
She no longer counts her life in movie titles and she refuses to suffer for her art. “I’m 23 and I want to act my age. Do things that people my age do. I don’t have to suffer to be good and I don’t have to be every director’s favourite to have a career,” she says. It’s a sarcastic reference to Francis Coppola whose talent she admires but whose methods she hates. According to Premiere magazine, when they were making Dracula, Coppola would shout, “You whore!” to Ryder to get her to the right pitch for a scene. It didn’t go down well. She’s said she’d never work for him again.
Part of what helped her find herself, she says quite seriously, was working with Martin Scorsese on The Age Of Innocence. “He’s the greatest director on the planet,” she declares. “He made me proud of my work.”
Scorsese returns the compliment. He knew the moment he met her that he wanted her to play May Welland, Daniel Day Lewis’s wife in the film.
One of the actors in the cast recalls, “I think Winona was in love with just being there. She had such a good time. She had so much energy. She and Dan Day Lewis were mad for each other all through the production. They were all over each other. It was like a freeing of the soul.” Liberation off-set was at odds with the onset role of May, a restrained, manipulative, though still likable, character Ryder had wanted to play since studying the Edith Wharton novel at school.
Her Oscar nomination, as Best Supporting Actress for The Age Of Innocence, gave her confidence to take charge of her career and brought her back to the early best advice she had been given by godfather Timothy Leary – always challenge authority. She did it first by going from two star-laden productions (Age Of Innocence and House Of The Spirits), to the low-budget Reality Bites for first-time director Ben Stiller. She says she simply fell in love with the script by a 23-year-old novice writer, Helen Childress. It’s about a college graduate who gets fired from her job in broadcasting “for intellectual condescension”. Her boss isn’t the only one she sneers at. She looks down on her flatmate who works at The Gap and her college friends who can’t get jobs at all. With her nose for good writing, Ryder came up trumps. Herself a child who had trouble getting on with her contemporaries, she wanted to make a film that appealed to her own age group. She succeeded.
“I didn’t make it because it was a smart film to make,” Ryder demurs. “I did it because it had something to say to people my age and I don’t think Hollywood takes them seriously at all.”
She wanted to make Little Women for the same reasons. “The film is very relevant. It’s about issues and themes that are important today. It has something to say about developing character, developing your mind, helping others. It’s not just about how to be hip or how to be cool. I know a lot of young women from my home town who have said they’ve been waiting for a movie like this. Something that speaks to them, and I thought, hell, if my name can get Hollywood to make films like that, great!”
Little Women is dedicated to Polly Klaas, a young girl from Petaluma who was snatched from her home and after a long search was found murdered. “She was from my home town, my school I’m friends with her family,” says Ryder. “It was horrible. Now there’s a foundation. I’m on the board and I try to help. I love kids and if I’m in a position where I can have some positive effect I take it.”
What distinguishes Winona Ryder as an actress and as a person is her sense of herself she is secure. Melanie Griffith or Kim Basinger are always on, whether filming or not — everybody around them are satellites. Ryder has an internal life which she gives out in her films, not in snippets in chat shows. And she’s nobody’s pushover, not even a revered LSD guru’s. “I don’t see that much of Tim Leary any more but about a year ago he showed me this crazy video that he had done about some psychedelic phenomenon. I didn’t understand it at all and I told him. ‘You know, Tim, you always taught me to question authority and you’ve always been my authority — now I’m questioning you.’”
Life — December 1994
— by Jenny Allen
Winona Ryder is the name above the title in Little Women. But she had to overcome a bizarre adolescence and the throes of depression to get there.
Baltimore, Nine A.M.: Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved undershirt, Winona Ryder shuffles into the kitchen of her rented home. “I just had a terrible dream,” she says sleepily. All the directors she has ever worked with were in it, and all of them were angry at her. Steve Cochran, the writer-director of Boys, the “small, weird” film Winona is making, was in the dream too. “I was … throwing rice at her,” Winona says.
Her mother, Cindy, slight and pretty, in Baltimore to keep her company, has set out grapefruit and a slab of toast. Winona picks at the food, then collects the books she’s reading – a biography of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, and journalist Peggy Orenstein’s study of adolescent girls – and leaves for the set.
In the scene being shot today, her character, a feckless young woman, has been knocked unconscious in a fall from a horse; she wakes up in a boarding-school boys dorm room. Winona’s worried: Stacy wants her to play the scene alert and focused, and Winona feels her character would be cloudier, disoriented. “Where’s my horse?” she says over and over, her voice just above whisper, as the cameras roll. She’s playing a compromise – confused but concentrated. It’s tricky. “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing out there,” she says after many takes.
She’s miserable, but not really. As she speaks,. she’s perched n the lap of David Pirner, the lead singer for the rock band Soul Asylum and her boyfriend of the past year and a half. He is wry and relaxed, smiles easily, smokes constantly (I’m no quitter,” he says). Everyone on the set likes Dave, but Winona likes him the most. He is, she says, “the only happy-go-lucky, jolly musician I know.” When she isn’t working, he stays up until three a.m. with her, watching old movies; when she is, he visits her on location, enduring the tedium with infinite patience. Today is their reunion after a five-day separation, and they can’t keep their hands off each other.
“I’m playing this girl who’s so lost, and I’ve never felt so found before,” she says, and means it. Things were different in 1993, when she was in Portugal, shooting The House of Spirits. She found herself at the bleak bottom of a two-year depression. “I ignored myself, my ‘needs,’ ” she says, self-conscious about the clichŽ. “I put my career in front of my life. I remember so many of my favorite actors saying ‘My work is my life.’ And it’s not.
New York City, Some weeks earlier: In an ornate stone building on the edge of Chinatown, a tiny, smiling person in denim overalls answers the door. A tempting but unspoken joke: Is you mother or father at home? But of course, this is Winona, and this is her two-bedroom apartment, handsomely decorated in a kind of low-key luxe: olive-green velvet drapes at the living room windows, soft mohair sofa and chairs, a gilded coffee table. There are lots of books around – photography collection, novels, a book of Preston Sturges screenplays. Upstairs in her bedroom are more books, videos, a photograph of Martin Scorcese, who directed her Oscar-nominated performance in The Age of Innocence – a performance that represents the first time she felt proud of her acting.
Winona settles into the sofa. At 23 she sits like a kid – shoulders drawn together, one foot resting on top of the other. Her skin is so pale you can see blue veins crossing her jawline. She’s skinny, 100 pounds or so, but not intentionally: she tried to gain weight for Age of Innocence but couldn’t.
The conversation is not exactly show-biz babble: the sinister influence of skinhead rock; the Holocaust Museum: extermination camps. Winona is soulful and sincere, but also light and funny. She jokes about Scorcese, an idol: If he had made Schindler’s List, he would have done Schindler after the war, as a drunk – she screws up her face, closes on eye – mooching off Jews whose lives he had saved.
Now the subject is her schedule. “I have lots of time,” she says, “because I just dropped out of this movie.” This movie is Boys. She had been crazy about the screenplay and eager to play a complicated, grown-up character. She was not, however, crazy about a recent script revision that added sex scenes. She will not do this version, she has told the producers. “There’s an obligation to commercialize something when you have a movie star in it,” she says later. It happened on Reality Bites, the Generation X comedy that she feels got slicked up into “a music video vehicle.” If she hadn’t been in it – if the film hadn’t had a Name – it might have stayed small, more real. “I don’t blame anyone except myself,” she says.
Winona knows she is a big star, a personality a studio can build a production around. She is one of very few such women, and the only one of her generation. This Christmas she stars as Jo in Little Women, and while the cast is an ensemble of fine actors – Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Gabriel Byrne as Professor Bhaer, Eric Stoltz as John Brooke – it is her name that appears above the title. “Certainly Little Women became a reality because of Winona’s participation,” says Mark Canton, chairman of Columbia/TriStar.
Winona can afford to be choosy now, but she has always been choosy. She turned down an offer to do Sydney Pollack’s remake of Sabrina: Audrey Hepburn so defined the role that she felt uneasy about re-creating it. The story worried her too – the fact that Sabrina is a “prize” shuttled between brothers. She has made a habit of refusing roles in films she finds sexist, silly, gratuitously violent. Most movies “blend,” she says. Hers don’t. Her films can be quirky or dark – Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Heathers, Bram Stoker’s Dracula but few are bland, and none fit a formula. She cannot be seduced, says Denise Di Novi, who has produced three of her movies. “Ninety percent get persuaded by people around them – ‘You have to do this part, work with this director.’ But you can have fifty people in a room telling Winona what to do, and if she doesn’t want to do it, forget it.” This goes for all tasks met win the line of movie-star duty: For a recent fashion magazine spread, she balked at modeling the clothing. “Corsets,” she says, disgusted, “push-up things, transparent things.”
Weeks later, near Baltimore: Boys is on. What happened was, Winona called Stacy. They patched things up, the script was restored. “The only reason it worked out is because of the conversation,” Winona says. “I’m really happy about that.”
She has spent most of the morning lying in a nearby field – her character has just been thrown from the horse – but now it’s time for lunch under a tent. Bundled in a bulky green parka against the October breeze, she sits at a long table with cast and crew. As usual, she loses interest in her food and opts for talking. There’s a lot of back-and-forth, but Winona gets the most stories in. Everyone who knows her remarks on what a good storyteller she is, though even her mother concedes that she is inclined to embellish here and there.
One story: She dreamed that director Richard Attenborough had died in a plane that crashed against a snowy mountain. It was so weird she called Attenborough’s office to tell him not to fly that day. Although he had already switched a schooled flight, the plane he had been booked on did crash … against a snowy mountain. Winona tells this gravely, like a ghost story.
A brief discussion follows, about death and reincarnation.
“I told my mother I wanted to kill myself so I could see what it was like after,” says Winona. Someone asks, “How old were you?”
“About six,” she says, sipping lemonade.
If Winona is apt to exaggerate – “I like to enhance,” she says, “I don’t ever lie.” – she is also given to a kind of artless self-exposure, as if she hasn’t yet learned, or resists knowing, that most adults keep certain things under wraps. She talks about an anxiety attack on a plane – “the stewardesses had to hold me.” A favorite adjective is “terrifying.” This quality is not calculated but it is cultivated. Michael McDowell, who cowrote Beetlejuice and lived for a time in an apartment above hers in L.A., says her innocence is “self-conscious” but genuine: “She understands how she comes off. She has made a choice to be innocent, and that’s not to suggest there’s anything false about it. She’s innocence through and through.”
She has an almost mystical reverence for children and teenagers, for their freshness and candor. On the Little Women set she played mother hen to the younger women in the cast, and several of her close friends are under the age of 12. At the moment, she is smitten with Spencer Vrooman, 12, who is in the cast of Boys and is lunching with her. She believes it is time for Spencer to learn a musical instrument. “Choose your weapon,” she says.
“Gee-tar!” says Spencer.
So after lunch Winona gives him a lesson. She shows him how to hold the instrument, how to wrap his fingers around the neck. She compliments him lavishly. “You totally have more of a knack than most people I know,” she says. “You were born to rock.” Spencer breams. Some days later, she buys him his own guitar.
She is acutely sensitive to the young and small, the weak, the preyed-upon and the unprotected. When Ian Hamilton wrote a prying biography of her literary hero, the reclusive J.D. Salinger, she wrote a smarmy, short, bogus biography of Hamilton and sent it to him, “just to show you,” she wrote, “what it feels like.” She herself is in possession of a Christmas card signed by Salinger, a troubling totem: He’s a private man. Shouldn’t she return this item that once belonged to him?
The sexual abuse of children is a recurring theme in her conversation – she talks about it, she reads about it, she wants to do a movie about it. Last year she reacted with extraordinary passion to the abduction of a child, Polly Klaas, in Petaluma, Calif., where she spent part of her own childhood. She offered a $200,000 reward for Polly’s safe return, manned phones, went on a search for her, befriended her sister, Annie. Vulnerability and fear are threaded through discussion of Winona’s growing-up. She talks about real-life kidnapping cases that took place when she was young – a baby snatched, a boy never found – and says she “would lie in bed and be scared.” Her mother remembers her, at age 12 or 13, asking of bars on her windows because a serial killer was on the loose and rumored to be in northern California.
Her family is large and loving and not average. Her parents, Michael and Cindy Horowitz, have edited a book of Aldous Huxley’s essays about mind-altering drugs and a collection of women’s writings on drug experiences. (Michael is a bookdealer specializing in the ’60s; Cindy is writing a screenplay about Louisa May Alcott, a longtime fascination.) Inevitably, Winona has been labeled: The Girl Who Grew Up In A Commune; Timothy Leary’s Goddaughter. Asked about Leary, she begins gamely – “He’s a great guy” – but runs out of steam. “None of that stuff interests me,” she says. (She says she is ‘terrified’ of drugs.) A pause. Well, here’s something to say. “Every time you think he’s senile, he’s not.”
About the commune, where she lived from ages seven to 11, she says, teasingly, “Everyone grew their own everything. If you know what I mean.” Also, less lightly: “For a kid to watch a bad drug trip is terrifying.” Finally: “I have some great memories and some terrible memories.” She didn’t like the lack of structure or the nudity. To this day she does not Do Nude and has said she can’t imagine it.
She loves her parents – by all accounts good, gentle, generous people – and talks about them a lot. Her father sends her comics and newspaper clips, cooks her pasta when she is home. Her mother “finds the good in everything, everyone.” But the daughter is different. Says Dave: “My parents leaned to the conservative side, and hers leaned to the liberal. We’re both overcompensating.”
Driving home after the day in the meadow: Winona is describing a director she has met several times. “He’s just uncouth – as Judy Holliday would say,” she concludes, raising her voice so that it is flutty, prim, the verbal equivalent of an extended pinkie. How many 23-year-olds use Judy Holliday as a point of reference? Among actors, William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck are her abiding heroes, beloved for making difficult characters sympathetic, but she has others: Greer Garson, Bette Davis, Maureen O’Hara, Ingrid Bergman, Angela Landsbury, Patricia Neal, Joanne Woodward, Ginger Rogers, Jessica Tandy, Anne Bancroft and, of course, Audrey Hepburn. “They didn’t all have the same tricks up their sleeve,” she says of the actresses. “Each of them had a different look in her eye.”
“She’s seen more movies than I have,” says Little Women director Gillian Armstrong. When the family lived in the commune, Cindy Horowitz ran an informal film society and took her kids to the screenings. When they left the commune, they got a TV set. Cindy, says Winona, “would sit us down and talk us through the old films.” Winona found something to love in all movies – particularly dark films from the ’40s, but even Tammy Tell Me True. She draped her bedroom windows in black so she could watch movies all the time. “I wanted to live in a the theater,” she says. “You know, take out the seats, put in a bathtub.”
She had more time to watch movies than other kids did. “I didn’t have a single friend,” she says. For a year, she didn’t even go to school. On the third day of seventh grade she was roughed up by tough kids – she had been taken for an effeminate boy – and was put on home study. Wasn’t this traumatic? “It was great,” she insists: If she hadn’t left school, she wouldn’t have started classes at the American Conservatory Theater, wouldn’t have got an agent … The bullies, she says, “gave me my career.”
The story is a bit tidy; maybe it has lost its pain the retelling. She tried going back to school, says her mother, but she remained “different.” The other girls conspired to unsettle her; whenever she looked up, they were staring at her. “Noni was so miserable and stubborn,” Cindy says. “She went down on her knees and said, ‘Mom, I’m not going back another day.’ ”
Winona did eventually go back to school, and make friend – girls who shared her taste in punk rock and punky clothes. By this time she was, in a way, already gone. She was Winona Ryder, no longer Horowitz, and already making movies.
She grew up on film sets. She got her first period while making Lucas and had her breasts strapped down for Square Dance. During the filming of Mermaids she kept her Walkman clamped to her head, listening over and over to “Sixteen Blue,” the Replacements’ lovely, sad song about teenage loneliness. “My character was such a teenager,” she says, and pauses. “I was such a teenager.”
She met Johnny Depp when she was 17, six months before they made Edward Scissorhands. The romance was intense and unstable – “embarrassingly dramatic.” By 19, during Age of Innocence, things were seriously wrong. She covered up: “I was acting like everything was O.K. – smiling. I was being watched all the time. ” Depp was only part of her “identity crisis.” Years of work, of “dealing with who people want you to be,” had taken a toll. A doctor diagnosed “anticipatory anxiety” and “anticipatory nostalgia,” whatever that is. (“I don’t think I have that,” says Winona.) He gave her polls for sleep. It got so she couldn’t fall asleep without them. “I got over it. I have Michelle Pfeiffer to thank for that. She told me to flush them down the toilet.” But that depression lasted. Her parents came to visit her in Portugal, but she didn’t see them much. The girl who doesn’t drink “tried to be an alcoholic for two weeks.” Alone in her hotel room, she would make screwdrivers from the minibar, smoke cigarettes, play Tom Waits’s doleful album Nighthawks at the Diner. One night she fell asleep with a lit cigarette. She woke up before anything caught fire, but that was it for her dalliance with drink. Having hit bottom, she started to climb up. “I haven’t been back,” she says, “and I wouldn’t ever want to return.”
A final day in Baltimore: Winona has sent Salinger his Christmas card. It was the right thing to do. Now, snuggling with Dave, she says she’s giving up her New York apartment. She wants to move to a smaller city – Seattle, maybe. She has a friend there, and it’s pretty, and she thinks it might be a nice place to raise children. Dave smiles, letting her talk.
Q: What kind of kid are you?
A: I wasn’t a nerd. I was just kind of a lonely kid who loved the movies. I had a lot of imagination – that kept me company.
Q: Why haven’t you done any television?
A: I knew when I was twelve that TV was a bad career move. I thought TV was lame.
Esquire — November 1992
— by Michael Hirschorn
LIKE ALL COOL CHICKS OF OUR TIME, WINONA RYDER GOT HER FIRST WHIFF OF REBELLION FROM J.D. SALINGER. SHE WAS EIGHT WHEN SHE FIRST read The Catcher in the Rye — Dad’s a writer and bookdealer and an avowed nonconformist, so young Nonie got stuffed up with books early — too young, she thinks, to really bond in a teenage-girl kind of way with Holden Caulfield’s hyperpituitary postwar rebellions. “And then I read it again when I was about twelve and that was it — it became the Bible for me.” She gets up to fetch a soda. She’s near transparently skinny. “But nice skinny,” as Holden would say of his kid sister, Phoebe, “rollerskate skinny.” Winona grabs her Chap Stick and sits back down.
Catcher “is a very comforting thing that I can go to, especially when I’m traveling,” she says. When I’m away from home, I like to read….” She trails off for a moment. “I don’t want to sound too weird about it.”
We’re sitting in the kind of surroundings that would make Holden rail on about fakery — in Catcher he claims to hate movies, so when Winona was a mere teenager, she thought for a while she had to as well. Holden-like, Winona hates the word genius, “a word, by the way, that I don’t toss around, and I know a lot of actors do. And I want to specify that — it’s an over-used word, and it should only be used for people who really are that.”
Not long ago, Ryder wrote Salinger a fan letter. “I mean, what do you say to him, really?” she asks rhetorically. A lot, probably. “I kind of said, um, that I, uh –” she fumbles a bit with her hair — “just how much it meant to me, and thanked him for it.” She never mailed the letter. The actress, clad in jeans, cowboy boots, and a clingy Agnes B.-type jersey, is enveloped by a big beige couch amid the shiny tapioca-hued splendor of a New York hotel suite. She’s spending a couple of weeks here, listening to her music tapes, buying an East Coast pad, working the phone to finalize big power negotiations for the-role-of-a-life-time-that-she-really-wants-to-tell-me-about-but-she’s-afraid-to-jinx-it-you-understand. In a few days, Johnny Depp with whom she’s said to have reconciled after some rumored dalliances on her part will whisk her up to the Montreal Film Festival for a Tim Burton tribute. Burton’s something of a mentor, having directed her in Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, with Depp.
She doesn’t go out much these days, she says; gets “very paranoid.” Not that anyone would notice her in the musty crush of late-summer New York. Startlingly small, petite to the edge of fragility, she would seem bait more for those who pick on the waifish than for the gardenvariety celebrity stalker. One comes upon Winona’s beauty as if upon a stunning miniature in a curio shop. She’s supposed to be the sweet teen star next door. But close up, as the camera sees her, she has an astonishing beauty. With brilliant, enveloping brown eyes that set off a pert nose and luminescent skin, Ryder’s face is no mere confection crafted through hundreds of dollars of makeup but a classically comely mug, all the subtle tug of softness and definition of a young Natalie Wood.
And now, apparently, she knows it, too. For the first time, says Cher, who became Winona’s de facto older sister after starring with her in Mermaids, “she’s into posing for sexy pictures and having people think of her as a really beautiful babe.”
Winona is preternaturally articulate for a twenty-one-year-old, free of most of the, like, you know, verbal crutches that give teen-speak its comic syncopations. She has not gone and does not intend to go to college, though more than one pimply faced freshman would kill to see her in a black turtleneck sipping cappuccino and expounding rapturously on the subverted marriage plot in Jane Austen (whom she also loves, by the way, and who is in fact a genius). “Winona has this bristling intelligence,” says Anthony Hopkins, who costars with Ryder in the forthcoming Bram Stoker’s Dracula. “She was constantly asking me, ‘Have you read this and have you read that?’ I hadn’t even heard of some of the books.”
As we’re wallowing in the fetid aftermath of the Republican convention, I’m eager to quiz young Ryder on her political views which turn out not too surprisingly to be an extension of those held by her way-progressive parents (Ryder’s an Amnesty International volunteer). “I haven’t been following the Republican convention,” she says, “just because it kind of makes me sick.” She’s not too eager to talk State of the Nation, it turns out, but just as I’m about to move on to other subjects, she launches into a funny rant about the vagaries of life along the glitzpower corridor.
“I got an invitation before I came to New York to go to a thing for Clinton,” she says. “I was invited by a very big movie star to their house, and I thought, Why would I want to go to this movie star whom I’ve never met’s house, and why would they want me there?. That’s what confuses me: They invite a lot of people who I think couldn’t find their ass with both hands. I think it’s great for my generation to grow up politically active and do what they can for what they really believe in but it has to be for something they know about, because so many times I hear actors talking about politics and I can tell that if someone asked them a question they probably wouldn’t be able to answer it.”
Politics aside, her friends caution against the idea that Winona is some type of postpubescent supersophisticate. “She’s still kind of a baby,” says Cher. “She’s naive and really adorable.and as an actress she has a lot more experience than she does as a person.” By way of example, Michelle Pfeiffer recalls how she convinced Ryder and Cher to uke a sculpting class. When the class arranged for a male model to pose nude, “I can’t tell you how many shades of red Winona turned,” Pfeiffer says with a wicked chuckle. “As soon as the model walks out in his robe and takes it off, Winona turns scarlet and starts giggling uncontrollably for twenty minutes. She had to move around to the back of the class.”
For all the giggles, Ryder is a surprisingly savvy curator of her own reputation during what is after all a still-very-brief career it’s been a mere six years since her debut in 1986′s Lucas. (In fact, she only changed her name from Horowitz to Ryder just before Lucas was released.) While other actresses her age have given their souls to cheesy productions that rob them of their good names and much of their clothing, Ryder has made a very few bad movie choices and a very many good ones. She starred in Heathers, which remains the definitive black comedy of Reagan-youth lust and greed. Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters, by the way, gets the much-coveted genius billing. (“Oops! And there I go using that word again.”) She played a riotous Wednesday Addams turn in Beetlejuice and turned in a fine performance in artmeister Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. She recently finished The Age of Innocence, directed by Martin Scorsese. The movie, which was not finished on schedule, won’t be released until next year.
And in what will surely represent her cinematic coming-out party, her final ascendance to a kind of psychic R-rating in the public’s mind, she appears as Mina in Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish and very bloody and very sexy Dracula, out this month. Along with her appearance in the Scorsese film — and that incredibly-exciting-I-can’t-tell-you-about-it project — Ryder is set to become the most prominent and powerful movie actress of her generation. She is about to become a star in the old-fashioned sense, a classic combination of glamour, talent, and ambition.
Much will be made of the Coppola-Ryder rapprochement, especially following the gossip storm after physical exhaustion left her unable to perform a key role in Coppola’s The Godfather, Part III. At the time, there were trashy rumors involving pregnancy, drug use, and Depp-related weirdness. Coppola, on short notice, gave the role to his daughter, and, well, one can imagine what might have been.
Coppola says that six months after The Godfather III problems, he set up a brief meeting with Ryder to assure her that he bore her no grudge and that, for all the gossip, “I took her problem at face value. My feeling was that I didn’t want a young person to feel I was mad at her I wanted to make sure she didn’t feel that I disliked her. She was very concerned that she had let me down.” Ironically, it was at this meeting that Ryder proposed the idea of Dracula. “She said, ‘Oh, I have this script I love,’” he recalls.
The movie, which also stars Keanu Reeves and Gary Oldman, as Dracula, is said to be intense stuff — maybe too intense. A preview audience in San Diego, which saw a very rough cut of the film, was repulsed by the blood and guts and found the movie too confusing to boot. “I did use the horror and the metaphor of blood which I see as a symbol of life’s passion,” admits Coppola. “But it’s very much interwoven with themes of love.” Now that the plasma factor has been reduced to palatable levels in re-editing, Coppola promises that audiences will “primarily say this is a love story.”
The movie, in any case, promises to be Ur-Gothic. In a key scene, Ryder’s character, Mina, succumbs to the pagan pleasures of vampirism by sucking the blood from an open vein in Dracula’s chest. Fabulously campy, very adult, and a long way from the joys of PG-rated fell-good thespianism in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael.
Ryder was aware of the dangers inherent in entering the very adult maw of Coppola’s ego. “Things got chaotic at times, and things got very intense,” she says of the filming of Dracula, much of which took place in northern California. “Francis has a way of setting a mood — he plays games with you, plays tricks on you that work that I appreciate.” Like what?
“There was a scene where I had to feel incredible guilt because I’ve been caught doing something that I shouldn’t be doing,” she says, curling into her cushions and folding her arms under her breasts. “And I have to have this breakdown… of feeling very guilty, and I just remember kind of being on the bed and — I wasn’t in the mood to do the scene, I just wasn’t. And I thought, Well, I’ll just kind of try and see what happens. And it just wasn’t working and he wouldn’t cut. He just kept making me get up and get back on the bed and get back in bed. And then he started, and then all of a sudden I heard Keanu’s voice and his [Coppola's] voice calling me names, like, ‘Whore, how could you do this? How could you do this.’
“I just really started feeling it and kind of started to cry all of a sudden. In fact, I was kind of weeping, and he wouldn’t cut; he just made me do it again and again until I was really out of my mind. Finally, the last time, I did it, which must have been about fifteen times without a cut. I just had enough, enough, because I couldn’t take it anymore.”
WINONA HOROWITZ is happy being Winona Ryder, and why not? A child of less-than-flush-rich bohemian parents she spent much of her youth in Petaluma, California, among left-wing intellectuals (famously, Timothy Leary is her godfather) — she can now bop around the globe, ingesting culture and finding new movie stars and directors and writers and cinematographers to work with. She now wants to direct (of course) and produce (attention Joel Silver). “She always puts her foot right,” says Jay Cocks, who wrote the screenplay adaptation of The Age of Innocence. Even if she’s wearing Doc Martens.”
“Radio Free Winona,” as Cocks calls her, is getting contemplative now, tucking into the requisite what-it-means-to-be-me part of our conversation. “I’ll just be sitting there, watching them set up,” she says, her eyes yawing open to provide visual emphasis, “and I’ll be thinking, My God, this is like watching a movie in itself!” For once she looks wonderstruck as she moons off into space somewhere between the minibar and the toobillowy chiffony curtains.
To twenty-one-year-old Winona Ryder, it is a genius world after all.
Stern — 25 April 1991
— by Jochen Siemens
In America Winona Ryder is already regarded as the new Liz Taylor, in Germany she is now coming out with three films at once. STERN-reporter Jochen Siemens met the 19 year old – and can’t forget her.
A tear. It pearls out of her left eye and runs down her cheek.. The girl is standing on the runway and looks over. With her hand she wipes away the tear. She smiles, tilts her head back and rolls her eyes towards heaven. Then she boards the small plane. End. End of a story which began three days ago in a hotel lobby in the American ski resort Aspen. Three days Winona and I. Three days that changed our lives.
It was a Saturday when we first met. Around three o’clock in the afternoon. It was ice-cold outside and the snow was sparkling on the mountains of Colorado. Champagne-snow, as it’s called here. It glitters like a million diamonds when it covers the ground and rustles and crunches when somebody walks across it.
So it was this particular Saturday and Winona was standing in the hotel lobby. Our eyes met for a short time. We had a date. We wanted to talk about her films. Winona Ryder is an actress and appears all of three times this spring in the German movie theaters. As Kim in “Edward Scissorhands”, as Charlotte in “Mermaids” and as the girl Dinky in “Welcome home, Roxy Carmichael”. In America, all three films ran at the same time. Winona Ryder went to bed one night, and woke up a star. A schoolfriend for every girl and the first love for every boy. Winona just needs to rush for a second through the frame and blink her eyes once – immediately she personifies the feeling of a whole generation. The 19 year-olds.
Those who don’t want to be kids anymore but still aren’t allowed to be grown-up. 19 is the most serious year of all. At 19 you are absolutely convinced to know really everything better than the grown-ups. 19 year-olds are more honest, eager and critical than everybody else. Winona is the best 19 year-old in the world. “The new Liz Taylor”, “the new Natalie Wood”, as the American critics proclaimed.
I say, “Noni?” because her best friends call her that way. And with that everything starts. Winona jerks “Hello, how are you?” she says. She is very small, her skin is pale – delicately pale – and the locks of her hair dangle in front of her eyes. Also, Winona has a bit of a crooked spine. Somehow she looks like a junkie-brat.
We stand around like teenagers after school, she with her Chanel bag and I with my plastic bag. Fat Americans plod between us with their loud ski suits and candy-colored boots. “Can you ski?” I ask. “No, and you?” she replies. I tell her that at the STERN everybody skis extremely well, except for me. The editor, I tell her, was even once a professional skier. “Great,” says Noni.
“Mermaids” will definitely become her most successful film. It’s a film for Sunday evenings. Noni plays Charlotte, who must cope with her wacky mother, played by Cher. The mother moves with her two daughters across America, always has a lot of boyfriends and cooks great stuff like marshmellow-kebabs and bubble-gum-burgers. Charlotte – Winona – hates all that, and wants to become a nun. The whole day she fumbles with her rosary, watches religious films and sings along with the songs. Then, she meets a boy and suddenly loses her determination to stay a virgin for the rest of her life. The boy, a simple guy from the country, is bellringer at a church. Noni has her first sexual encounter with him – great scene – on the belltower.
“Mermaids” is Winona’s picture, because it plays the whole time on her face like a stage. The nose, which wrinkles when Noni has to bite into a vanilla steak; the frowns on her forehead, which are so deep of exasperation when her mother yells at her; and the big dark eyes, which can heartbreakingly suffer when Charlotte has to think about sex. In one scene Winona lies for minutes on her bed and pouts, throws and rolls around all at once. It looks like she is suffering on behalf of all 19 year-olds for all the misery in the world. 19 year-olds are that way, they feel responsible for everything. For the ozone gap, the price of gas, famines and the bad moods of their mothers. “We can go up” says Noni.
Winona comes from Winona. No joke: Her parents named her in 1971 after the small town they where living in. But the Ryders, a young, liberal intellectual couple, soon moved with small-Noni to California, near San Francisco, because of the feeling and freedom there. “We lived there with some other families on 120 hectares, no commune, but we did a lot together” says Winona. Her parents took life very seriously, daddy wrote social essays and mom shot some documentaries. The whole day they debated and reflected. The family’s best friends were beat-poet Allen Ginsberg and drug-bard Timothy Leary, who is Noni’s godfather. The five of them often sat together on the porch in the evenings, looked out onto California and philosophied. Winona became a strange girl, a small brat with short black hair who didn’t care about the boys in school. “Once they beat me up. Three guys with their fists. They shouted the whole time: Faggot, faggot. They thought I was a boy. I was bleeding on my head and had to wear a bandage which was quickly full of blood-stains. I showed that off proudly throughout the city.”
It is difficult to have fun with Noni, because she takes everything so seriously. “Do you have a boyfriend?” I ask, although everyone knows that she is going with teen-star Johnny Depp. “Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it. Do you have a girlfriend?” she asks in return. “Yes, one who loves Chanel and sometimes drinks canned beer for breakfast” I say. “That’s great,” says Winona and grins a little, “Johnny is a fascinating person, I have deep feelings for him” she tells.
We sit on a big white sofa, wide apart. One day, she must have been 14 or so, she played at an off-theater in San Francisco. A friend of her parents saw her and recommended Noni for an acting school. Then came her first roles in “Beetlejuice” and “Great Balls of Fire” Roles by chance, because at that time Winona wasn’t known in Hollywood. “I never wanted to do the typical teen roles, once a teenie always a teenie. When you then become older you have to play any crap to make a living. Like Molly Ringwald for instance.”
The dogged ambition with which Noni plunges into every film has caused a bitter sacrifice in 1990. After shooting three films – Winona sometimes had to act in two films simultaneously – came the offer to play the daughter in Francis Coppolas “The Godfather Part III”. An offer from heaven. An extremely tired and nervous Noni drove to Rome, and didn’t come out of her room on the first day of shooting. “I was totally exhausted and ill.” A doctor ordered her to stay in bed and Coppola took his own daughter for the part. Winona says very seriously “This will definitely never happen to me again” The oath of a 19 year-old. The day comes to an end and Noni and I look upon the sparkling snow. She hums a song by the “Replacements”, her favorite band: “Your present age is always the toughest, everything tugs and pulls on you.” I think about the summer. Then, Noni and I can spend five hours every day together. That’s the time it takes to watch all her three films in a row.
Of course, that story with the tear and runway and airplane was a little white lie. But good heavens, I’ve got to have a dream to hang onto.