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
Winona Ryder & Angelina Jolie walk on the wild side
by Premiere Magazine – October 1999
In ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie commit themselves to a different kind of chick flick – the true story of a young woman’s coming-of-age in a mental hospital.
She was suppose to be dead, this young actress hanging – wrists slashed, eyes open – in a bathroom in Pennsylvania. Though she’d been harnessed in that uncomfortable position for some time, she had a bigger problem: Winona Ryder, acting opposite her in this scene, was too convincing. Every time Ryder came into the bathroom and discovered, to her horror, her beloved friend hanging, the dead girl couldn’t help but cry.
No one had suspected that Girl, Interrupted, based on Susanna Kaysen’s best-selling memoir about the two crazy years she spent in a mental institution in the late 1960s, would shake the stability of at least one of its actresses. There had been speculation off the set that with the involvement of such high-powered talent as Ryder and Angelina Jolie and Venessa Redgrave and Whoopi Goldberg – along with up-and- comers Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, and Clea Duvall – the shoot might be more competitive than cohesive, more hormonal than whole. But not even the actresses themselves, who’d had informed ideas about what they were getting into, could have predicted what was to come: the unusual investment they were about to make, the extraordinary rewards they would receive for having made it.
It was the suicide scene – one of the more gruesome, profoundly sad moments in the film, completed on the third day of filming – that would set the tone for the 12-week shoot. Ryder, playing Kaysen, a teenager caught in the undertow of a severe depression, stepped into her part on that somber winter day and didn’t step out of it until springtime, after the film had wrapped. Similarly, Angelina Jolie, playing Lisa – a charismatic and heartless sociopath with whom Susanna becomes fascinated – also, for all intents and purposes, disappeared during the shoot. Both women seemed to make an implicit pact to forsake appearances, to pull up their anchors and dive head-first into their own dark shadows.
Studios did not want to touch Girl, Interrupted when it first came to their attention. The memoir is a journal, essentially, very black (and very funny), with no real plot and difficult female characters – anorexics and catatonics and botched suicides – who come and go the way sick people do. But Ryder’s connection to the book – which was given to her in galley form by her father, writer Michael Horowitz, in 1993, when she was 21 – had been immediate and personal.
Ryder had been having anxiety attacks for years. And one of the worst things about them was that she couldn’t explain what she was going through to the people closest to her – not to her brother, not to her sister, not to her friends, not even to her therapist. She found solace, then, in Kaysen’s clear-sighted, beautifully written book, the first she had read – since William Styron’s Darkness Visible – that spoke articulately about what it’s like to “feel like you’re going crazy,” she says. For Ryder, no book had ever been as on-target about the hole that girls in particular sometimes fall into at childhood’s end.
“I’ve never been a suicidal person, ” Ryder says. She is sitting in L.A. at a large table, under an even larger white umbrella. Behind her is the open back door of her shady two-story house; to her left, a sparkling swimming pool. “But there have definitely been times when I’ve thought, I’m too sensitive for this world right now; I just don’t belong here – it’s too fast and I don’t understand it. Those were times when I would hibernate. And it wasn’t healthy – I would get very lonely and feel very helpless,” Ryder is wearing a tight white T-shirt, and her short dark hair, veined with blond, is pulled off her face with a thin black headband. She is even lovelier in person than she is in movies – even more fragile-seeming, more present and still.
“I spent some time in a psychiatric ward when I was 19,” she continues, recalling the period in her adolescence when she was already a veteran of nine movies, including Mermaids and Heathers. “I really thought that I was losing my mind. I’ve always been an insomniac, and I was really, really overworked and overtired and not sleeping. I was convinced I was having a nervous breakdown, and I checked myself in.” There is a copy of The New Yorker’s fiction issue on the table in front of here, and clippings about the auction of the love letters that Salinger wrote to Joyce Maynard. There is the reissue of her parents’ book, Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady. “I don’t know how much playing other people for my whole adolescence had to do with what I was going through.”
It was a real hospital that Ryder checked herself into in 1990, not a high-class hotel for rich and weary actresses, and she found it scary. She left after a week, without having been helped.
“I debated whether to ever talk about it,” she says gently, her head tilted, her shoulder moving up to meet her ear, “but it is true, and I’m not really ashamed of it. I think everybody goes through these times in their lives – I think you’re very weird if you don’t.”
At 21, Ryder wanted more than anything to play Susanna Kaysen. But when she investigated optioning the book, she learned that producer Doug Wick (Working Girl) had bought the rights two weeks before, out of his discretionary fund at Columbia (the studio had not wanted to pay for it, Wick says, even though every young actress who’d been coming through the Columbia gate was bringing the book with them). So Ryder called Wick and told him she wanted to come on board. With Ryder attached to star (she is also one of the film’s executive producers), Columbia suddenly got interested: Wick was now in a position to look for a writer and a director.
That process, it turns out, took five years – three writers took stabs at a script, and several directors came in to discuss their ideas. But no one seemed able to work their way around the project’s inherent problems.
And then Ryder saw Heavy – an independent film about a quiet, obese cook who falls in love with a girl he could never have – and, floored, she got in touch with a young writer-director, James Mangold, who was then working on his second film, the not-so-independent Cop Land.
Mangold (whose wife, Scream producer Cathy Konrad, is also a producer on Girl, Interrupted) did not like the adaptations that Ryder had sent him, but he was moved by Ryder, who could talk endlessly about his beloved little gem of a first movie. And he felt a connection to the questions posed in Kaysen’s memoir. “The book is about a mystery,” he says. “About questions like, What happened to me? What’s crazy, and what’s not? Those questions are very inviting for any reader, male or female, because we all have moments when we wonder about ourselves.”
Having completed Cop Land, his “dark, male dirge,” Mangold was looking forward to direction a cast of women. He didn’t want to make a movie just about “a lot of attractive girls in smocks, bonding,” but instead “a movie about women that had some balls.” He also knew that the film needed to stand on its own, say something new, and avoid replicating One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Awakenings.
Then he read an essay by Salman Rushdie about The Wizard of Oz, and it dawned on him that the old MGM musical would be the perfect blueprint for Susanna Kaysen’s story: Young girl, trapped in a humdrum life and alienated from her parents, is hit by a twister and thrown into a parallel universe where everyone is childlike and literally missing some part of themselves. It is only the girl herself who seems to have nothing wrong with her, and yet she knows that that’s not quite the truth. Mangold wrote for a year, showing Ryder the pages as he went.
“He got it,” she says, referring to the book that she had so deeply connected with. “A lot of people didn’t. And he make a beautiful movie.”
“I’ve had enormous respect for directions I’ve worked with. Certainly people like Martin Scorsese – [that] was one of the best experiences of my life. But maybe being older” – she is now 27 – “and Jim really treating me as a partner in the movie, with just absolutely no condescension…” She looks shyly away, momentarily flustered. “He’s a great ally and friend.”
It was Ryder who suggested Angelina Jolie for the part of Lisa, having seen her all-out performance in the HBO movie Gia. Lisa is “a firecracker,” according to Konrad, “lobbed into the scenes with Winona”; Mangold says he had imagined a kind of “Jack Nicholson in drag” when he was writing the part. Although many famous young actresses in Hollywood wanted the edgy, explosive role – the “show-off part,” as Mangold puts it – no one who auditioned could bring Lisa to life. Until Jolie.
“Angie walked in one day,” Mangold says, “sat down, and was Lisa. I felt like the luckiest boy on earth.”
When the 24-year-old Jolie dug Kaysen’s book from her shelves afterward, she discovered that everything she’d previously underlined was about Lisa. She’ already identified with the girl.
“One of the passages in the book that introduces Lisa,” Jolie says, sitting in a closed cigar bar in L.A., with a giant bubble of red wine in her long, thin-boned hand, “is about her ‘wild eyes that had seen freedom.’ ” Jolie doesn’t smile, but you see her large, straight teeth flash and her eyes dart to the side, remembering. “And there’s this tattoo I got that’s a Tennessee Williams quote.” Jolie holds out her skinny arm and slides her gray sleeve up to her small bicep. In the crook is a black couplet in tiny block letters. She read it, upside down: “‘A prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages.’ That’s Lisa,” she says “and that’s what I loved.”
Jolie is normally not, she says, a social person on movie sets. Living the life of charismatic Lisa, though – a psychotic magnet, a not-quite- right ringleader – she found her trailer always full of people. She played loud music for them, and had a dartboard and balloon animals. She and some of the other young women on the production cut pictures of people having sex out of pornography magazines and stuck them all over the trailer walls. She invited “transpo” (the transportation guys) in, pointed to the scissors, and told them to “go for it.”
“Lisa is somebody who lives completely on impulse,” Jolie says. “She’s very angry at people for not being who they are – for living with masks on, in love with their own problems. She just wants to shake everybody. So the character allowed for a certain amount of freedom on my parts.” She smiles, knocks a cigarette out of a nearly empty pack, and lights it with a paper match. “you could tell certain people were offended by the pictures, but I didn’t mean to offend them.”
Jolie had come to the set of Girl, Interrupted – an actual, though mostly defunct, mental hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – after shooting The Bone Collector, in which she plays a cop who spends a lot of time alone in sewers and stockyards, looking for dead bodies. She welcomed, with this new film, the sudden and unexpected infusion of new friends. But it didn’t turn out to be a simple as that.
“Some of the girls,” she says, “I didn’t get very close to. I don’t know how anybody felt about me. I think at some point they all thought that I wasn’t being nice to people.” There is a certain wariness that comes over Jolie when she talks about Girl, Interrupted. Whereas Ryder seems to view her experience on the film with some distance, Jolie seems a bit left behind – lost in the narrow world of Lisa. “One day, they thought that I was upset with Winona – that we had gotten into an argument. And we never did, we never had a problem. But there was this scene where she comments on all the girls – makes a little criticism about them – and I’m supposed to laugh about that. But in my opinion, my character doesn’t find that funny, because they’re my family. And sometimes that production people would translate that as, I’m being mean, or I’m not smiling at Winona or being funny with my fellow actors. I remember hearing that they thought there was tension on the set. And I remember thinking” – and here Jolie slips into character – “I’m a sociopath.”
Because of her role in The Bone Collector, Jolie turned, afterward, into her own private forensics specialists. (“You can’t help it,” she says. “You’re in a bathroom at some guy’s house, and you go, ‘Okay, I don’t want to pick it up, but I swear I see a red hair in that brush…’”). On the set of Girl, Interrupted, then, Jolie-Lisa found herself sitting back and watching the other actresses-inmates for clues.
“Analyzing to solve things in Bone Collector,” she says, “became, in Girl, Interrupted, me sitting in a room with people going…” – she sits back in her chair at the cigar bar, squints, and points, literally, at all the flaws of an imaginary girl in the middle of the empty room – “‘… You’re wearing that outfit because you have an identity problem, and you’re trying to be sunny, so you’re wearing all pink ’cause you’re depressed.’” Jolie laughs wickedly. “I got just really free, testing boundaries.”
Though she didn’t make friends with the other leads, Jolie would still say things to them in passing. To Brittany Murphy (Clueless), who played Daisy, a girl with a ’60s-style “flip” hairdo who lives on a strict diet of chicken and laxatives, Jolie once said, “Your hair flips up because it’s scared of your shoulders.” Murphy laughs, repeating the comment. Then she remembers that Jolie bought her a backpack for Valentine’s Day (she bought all the girls something), a giant Disney dog’s head, with ears that flipped up at the bottoms like Daisy’s hair.
“Lisa would rip on Daisy,” Murphy continues. “There was one night when I saw [Jolie off the set]. We were actually talking for a while. And then she said, ‘Wait a minute – what am I talkin’ to you for?!’” Murphy roars with laughter. “I said, ‘Can’t we take a break for a while?’” Jolie just laughed, Murphy says. The implicit answer was, No.
“As Jim and I began to get to know all [the actresses] personally,” Konrad says, “we would laugh, and say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s in character.’ But in a lot of ways, they are in characters – which is why the casting is so brilliant.”
Ryder doesn’t quite see it that way, although she didn’t ask Jolie what kind of experience she was having. “I think Angelina went through a lot on the movie,” she says. “But I don’t know, because I don’t know her that well. We weren’t exactly talking about it, because our characters have this strange relationship. But I know that Angie puts herself through a lot when she works. I would love someday to do a movie with her where we play really close friends, because I’d love to get to know her.”
Jolie agrees that she and Ryder never really got acquainted, and that neither actress was inclined to step far enough out of her character to be able to ask a question like, “how’s it going?” “In a lot of the scenes,” Jolie says, “we would be against each other, so we would kind of come into it from opposite sides of the room, and we’d leave at opposite ends of the room.”
There was something else about the characters that made it almost impossible for Ryder and Jolie to connect socially: Jolie had come to Girl, Interrupted expecting, as Lisa, to become very depressed; but she discovered, to her surprise, that what Lisa felt was nothing. Not a thing. Ryder, on the other hand, felt everything.
Murphy tells a story about how she was waylaid coming to the set on her first day – there had been an ice storm, and her plane was rerouted to Baltimore, where she stayed in a hotel instead of continuing to Harrisburg that night. And Ryder was waiting for her in the production office the next morning. “Popping out from winter-white fluff,” Murphy says, “were these bright, sparkly eyes, and the most welcoming, heartfelt hug. That was the first time I met her. She said she had lost sleep the night before, because she was worried about me being alone in Baltimore. And she meant it.”
Elisabeth Moss – who was 16 during filming, the youngest member of the ensemble – also felt watched over by Ryder, whom she calls her “little protector.” Moss plays Polly, and adolescent in so much pain that she had lit herself on fire to try to burn her feelings away. Ryder opened her life to Moss, the younger actress says, so that Moss would have somewhere to go to get distance during takes, someone to talk to when the others were working. Whereas Jolie would take off late on Friday nights with some of the other actresses, to New York City for a little R&R, Ryder would stay in Harrisburg with Moss.
“Since we were all cooped up in that hospital every day, all day,” Moss says, “everybody would scatter on Friday. You’d just kind of show up Monday morning, and nobody asked any questions. But me and Noni always got stuck staying in our little rooms, going to see bad movies at the Harrisburg mall.”
“I wanted to go to New York,” Ryder says. “It looked like so much fun. But I stayed. Oh, boy, did I stay.”
During production of Girl, Interrupted, Ryder began to lose sleep, and her anxiety attacks returned. Part of it was that the hospital, where 80 percent of the film was shot, felt like a prison, even though it looked more like a college campus. A third of the hospital was still running – there was a drug-rehab center and a section for homeless families- and over the three-month shoot, the actresses got to know some of the people there. It was impossible to step out of a scene and be rid of the setting. “Filming at this hospital with people who were suffering,” Ryder says, “was a humbling experience.”
And a disorienting one as well. Since the movie was shot out of sequence, but almost always in the same clinical setting, Ryder had to find a way to chart the continuity (or lack thereof) of Susanna’s roller- coaster inner life over the tow years covered in the story. She taped index cards all over her trailer, indicating where she was supposed to be emotionally that day – as opposed to a day or week before – and she watched dailies every night so that she could remember the scenes she had already shot, which she would have to connect with the next day.
“I had to stay in this heightened state,” she says, “because if I kind of let it all go at the end of the day, it would be too exhausting to work myself up the next day.”
Like many on the set, Ryder caught a flu bug during the shot, and she told cinematographer Jack Green (The Bridges of Madison County, Twister) that between the illness and her debilitating work, she sometimes felt “so frail,” Green remembers. He took extra care of Ryder, playing cop to the technicians, making sure that interruptions for lighting checks or hair touch-ups were kept to a minimum. Ryder grew so comfortable with Green, Looking forward to his hugs and daily “I love yous,” that when it came time to do a love scene with Jared Leto, who plays her boyfriend, she slipped naked under the covers – something she had never done before on a movie set – confident that the camera would not capture anything too revealing.
“I felt so trusting of everybody that I wasn’t paranoid,” Ryder explains. “I explored stuff that I’ve never explored onscreen before.”
It was the real-life Susanna Kysen, visiting the set for a couple of days that winter, who noticed that Ryder – no matter how sick or anxious or sleepy – was the one performer who was always on the set, always working. She saw that Ryder had taken on the burden – physically, emotionally, creatively – of her life story.
“I felt that her attachment was so… she had claimed it,” Kaysen says. “My claim on it was gone.” (She laughs when she recalls how Ryder, showing her dailies of scenes with the actors playing Kaysen’s parents, was very disappointed to learn that they didn’t look at all like Kaysen’s real mom and dad.) She spent one 16-hour day with Ryder, watching her being Kaysen with all the energy she could muster. “I thought, Boy, you know, she’s good. That air of fragility, which I think she cultivates, belies a very resilient character. I don’t mean pigheaded – I mean I just don’t worry about her.”
Jolie’s life had an interruption of its own a couple years ago. The daughter of actor Jon Voight and actress Marcheline Bertrand, she’d left home when she was 16 (moving across the street from her mother’s apartment); she’d gotten married at 20 (to the “second man I was with,” Jonny Lee Miler, with whom she starred in Hackers); and then, at 22 after refusing the role four times because she knew instinctively the toll it would take, she accepted the part of the self-destructive model Gia Carangi in the award-winning HBO biopic Gia. It was during that production that Jolie’s life fell apart: She moved into a hotel without her husband and lost touch with all her friends.
“It happened that I became exposed at the same time that I was playing a role about somebody being exposed,” she says. “I felt beaten down. I didn’t feel like a good person. I felt pretty bad.” Her memories of that time are, at best, bittersweet. “Jonny came the day I died,” she says, “and he was with me when I shaved my head.” (Gia had had AIDS at the end of her life, and he hair had fallen out in clumps.) “We went home, and I still had all these glue spots, and I got into a dress and high hells, and he took me to dinner on Sunset Boulevard. He just went arm-in-arm with me into the restaurant.”
After Gia had wrapped, Jolie gave up acting and moved to New York City, where she bought an apartment and registered at New York University’s film school. Miller moved to London, and the two, who never got together again, eventually divorced in August of 1999.
Jolie began to miss acting, though, and after a year she came back to Hollywood to play a wayward wife in Pushing Tin, and a lovelorn club kid in Playing by Heart. “I surfaced,” she says, “and was so much stronger. I’m not hard on myself anymore. I simply don’t ask much of anybody but just to be who they are.” Jolie smiles, and takes a sleepy sip of wine. That’s what she wants most – to be who she is. And what might that be? “Everything,” she says.
You’d think, talking to some of Girl, Interrupter’s younger players, that Ryder and Jolie had invented the craft of acting. The admiration is stunning. Murphy says that Ryder “changed the molecules” in the ten feet between them when they were doing a scene together – that it was not about acting, it was about “believing.” Moss says that with Jolie, you “were constantly watching, waiting for whatever she might throw at you. It was exciting.” Murphy agrees. “Angie is a very giving actress.” She says, adding that Jolie passed on some advice that her own mother had given here: “‘Be brave, be bold, be free.’”
Neither Moss nor Murphy stayed in character throughout that winter in Pennsylvania. Moss believes that if she hadn’t dropped Polly every night after shooting, she would have “ended up in a mental institution.” Murphy too says she would have “gone crazy.” But these are actresses who, unlike Ryder and Jolie, are still relatively unfamiliar with the dark recesses of their minds – with loss, sleepless nights, unfathomable anxieties, and paralyzing responsibilities. These things will undoubtedly come to them, but not yet. For now, they are reveling in having been part of an intensely female, intensely emotional, intensely personal movie. “I would have held the boom for this one,” Murphy says. “I haven’t experienced anything like that before, and I don’t know if I ever will again.”
Tatler, February 2000
Winona Ryder is all grown up – she has a new house (with gardeners) and Arthuer Miller’s phone number and is even prepared to discuss her childhood traumas with Jonathan Van Meter.
Photographed by Brigitte Lacombe
When I arrive at Winona Ryder’s house in Beverly Hills, she has only been awake for 10 minutes, so I guess that the make-up (racoon eyes, pale foundation, pink lipstick) is from the night before. She’s wearing a red and white Who T-shirt with no bra and a turquiose A-line skirt, cut off several inches below the knee. Her short, unwashed hair, flecked with blonde tips, is pushed up with a black hairband: on her right wrist are a rubber band and a beaded-leather bracelet. Her elegant, diamond and gold earrings look as if they belong to a much dressier outfit. In a word – a word which she probably hates – she looks adorable. Some more Winona clichés: she is tiny, doll-like, luminescent, with impossibly far-apart huge brown eyes.
Clutching a cup of tea, Winona heads outside to sit at a table under a big white umbrella on her redbrick patio next to an oval pool. “I live at this table, ” she says. It shows: there are piles of yellowing newspapers, an old candle with cigarette butts stuck in it, a sketchbook, Time magazine, The Paris Review, a copy of Richard Ford’s Wildlife and the book she’s currently reading, An Underachiever’s Diary, by Benjamin Anastas. Over the next two days I, too, will live at this table, while Winona sips from cans of Coke, smokes my cigarettes and chatters away about everything but Matt Damon, who is off-limits.
Winona’s house, modest by Hollywood standars, is of the typical, two-story Spanish variety. She bought it last year for £1,5 million (‘a steal’) from Rene Russo’s sister, the ex-wife of Bernie Taupin. Sir Elton John’s lyricist. There’s a lot of rock ‘n’ roll history in these walls, a selling point that thrills her. ‘Neil Young’s Harvest was written here,’ she says, as only a person who lives and breathes music would. ‘That’s one of my favourite albums.’ Winona recently launched Roustabout Records, an indepenedent label which her older brother Jubal runs. She lives with her room-mate of six years, Brett Brook – a handsome menswear buyer at Fred Segal – and her younger brother, Uri, a 23-year-old actor/writer. ‘It’s my first real house,’ she says. ‘I have a pool. I have gardeners. It’s an adult house. I definitely couldn’t live here alone.’
She stops suddenly and her eyes widen. ‘You want to go on a tour now?’ she says, as if suggesting that we open our Christmas presents a day early. And we’re off on a tour through all 10 rooms, complete with a meticulous narration of each and every tchotchke, the provenance of every piece of art revealed, the story behind each framed picture told. She uses the phrase ‘my prized possession’ three times: referring to a W. Eugene Smith photograph of a little black boy climbing up a street sign, circa 1950; a snapshot of herself with her hero Tom Waits, taken a month ago at a concert; and a Sullivan’s Travels poster featuring Veronica Lake.
Scattered about the house are memorabilia and artefacts from nearly every movie she has been in – proof, perhaps, that the unreal, out-of-time life she leads, with its ever-changing cast of characters, has actually happened. There, just behind the bar, is a foot-high bronze statue from Alien Resurrection; just off the kitchen, on a shelf, is a framed page of her narration from Heathers, signed by the director and editor. Next to it is a Polaroid of herself, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep taken during the shooting of The House of the Spirits. Upstars, in her messy bedroom (a mountain of beauty products next to her bed and many pairs of shoes), we find a photo her mother took of Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis in full period costume on the set of The Age of Innocence. And, of course, there’s the requisite photo of Winona and Marty (Scorsese to you), ‘My show-off thing,’ she says. Most endearingly, she has framed Arthur Miller’s bank-deposit slip on which he wrote his home phone number during the filming of The Crucible. Under his number, he wrote: ‘Call!’ This gives her no end of joy.
There are other, more personal effects in her bedroom worth mentioning, such as a tiny framed picture of a three-day-old Winona. ‘My mom’s a Buddhist and I’m in this position that the Buddha is in, and she’s like, “Noni, I know that you’re special because of this…” and I’m like, “Mom, you probably positioned me like that.” But this is what’s really cool.’ She takes the picture out of the frame and turns it over. ‘My dad was on the lam with Timothy Leary during this time and he showed this picture to him while they were in Switzerland skiing, and that was when he asked him to be my godfather, and Tim wrote: “Love to the beautiful newest Buddha girl from…” – I think he meant to write “Godfather”. They were probably both really high.’
There’s one framed picture that’s lying face down on a shelf. She turns it over and panicky giggles issue forth. ‘That’s… that’s… Matt.’ It’s a picture of Matt Damon, the boyfriend. ‘Trying not to talk about it,’ she singsongs, putting the picture back, face down. The final stop on our tour is a room that she says is – with air quotes – ‘the “office” I never go into. This is the embarrassing room’. The sources of her embarrassment are two framed Academy Award-nomination certificates hanging on the wall, one for Best Supporting Actress in The Age of Innocence and one for Best Actress in Little Women. ‘Totally mortifying. Don’t look in that direction. Brett talked me into putting those up.’ Embarrassment – usually to do with issues about fame – is a recurring theme in Winona Ryder’s life.
Some facts about Winona: she does not sign autographs (except for children), because she thinks it’s weird. She has taken a vow not to repeat negative gossip, though this remains a struggle (I caught her once, telling me that she had heard Britney Spears has breast implants). She does her own hair and make-up for premieres and award shows. She swore she would never get a tatoo, but broke down two years ago after dreaming about one every night for six months. The result is dime-sized, elegant and sits on the top of her left forearm. It’s a combination of the Indonesian symbol for compassion and the Tibetan symbol for enlightenment. She is 28 and has had three serious boyfriends thus far: Johnny Depp, for four years, Dave Pirner of the band Soul Asylum, for four years, and now Matt Damon. She is a natural blonde but dyes her hair dark brown.
Is Winona all grown-up? Yes and no. She clings to a kind of spacy, lazy, California-teen-girl cadence, still uses words like ‘totally’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘like’ and ‘lame’. She smokes each cigarette as though she were 13 years old and it was her very first one: awkwardly (in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, she was quite good as a sexual predator and, at long last, seemed like a grown woman – until she moked a cigarette). A few times in conversation, as we were sitting on her patio that first day, I found myself wishing she would get to the point, and answer my question, stop drifting away, be more articulate. Apparently she read my mind because the next day, out of nowhere, came: ‘I’ve never been that good with interviews, and I know that I’ve probably been really inarticulate. I was reading this interview with Sharon Stone last night, and she’s just really great at it. And I was like, “Man, Jonathan’s gonna think I’m so lame.” I wish I could talk like that. This is me, but I just wish I could be more… like Sharon Stone.’
On the other hand, Winona is obviously a woman who is in control of her career and, in some ways, always has been. ‘Right from the beginning, she chose what appealed to her,’ says one of her dearest friends, the interior designer Kevin Haley, who has known Winona since she was a baby and used to take her to auditions before she could drive. ‘She has always had her own taste, and she sticks to it.’ At 14, she did Heathers against the advice of everyone around her, and she was right. The recent landslide of dark teen dramas is, in many ways, the progeny of Heathers. She seems to have a knack for choosing offbeat, or dark, or literary material that exists just this side of mainstream, like Beetlejuice, Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, Reality Bites, Little Women – classics, really. Even her big mistakes, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Alien Resurrection, are interestingly camp.
After the long and demanding shoot of Alien Resurrection in 1997, Ryder, exhausted, decided to take some time off. Her career went into a slump, and a few months turned into almost two years. ‘The stuff I was being offered was like, the Rookie Cop,’ she says, laughing. ‘Or this whole craze of super-violent independent movies that I thought were ridiculous. They were just excuses to show the most disgusting images and people shooting up, and I was just so repelled by them.’ When she finally went back to work, she made a film called Lost Souls, directed by Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer she had worked with on How To Make an American Quilt. ‘I wanted very much to work with Janusz, who’s a friend,’ she says.
Last winter, she began filming Girl, Interrupted, based on the bestselling memoir by Susanna Kaysen. Ryder had been attached to star from the beginning, but after her display of canny instinct on Little Women – which she single-handedly persuaded a reluctant Gillian Armstrong to direct, and handpicked much of the young cast, including Claire Danes – she was made an executive producer. ‘I don’t think I am going to be some great producer,’ she says. ‘My main reason for wanting to produce was to not let anyone fuck up the material, and there were a lot of people who wanted to make it something else.’ After six years, several prospective directors and many drafts of the script, Girl, Interrupted finally made it into production with Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave. ‘Her act as a producer was pulling together a great vehicle for herself because the world wasn’t doing it,’ says James MAngold, the director and screenwriter, whose previous credits include Heavy and Cop Land.
Girl, Interrupted, published in 1993 to much critical acclaim, is an intense and surprising little book about 18-year-old Kaysen’s two years on the ward for teenage girls at McLean, a psychiatric hospital in New England, in the late Sixties. Kaysen’s prose is spare, elegant and, at times, darkly funny. Through her eyes we meet a bizarre cast of characters: doctors, nurses, and the other girls on the ward. The book raises more questions than it answers – about what it means to be ‘crazy’, who is and who isn’t – and yet it manages, through Kaysen’s clear-headed and egoless insights, to be deeply satisfying.
‘I read the book when I was 21 and I freaked,’ says Ryder. ‘It was like, “Oh my God, my whole life I’ve tried to say that and I’ve never been able to.”‘. Ryder’s connection to the material came through her own unravelling at an early age. She started making movies when she was only 12. By 17, she was having ‘horrible’ anxiety attacks. Over the next few years, things quietly got worse. ‘I was working constantly,’ she says. ‘I didn’t take any time off. When I did, I was really stressed out. I went through my first break-up with a long-term boyfriend [Johnny Depp]. It wass really difficult and weird, and it was amplified because it was in the press. I really thought I was losing my mind. I became a terrible insomniac. I lived on aeroplanes and in hotels. I didn’t really have a home.’
One morning she woke up felling ‘too sensitive to be living in the world’ and checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. ‘I only stayed a week because no one was talking to me,’ she says. ‘They were just trying to medicate. I was like, “No, I need to address my life right now; it’s a mess.” It was a very dramatic move, and my friends really made fun of me. But I needed help.’ Ryder started seeing a therapist she met at the hospital, and her life eventually evened out. ‘Right as I was coming out of it,’ she says, ‘I read the book. I realised that what had happned to me is not unusual. I had the money and the time and a lot of people don’t. Part of what the book says is ‘Everyone’s crazy; they just pretend to be OK so they can get by.’
Mangold explains: ‘We look for people and moments that are about to blossom, and I couldn’t get past the feeling that Winona was someone who was really ready to reach someplace. There are tremendous parallels between Winona’s experience and Susanna Kaysen’s. I love it when I find actors who are ready to address the larger issues about themselves and their choices in the material. She operates very much from the gut. She’s very free that way. And she gets the architecture of film on a profound leve.’
‘I’m very proud of my performance,’ says Ryder. ‘This is the first time, aside from working with Martin Scorsese, that I really let everything go. I was incredibly raw. I delivered myself on a platter to him. There’s stuff that I did in this movie that I’ve never done before. I did a scene where I’m in bed [with a guy] and I’m naked, and I was the most comfortable. I did a couple of scenes in a bathtub, naked.’ She pauses: ‘And it’s certainly not a beauty-shot movie for me.’
Other Winona facts: she was born in Winona, Minnesota. She’s Jewish – Ryder is a stage name. Her real last name is Tomchin, but half the family goes by the name Horowitz because of a snafu at Ellis Island. Don’t ask; it’s complicated. She has an unnatural fear of being separated from her family, which she believes comes from having lost relatives in the death camps. She is obsessed with World War II. Ethel Horowitz, her 99-year-old Russian-immigrant grandmother, lives in Brooklyn and enjoys a friendship with Daniel Day-Lewis. Dave Pirner, her ex, is her best friend. She still loves Johnny. She gets asked about her ‘falling out’ with Gwyneth Paltrow every day. It’s not as dramatic as you think, but it’s complicated – don’t ask. Most of her friends are gay. When she was 12, she was beaten up and called ‘faggot’ by a group of kids who thought she was a boy. When she got home from school, with a bandage on her head, she went into the bathroom, lit one of her father’s cigarettes and did a Jimmy Cagney imitation in the mirror. She was discovered by a casting director at Salmagundi’s (‘very Lana Turner’). She has a substantial collection of vintage Hollywood costumes, including Leslie Caron’s dress from An American in Paris, Claudette Colbert’s gown from It Happened One Night and Olivia de Havilland’s blouse from Gone with the Wind. She has worn a much-altered Ava Gardner dress to three different Hollywood events, for which she came in for some grief from the press.
When not working, Ryder goes to the movies every single day, or she and Brett rent a video, open a bottle of champagne and make a night of it. ‘I’m at the point where I have seen every movie in the video store,’ she says. ‘And I’m not kidding. I can’t find a movie that I haven’t seen – except the really cheesy Eighties teen movies.’ The American Film Institute sent Ryder its 100 Greatest Movies collection on video as a gift. ‘I was so excited.’ Pause for effect. ‘I’d seen every movie in it. That’s 100 movies, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When I was growing up, my mom kept me home from school to watch movies. Kept me home. Like, I would want to go to school. I remember trying to explain to my teachers: “I saw Imitation of Life, and it’s this incredibly story.” And they were like, “You missed school.”‘
In conversation, Winona refers to movies constantly. Clearly they were an unusually important and formative part of her childhood. Now that she’s an adult, movies are her job, her life-blood. And if she has been criticised, as she says, ‘for playing one too many brown-eyed waif girls’, who can blame her? That’s what the movies – that’s what we – wanted her to be. But perhaps playing a teenager when she was well past her teens slowed her process in real life. She has seemed, for a long time, to exist in some strange lacuna between girlhood and womanhood.
One afternoon, we are sitting in her living room in front of a gigantic television watching dailies from Girl, Interrupted. As she runs through take after take of a spooky, emotional scene, her face filling up the entire screen, she says: ‘Ive learned a lot about my face on this movie. My eyes are kind of big, and I can express more than I want to. I do that in real life.’ She turns to me, makes her eyes huge, and cracks up laughing. ‘See what I mean?’
Girl, Interrupted begins and ends with a cab ride. ‘When you look into Winona’s eyes at the beginning and end of this film, going to and from the hospital, there’s such a tremendous difference in this woman,’ says Mangold. ‘Indescribable and lyrical and powerful in terms of the girl you see arriving at the hospital, and the woman you see entering the world.’ Ryder can no longer play the little girl with the big brown eyes. And if, as Mangold says, she ‘grows this girl up’ in the movie, perhaps Winona, herself, has finally grown up.
Vogue, October 1999
The Winona Nobody Knows
Winona Ryder finds her richest role to date as the tortured, troubled heroine of Girl, Interrupted – a character, reports Jonathan Van Meter, that she understands all too well. Photographed by Steven Meisel.
When I arrive at Winona Ryder’s house in Beverly Hills, she has been awake for only ten minutes. I’m guessing that all the makeup – racoon eyes, pale foundation, pink lipstick – is from the night before. It’s noon on a Monday in August, a beautiful Los Angeles day. She’s wearing a red-and-white Who T-shirt (THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT) with no bra, the outline of her ample breasts clearly visible, and a turquoise A-line skirt cut off several inches below the knee. Her short, unwashed hair, flecked with blonde tips, is pushed up with a black hair band. On her right wrist are a rubber band and a beaded-leather bracelet. Her elegant diamond-and-gold earrings look like they belong to a much dressier outfit. In a word – a word she probably hates – adorable. More Winona clichés: She is tiny, doll-like, luminescent; those brown and huge eyes, impossibly far apart. Have I mentioned she’s adorable?
Clutching a cup of tea, Winona heads outside to sit at a table under a big white umbrella on her red brick patio next to an inviting oval shaped pool. “I live at this table,” she says, and it shows. There are piles of yellowing newspapers, and old candle with cigarette butts in it, a sketchbook, Time magazine, The Paris Review, a copy of Richard Ford’s Wildlife, and the book she’s currently reading, An Underachiever’s Diary, by Benjamin Anastas. Over the next two days, I, too, will live at this table while Winona variously sips from a can of Coke and a little bottle of water, smokes my cigarettes, and chatters away about everything but Matt Damon, who is off limits.
Modest by Hollywood standards, Winona’s house is of the typical two-story Spanish variety; she bought it least year for $2.5 million (“a steal”) from Rene Russo’s sister, who is also the ex-wife of Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist. There’s a lot of rock-’n’-roll history in these walls – a selling point, and a fact that thrills her. “Neil Young’s Harvest was written here,” she says as only a person who lives and breathes music could. “That was one of my favourite albums.” Winona recently launched Roustabout Records, an independent label that her older brother, Jubal, and his best friends are running. She lives with her roommate of six years – Brett Brooks, a tall, handsome black man who’s a menswear buyer at Fred Segal – and her little brother, Uri, a 23-year-old actor/writer. “It’s my first real house,” she says. “I have a pool. I have gardeners. It’s an adult house. I definitely couldn’t live here alone.”
She stops suddenly; her eyes widen. “You want to go on a tour now?” she says as if suggesting that we open our Christmas presents a day early. And we’re off on an exhaustive walk through all ten room, complete with meticulous narration of each and every tchotchke – the provenance of every piece of art revealed, the story behind dozens of framed snapshots told. She uses the phrase “my prized possession” three times, referring to a W. Eugene Smith photograph of a little black boy climbing up a street sign, circa 1950; a snapshot of herself with her hero Tom Waits, taken at a concert a month ago; and a Sullivan’s Travels poster featuring Veronica Lake.
Scattered about the house are memorabilia and artifacts from nearly every movie she’s been in – proof, perhaps, that the unreal, out-of-time life she leads with an ever-changing cast of characters has actually happened. There, behind the bar, is a foot-high bronze statue from Alien: Resurrection; just off the kitchen, on a shelf, a framed page of her narration from Heathers, signed by the director and editor. Next to it, a Polaroid of herself, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep from The House of the Spirits. Upstairs in her messy bedroom (a mountain of beauty products, right next to the bed; many, many pairs of shoes) we find a snapshot that her mother took of Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis in full period costume on the set of The Age of Innocence. And, of course, there’s the requisite photo of Winona and Marty (Scorsese to you). “My show-off thing”, she says. Most endearingly, she has framed Arthur Miller’s bank-deposit slip on which he wrote his home phone number during the filming of The Crucible. Under his number, he had written, “Call!” This gives her no end of joy.
There are other, more personal effects in her bedroom worth mentioning: A two-inch-by-two-inch framed picture of a three-day-old Winona. “My mom’s a Buddhist and I’m in this position that the Buddha is in, and she’s, like, ‘Noni, I know that you’re special because of this….’ I’m like, ‘Mom, you probably positioned me like that.’ But this is what’s really cool.” She takes the picture out of the frame and turns it over. “My dad was on the lam with Timothy Leary during this time and the showed this picture to him while they were in Switzerland skiing, and that was when he asked him to be my godfather, and Tim wrote, ‘Love to the beautiful, newest Buddha girl from…’ – I think he meant to write ‘Godfather’. They were probably really high.”
Also: A tiny hinged silver Tiffany frame that snaps open and shut like a locket. It was given to her by one of her dearest friends, the interior designer Kevin Haley, a one-time actor whom she’s known since she was a baby. On one other side of the frame is a picture of teenage Winona slumped on a couch, dressed in black, wearing movie-star sunglasses, giving the camera the finger. On the other side is the page from Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield sees FUCK YOU written on the wall. “I was in Paris promoting Mermaids,” she says, “and I was a total insomniac and going nuts and having the worst time of my life, and Kevin took this picture and gave me this. I just treasure it. I take it with me wherever I go. It’s a very adolescent me, but it reminds me of that time so much, and that book was like my bible.”
There’s one framed picture that’s lying facedown on a shelf. She turns it over and panickly giggles issue forth. “That’s…that’s…Matt!” It’s a picture of Damon, the boyfriend. “Trying not to talk about it,” she singsongs, putting the picture back, facedown. The final stop on our tour is a room that she says is – with air quotes – “the ‘office’ I never go into; this is the embarrassing room.” The source of her embarrassment is two framed Academy Award-nominations certificates – one for Best Supporting Actress in The Age of Innocence and one for Best Actress in Little Women – hanging on the wall. “Totally mortifying. Don’t look in that direction. Brett talked me into putting those up.” Embarrassment, you will come to see – usually about issues to do with fame – is a recurring motif in Winona Ryder’s life.
Some facts about Winona: She has never been on a late-night talk show (except for Charlie Rose). She has never been to a fashion show. She does not sign autographs (except for children) because she thinks it’s just weird. She has taken a vow not to repeat negative gossip, though this remains a struggle (I caught her once telling me that she heard Britney Spears has breast implants). She has never heard a Britney Spears song. She does her own hair and makeup for premieres and award shows. She swore she would never get a tattoo but broke down two years ago after dreaming about one every night for six months. The result is dime-size and elegant and exists on the top of her left forearm. It’s a combination of the Indonesian symbol for compassion and the Tibetan symbol for enlightenment. She turns 28 this month and has had only three serious boyfriends thus far: Johnny Depp for four years, Dave Pirner of the band Soul Asylum for four years, and now Matt Damon. She is a natural blonde but dyes her hair dark brown.
Is Winona all grown-up? Yes and no. She clings to a kind of spacey, lazy, California teen-girl cadence, still uses words like totally and awesome and like and lame. She smokes each cigarette as if she were thirteen and it were her very first one: awkwardly (in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, she was quite good as a sexual predator and, at long last, seemed like a grown woman – until she smoked a cigarette). A few times in conversation, as we were living on her patio that first day, I found myself wishing she would get to the point, answer my question, stop drifting away, be more articulate. Apparently she had read my mind, as the next day, out of nowhere, came “I’ve never been that good with interviews, and I know that I’ve probably been really inarticulate. I was reading this interview with Sharon Stone last night, and she’s just really great at it. And I was like, ‘Man, Jonathan’s gonna think I’m sooo lame.’ I wish I could talk like that. This is me, but I just wish I could be more… like… Sharon Stone!”
On the other hand, Winona is very obviously a woman in control of her career and, in some ways, always has been. “Right from the beginning she chose what appealed to her,” says Kevin Haley, who used to take Winona to her auditions before she could drive. “And she’s done that all along. She always had her own taste, and she sticks to it. ” At fourteen, she did Heathers against the advice of everyone around her, and she was right. The recent landslide of dark teen dramas are in many ways the progeny of Heathers. She seems to have a knack for choosing offbeat or dark or literary material that exists just this side of mainstream, like Beetlejuice, Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, Reality Bites, Little Women – classics, really. Even her big mistakes – Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Alien: Resurrection – are interestingly camp (though she continues to be mortified by both films).
After the long and demanding shoot of Alien: Resurrection in 1997, Ryder, exhausted, decided to take some time off. Her career went into a slump, and a few months turned into almost two years. “The stuff I was being offered was like: The Rookie Cop!” she says, laughing. “And I was just, like, ‘I’m not The Rookie Cop. I can’t be The Rookie Cop.’ Or this whole craze of super violent independent movies that I thought were ridiculous. They were just excuses to show the most disgusting images and people shooting up, and I was just so repelled by them.” When she finally went back to work she made a film called Lost Souls, directed by Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer she had worked with on How to Make and American Quilt. “I wanted very much to work with Janusz, who’s a friend,” she says haltingly. I had heard through the buzz machine that she hates the film, won’t promote it. “I’ll just say that I haven’t seen it,” she says, batting her eyelashes.
This past winter, she began filming Girl, Interrupted, based on the best-selling memoir by Susanna Kaysen, the rights to which Columbia Pictures bought for the producer Douglas Wick. Ryder had been attached to star from the beginning, but after her display of canny instinct on Little Women – she single-handedly persuaded a reluctant Gillian Armstrong to direct and handpicked much of the young cast, including Claire Danes – Columbia made her an executive producer. “I don’t think I’m going to be some great producer,” she says. “My main reason for wanting to produce was to not let anyone fuck up the material – and there were a lot of people who wanted to make it something else.” After six years, several prospective directors and many drafts of the script, Girl, Interrupted opens at long last in December, with Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg, and Vanessa Redgrave. “Her act as a producer was pulling it,” says James Mangold, the director and screenwriter, whose previous credits include Heavy and Cop Land.
Girl, Interrupted, published in 1993 to much critical acclaim, is an intense and surprising little book about eighteen-year-old Kaysen’s two years on the ward for teenage girls at McLean, a psychiatric hospital in New England, in the late sixties. Kaysen’s prose is spare, elegant, and, at times, darkly funny. Through her eyes we meet a bizarre cast of characters – the doctors, nurses, and other girls on the ward. The book raises more questions than it answers – about what it means to be “crazy”, who is and who isn’t – and yet it manages, through Kaysen’s clearheaded and egoless insights, to be deeply satisfying.
“I read that book when I was 21 and freaked,” says Ryder. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, my whole life I’ve tried to say that and I’ve never been able to.” Ryder’s connection to the material came through her own unravelling at an early age. She started making movies when she was only twelve. By seventeen, she was having “horrible” anxiety attacks. Over the next few years, things quietly got worse. “I was working constantly,” she says. “I didn’t take any time off. When I did, I was really stressed out. I went through my first break-up with a long-term boyfriend [Johnny Depp]. It was really difficult and weird and it was amplified because it was in the press. I really thought I was losing my mind. I became a terrible insomniac. I lived on airplanes and in hotels. I didn’t really have a home.”
One morning she woke up and felt “too sensitive to be living in the world” and checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. “I stayed only a week because no one was talking to me,” she says. “They basically were just trying to medicate me. I was like, ‘No, I need to address my life right now; it’s a mess.’ It was a very dramatic move, and my friends really made fun of me. But I needed help.” Ryder started seeing a therapist she met at the hospital, and eventually her life evened out. “Right as I was coming out of it,” she says, “I read the book. I realized that what happened to me is not unusual. I had the money and the time and a lot of people don’t. Part of what the book says is ‘Everyone’s crazy; they just pretend to be OK so they can get by.’”
Ryder loved Heavy, and when she met Mangold a couple of years ago, she knew she had finally found her director. “It was really obvious that he was the perfect person and he really got it,” she says. “Other writers and directors over the years were way too verbal and cerebral about the whole thing. You either get it or you don’t. It’s like a weird secret handshake.”
Despite some early hesitation, Mangold decided to take the project on because, he says, “directors are opportunists. We look for people and moments that are about to blossom. And what I couldn’t get past was that I had the feeling that Winona was someone who was really ready to reach someplace. There are tremendous parallels between Winona’s experience and Susanne Kaysen’s. I love when I find actors who are ready to address larger issues about themselves and their choices in the material. She operates very much from the gut. She’s very free that way. And she gets the architecture of film on a profound level.”
“I’m very proud of my performance,” says Ryder. “I just trusted Jim so much. This is the first time, aside from working with Martin Scorsese, that I really let everything go. I was incredibly raw. I delivered myself on a platter to him. There’s stuff that I did in this movie that I’ve never done before. I did a scene where I’m in bed with [a guy] and I’m naked, and I was the most comfortable. I did a couple of scenes in a bathtub, naked.” She pauses. “And it’s certainly not a beauty-shot movie for me.”
“She’s phenomenal in it,” says Mangold. “She reached farther than she’s reached in other pictures. But she also carries with her the strength we know and love. Some people have criticized her for playing young women too often, and here she plays a younger woman, but grows this girl up in a way we’ve never seen. After we passed some point of trust or friendship, she was very clear with me that she expected me to push her past was she thought was her bullshit. She gave me a note on the first day of production reminding me that she really expected that I would not be satisfied with just her big brown eyes. It was not only the actress speaking but also someone who’s been shepherding this movie for six years.”
Other Winona facts: She was born in Winona, Minnesota. She’s Jewish. Ryder is a stage name. Her real last name is Tomchin, but half the family goes by Horowitz because of a snafu at Ellis Island. Don’t ask. It’s complicated. She has an unnatural fear of being separated from her family, which she believes comes from having lost relatives in the death camps. She is obsessed with World War II. Ethel Horowitz, her 99-year-old Russian-immigrant grandmother, lives in Brooklyn and enjoys a friendship with Daniel Day-Lewis. The flapper pictures on these pages are at tribute to her. Dave Pirner, her ex, is her best friend. She still loves Johnny. She gets asked about her “falling out” with Gwyneth Paltrow every day. It’s not as dramatic as you think, but it’s complicated. Don’t ask. Most of her friends are gay. When she was twelve years old, she was beaten up and called “faggot” by a group of kids who thought she was a boy. When she got home from school with a bloody bandage on her head, she went into the bathroom, lit one of her father’s cigarettes, and did a Jimmy Cagney imitation in the mirror. She was discovered by a casting director at Salmagundi (“very Lana Turner”). She has a substantial collection of vintage Hollywood costumes, including Russ Tamblyn’s jacket from West Side Story, Leslie Caron’s dress from An American in Paris, Claudette Colbert’s gown from It Happened One Night, Olivia de Havilland’s blouse from Gone With the Wind, and Sandra Dee’s bikini from the Tammy movies. She has worn a much-altered Ava Gardner dress to three different Hollywood events, for which she has caught some grief from the press.
One evening, Winona, Brett, and I pile into Winona’s brand-new Mercedes and drive to the Beverley Center on La Cienega to see The Thomas Crown Affair. She’s wearing a dark-denim jacket over a blue hoodie, black chinos, black T-shirt, DKNY sandals. When we arrive in the parking lot, she pulls a funny little black hat over her head. As we escalate through the mall, she avoids making eye contact with shoppers. Earlier in the day, I asked her about fame, how she experiences it. “I am as famous as I ever will be,” she said. “I will never get more famous than I am. Everyone knows me, but it’s more mellow because I was never in a big overnight-success movie. I appreciate that. I’m not a big target. I’m rarely in the tabloids. It’s not a huge intrusion in my life. It is annoying to get followed and photographed when you’re not prepared, like in airports. More than anything, it’s just… embarrassing!”
Back at the mall, we find our seats in the theater and wait for the movie to start. When not working, Ryder goes to the movies every single day. Or she and Brett rent movies, open a bottle of champagne, and make a night of it. “I’m at the point where I’ve seen every movie in the video store,” she says, “and I’m not kidding. I can’t find a movie that I haven’t seen – except the really cheesy eighties teen movies.” The American Film Institute sent Ryder its 100 Greatest Movies collection on video as a gift. “I was so excited because I missed the special.” Pause for effect. “I’d seen every movie in it! That’s 100 movies, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When i was growing up, my mom kept me home from school to watch movies. Kept me home. Like, I would want to go school. I remember trying to explain to my teachers: ‘I saw Imitation of Life, and it’s this incredible story!’ And they were like, You missed school.”
In conversation, Winona refers to movies constantly. Clearly they were an unusually important and formative part of her childhood. Now that she’s an adult, movies are her job, her lifeblood. And if she has been criticized, as she says, “for playing one too many brown-eyed waif girls,” who can blame her? That’s what the movies – that’s what we – wanted her to be. But perhaps playing a teenager well past her teens slowed her progress in real life, because she has seemed, for so long, to exist in some strange lacuna between girl and woman. In a few weeks, she will fly to New York to begin work on Autumn in New York, directed by Joan Chen. Richard Gere plays a New York restaurateur/playboy who falls in love with Winona – the much younger woman – who has only a year to live. “It’s a love story with a lot of humor,” says Winona. “Very moving.”
One afternoon, we sit in her living room in front of a gigantic television watching dailies from Girl, Interrupted. As she runs through take after take of a spooky, emotional scene, her face filling up the entire screen, she says, “I learned a lot about my face on this movie. My eyes are kind of big, and I can express more than I want to. I do that in real life.” She turns to me, makes her eyes huge, and cracks up laughing. “See what I mean?”
Girl, Interrupted begins and ends with a cab ride. “When you look into Winona’s eyes in the beginning and end of this film,” says Mangold, “going to and from the hospital, there’s such a tremendous difference in this woman. Indescribable and lyrical and powerful in terms of the girl you’re seeing arriving, and the woman you’re seeing entering the world.” Ryder can no longer play the little girl with the big brown eyes. And if, as James Mangold says, she “grows this girl up” in the movie, perhaps Winona, too, has finally grown up.
In this story: Set design by Beckman/Exposure New York. Screen and vanity from Skyscraper/Deco Deluxe. Living-room setup from Maison Gerard.
Rush (Filipino), November 1997
By Allam Ma. A Madrilejos
In an exclusive, one-on-one interview with Winona Ryder, RUSH takes a thorough look at a Hollywood heavyweight trapped in a willowy, 96-pound body.
Eight years ago, people close to Winona Ryder predicted that she would have a difficult time handling fame. They say it’s because she has no sense of who she really is. Well, she proved them all wrong by becoming not just a Hollywood pretty face — today, Winona is perhaps Tinseltown’s most powerful 5-foot-4 actress as well. At 26, she has a say on what films to make and who she wants to direct them.
All this despite a very lightweight frame. But unlike other major Hollywood players, Winona swam against the tide to reach her current powerhouse billing. Her rise wasn’t so much a result of her deft portrayals of various angst-ridden women. What made her tick was her commitment to continuously do such films even against her agents’ will. “Noni (her nickname) was offered 9,000 light-comedy, feel-good, hits-of-the summer movies,” long-time pal and actor Robert Downey, Jr. told Rolling Stone magazine, “and she chose the one where she kills her friends.”
Of course, the particular movie he referred to was the cult classic Heathers, a black comedy about teenage suicide in America. Her agents, admitted Winona, begged her not to do it. “They say it wasn’t the wisest of career moves,” she recalls. Winona felt it was the wrong thing to say to someone who believes in instinct rather than in strategy. As Heathers producer Denise de Novi said in an interview with Elle, “She can play the unsympathetic or ambivalent part and audiences hang in there with her. From her first movie to her last, you look at her and you say, ‘There’s a movie star.’”
Oscar winner Susan Sarandon, who played mother to Winona in Little Women, concurred in the Guardian Weekend. “I’m glad to see Noni going for the roles she has. It’s taken my generation years to get to the point where she is starting out.” Speaking of Little Women, legend has it that the film had been peddled to several major studios for years, but no one dared produce it until Winona stepped into the scene and committed to do it for Columbia. Winona’s commitment paid off handsomely: Aside from surprisingly robust box-office returns for the film, her portrayal of the impetuous Jo March got her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, her second after being nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role as May Welland in Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence.
LITTLE WOMAN KICKS ALIEN BUTT
This November, Winona will be seen opposite Sigourney Weaver in another out-of-this-world role in the soon-to-be-released Alien Resurrection, the fourth installment of the $350 million-grossing Alien series that launched Sigourney’s career. Winona says she could never turn down her role as Annalee Call when 20th Century Fox offered it to her for the first time. “When they first mentioned doing the movie, I almost jumped out of my seat,” she gushes to RUSH in response to a questionnaire this writer sent to 20th Century Fox. “Lt. Ripley (Sigourney’s character) was an action hero for girls and she had a huge impact on me. I have never done anything like (this role) before, so I think it’s one good experience for me.”
And no other actress is perfect for it than Winona herself, a convinced Sigourney Weaver declares. “Winona’s such an amazing actress. She’s so true. She’s so strong. She plays someone who’s very passionate, very idealistic, the way Ripley used to kinda be.” Winona, a science fiction fan for years, first saw Alien in 1979 when she was nine years old. “I remember they did a poll when the first Alien came out, and it turned out that men were actually more terrified of the movie than women because of the idea of something being inside them and coming out,” Winona tells RUSH. “Women could handle that more because they carry children.” Then she adds (and you can almost imagine her cracking up and her wide eyes squinting in a radiant smile), “I mean, this whole chestbursting deal really freaked out my brothers.” Working with Sigourney, an actress she has long admired, was part of the thrill of accepting the role of Ripley’s android sidekick. But she humorously insists that her primary consideration was her siblings. Winona dedicates her performance here to her equally sci-fi fanatic brothers who, according to her, expect to “get a lot of cool, free Alien merchandise.”
Another factor that got her nod was the character’s personality. “What I really liked about Call is the fact that she isn’t ultra-violent. She uses her brains a lot to get out of difficult situations. Definitely, she’s not your typical shoot ‘em up character at all. Somehow, human-to-human violence bothers me a lot more than human-to-monster violence. I can accept more easily blowing away an alien.”
And Winona did exactly just that. But not without a rigorous daily regimen of six-hour workouts prior to principal photography. “I had to do a lot of climbing and a lot of running. I had to be dragged out of murky pits. You really have to be in good shape to run from the Mother Alien. I was really surprised with myself. I was kinda proud.”
Part of Winona Ryder’s power is her ability to appreciate her past. Winona went through rough sailing growing up. A good number of her formative years were spent living in a commune with seven counterculture families. She knows what it means to live without money, without electricity, without running water, without heating (save for a stove).
“I enjoy remembering how a weekly pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream would be a big family treat,” Winona reminisces. “I don’t regret having had a very simple life, (because) my parents gave us amazing amounts of love and support.”
When the family settled back into the mainstream, they established roots in Petaluma, California. At 11, Winona — then sporting cropped hair and a boy’s get-up (an homage to the gangster movies she was hooked on at the time) was beaten up by her seventh grade schoolmates who thought she was gay. With a bandaged head, Winona told her parents she wouldn’t go back to that school again (school authorities reportedly moved for her expulsion because they claimed she was a distraction), and then enrolled in San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. That’s where she was discovered. Two years later she starred in her motion picture debut Lucas.
Throughout her career, Winona has been wondering why people have to make a lot of fuss about being a celebrity. Winona still can’t understand this, especially when people look at her as if she were a spoiled star. “You should be able to be an actress and have a life of your own. You give your work to the public and that should be enough. You shouldn’t be chased by cameras… what a nightmare!” she tells RUSH. In a Rolling Stone profile, Winona pays tribute to her hard-knocks upbringing: “When people look at me like I’m this really rich, pampered, privileged person — I am. I am right now. But it wasn’t always like that.”
In past interviews, Winona has cited two things that made her comfortable with stardom: her portrayal of May Welland in Age of Innocence (“If Heathers was my best friend, Age of Innocence is the one I’d like to marry.”) and her involvement with the Polly Klaas Foundation, currently sitting in its board of directors. Like Winona, Polly Klaas was from Petaluma. In October 1993, the 12 year-old was abducted from her bedroom and found murdered two months later. Winona actively participated in the search for the ill-starred girl. Her efforts, according to Polly’s father Marc Klaas, were enough reason for newspapers to keep the story in their front pages. She even put up a $200,000 reward for anyone with information leading to Polly’s whereabouts. As Winona has said, “To me, it isn’t really a cause. It was like, ‘This is an outrage, and it’s outrageous that more people aren’t outraged.’ When something happens to a child, the world should stand still.”
Winona dedicated Little Women to Polly’s loving memory. And it was her first indication that she could use her celebrity to put often overlooked issues into sharp relief.
Winona Ryder has had her share of down moments: her depression; her failed relationships with Johnny Depp and Soul Asylum drummer, Dave Pirner; her bouts with insomnia.
Nevertheless, Winona has somehow found a way to summon the phoenix in her everytime she needs to. She has a lot to be thankful for in the first place. She has been blessed to have worked with some of the best actors, actresses and especially directors who have been generous with their praise and continue to think highly of her.
Martin Scorsese (Age of Innocence): “(She) became May Welland by incorporating all the delight, beauty and strength that (she) already (possesses). Winona has a very good sense of humor and her energy is boundless. It was like having rampant youth on the set. But when you said ‘ACTION!’, she froze into position. All that energy was put behind her eyes, and I found that really fascinating.”
Tim Burton (Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands): “Her eyes are a pair of the best in the business. She reminds me of actresses from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s inside too. She has an old soul. She’s very, very smart. Very, very intuitive and feels a lot.”
Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who directs her in the upcoming Alien Resurrection): “Winona is an actress who works directly from instinct. She comes to the set completely relaxed, but she’s a force of concentration. No rehearsals are required. This instinctual way of working is a rare quality usually found in children. The most interesting part of her performance is that although her character has lethal intentions, she didn’t play her as cold. She was the Anti-Terminator.”
After the Alien Resurrection promo blitz, Winona, as always, will fly to San Francisco to be with her family and her books until she gets new assignments. “Where I live, people never look at me like I’m a movie star. It’s like I have a regular job, which is just going off and making movies,” she says. “Where I live, I feel more at peace.”
The Hollywood Reporter, March 5 1997
The Hollywood Reporter Salute To Winona Ryder: 1997 ShoWest Female Star of the Year
On Her Own Terms
The versatile young actress picks movies by following her instincts.
By Zorianna Kit
If the eyes are indeed the window to the soul, Winona Ryder’s expressive brown eyes tell all. From her early teen roles in such films as “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Heathers” (1989) and “Mermaids” (1990) to her more complex, Oscar-nominated performances in “The Age of Innocence” (1993) and “Little Women” (1994), Ryder embodies with ease every role she takes on.
“I don’t know of any actress of her generation who has that kind of versatility,” declares Tom Rothman, president, worldwide productions, Twentieth Century Fox.
Director Richard Benjamin, who guided Ryder through her role in “Mermaids,” agrees: “It never looks likes she’s acting. It looks like someone is living, breathing and being.”
Thus far, the 25-year-old actress’s performances have won both awards and critical praise, and Ryder, who’s entering her second decade of movie stardom, shows no sign of stopping. “Her playing field is getting bigger and bigger,” says actor Daniel Day-Lewis, her costar in “The Age of Innocence” and “The Crucible.” “I can’t imagine anything that she couldn’t take on now.” Currently shooting the sci-fi adventure “Alien: Resurrection” for Fox, Ryder is going one step further by helping to produce her next three projects with Carol Bodie, of 3 Arts Entertainment, her manager and former agent. Currently in the works are Fox’s “The Trials of Maria Barbella,” directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”); Columbia’s “Girl Interrupted,” directed and produced by James Mangold (“Copland”) and Doug Wick, respectively; and “Roustabout,” which is being developed at Fox 2000.
“She’s really authentic, and audiences respond to that,” says Laura Ziskin, Fox 2000 president. “I think her authenticity allows her to give us insight into ifie human condition and that’s what we like to watch.”
Ryder’s journey to Hollywood began with an unconventional childhood. Named for her birthplace, Winona, Minn., she grew up in a commune-like atmosphere in Petaluma, Calif., on 300 acres of land shared with several other families. Exposed to books at a young age by her counterculture author parents, Cindy and Michael Horowitz (Ryder is a stage name), young Noni encountered the novels of George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Gore Vidal and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If she wasn’t drifting away on literary adventures, she was making up skits with the other children in the area. When her mother converted an old barn into a movie house, Ryder saw all the movie classics. At 11, her parents enrolled her in San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater (from which she’s receiving an honorary degree this spring), where she was spotted by a talent agent who subsequently negotiated her 1986 motion-picture debut in “Lucas.”
“She was very sympathetic and sincere playing a child who thought she would never be beautiful,” recalls David Seltzer, the director of “Lucas.” “It was very poignant because she was clearly about to blossom into a beautiful young woman herself.”
After playing an unsettled teen in “Square Dance” (1987), director Tim Burton gave her the role of the hilariously depressed Lydia in “Beetlejuice” (1988), which grossed $73.3 million. The public – and the industry took notice of the girl with the big brown eyes.
Shortly thereafter, director Michael Lehmann cast her as the popular high school girl who goes on a killing spree with Christian Slater in “Heathers” (1989). Labeled controversial for its satire on teen suicide, some critics praised the movie, while others found it morally remiss.
“There were people who got on their knees and begged me not to do “Heathers,” Ryder has said. “They told me it was going to ruin my career.” But she wouldn’t listen. “All this strategy has nothing to do with creativity or art or acting or any of those things,” she continued. “It has to do with money and power and boxoffice and positioning.” Calling it one of the best scripts she’d ever read, Ryder was determined to do “Heathers.”
Denise Di Novi, who produced the picture – as well as Ryder’s “Edward Scissorhands” and “Little Women” – was impressed by the then 15-year-old. “She’s not swayed by popular opinion, pressure or manipulation, and I think that’s why she’s so successful,” Di Novi says. “She really has a backbone and makes decisions based on the right criteria. She doesn’t do things because she thinks it’s good for her career or she’ll make more money.”
According to Jorge Saralegui, senior vp of production at Fox, Ryder was instrumental in helping find a director for “Alien: Resurrection”: “When [original director] Danny Boyle dropped out, Winona could have easily gone onto another project because she’s one of those people who always has something lined up. But she took on the role of producer (producer Bill Badalato was not yet on board) and, every day for two weeks, parked herself in my office, determined to help find a director.”
Their objective was to find a “highly talented relative unknown,” since the history of the “Alien” franchise was that past directors Ridley Scott, James Cameron and David Fincher were brought to the forefront after directing the series. “We wanted to find the ‘next great director,’” says Saralegui.
In making a decision, Ryder screened movies – observing directors’ styles – and suggested names to Saralegui until both agreed on French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet after seeing his past work in “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children.”
Ryder’s talent for producing comes as no surprise to director Gillian Armstrong, whom Winona aggressively pursued and eventually convinced to direct “Little Women” (1994) after seeing the director’s “My Brilliant Career.”
“Winona has fabulous taste in judging other actors as well,” says Armstrong. Ryder spotted both Claire Danes from a bootleg copy of the “My So-Called Life” pilot and Christian Bale from the little seen “Swing Kids.” “She told me to have a look at their work,” Armstrong says, “and they both turned out to be extraordinary in ‘Little Women.’”
The director was pleased as well with Ryder’s performance. “I think playing Jo was easy for her because it’s quite close to who she is,” says Armstrong. “Winona is an intelligent, sensitive girl with big dreams and a strong heart. She was warm and generous to all the girls in the movie, and that was fantastic because it set a tone. They really did become like sisters.”
Adds actress Danes, who appeared with Ryder in both “Little Women” and “How to Make an American Quilt” (1995), “She’s not guarded when she works; there’s no veil there. So people feel close to the characters she plays.”
Only once has Ryder’s career seemed to falter when, in 1990, an upper respiratory infection forced her to drop out of playing Al Pacino’s daughter in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part III,” but she quickly bounced back when she teamed once again with Burton on the successful “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), playing what she calls the “so-not-me blonde suburban cheerleader.”
“The part wasn’t Shakespeare or Joan of Arc, but a definite stretch for someone who instinctively moves closer to the dark than the light,” Burton has said. “Winona felt very uncomfortable in her clothes… but still exhibited a real power and total believability. That’s what I counted on. Just like in “Beetlejuice,” I needed someone to ground the movie so it wouldn’t spring off into the stratosphere.”
Ryder’s foray into period dramas and more adult roles begin with Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992), a project she initiated when she handed Coppola the script. It went on to earn $82.5 million – Ryder’s highest-grossing movie to date.
After appearing in “The House of the Spirits” (1993), Bille August’s adaptation of the mystical Isabelle Allende novel – and her third consecutive period drama – Ryder chose Ben Stiller’s “Reality Bites” (1994) as her next project, a Generation-X romance that has become a cult classic among the twentysomething crowd.
Twentieth Century Fox president Rothman calls Ryder’s portrayal of the scorned and revenge-seeking Abigail Williams in her most recent film, Fox’s “The Crucible,” “a virtuoso performance” and quotes “Crucible” playwright Arthur Miller as saying that in 40 years of having seen the play, hers was the best Abigail he ever saw.
At presstime, “The Crucible” has earned a modest $7.3 million at the boxoffice, but Di Novi maintains numbers don’t reflect the actress’s appeal. “She has a real authenticity as an actor, and that’s why audiences love her and why she’s good in every movie, no matter how good the movie is,” she says. “There’s something very genuine that comes through, a certain humanity.”
The period-piece princess shares her passion for books, complex roles and human relationships.
From a rare break on the heavy-duty set of Twentieth Century Fox’s “Alien Resurrection,” ShoWest’s Female Star of the Year recently chatted with Zorianna Kit for The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: Congratulations on your ShoWest Female Star of the Year Award. What does this mean to you?
Winona Ryder: This one in particular is really wonderful because it’s from the National Association of Theatre Owners, and I’m one of those people who goes to movies all the time. It’s my hobby. When I was a kid, I used to want to live in a movie theater.
THR: Were you surprised?
Ryder: I was. I thought these awards went to the most successful boxoffice people. I haven’t been in very many successful movies. “The Crucible” really didn’t do very well, so the fact that they are giving it to me this year means a lot. I feel honored because I’ve made choices in my work that a lot of people have thought were really risky. So they’re honoring me for the movies I’ve made and the movies I’ve made have been my choices.
THR: Your agent at the time was actually against you doing “Heathers,” but you wouldn’t listen.
Ryder: I think that’s when people realized that I was gonna do what I wanted to do. I’ve always been that way. When I first started out, I was 12 and my agency was sending me scripts and I remember reading them going, “This is terrible. I don’t want to do this.” And they were like, “You can’t say that, you haven’t done anything yet.” I said, “But I don’t like this, and I’m not gonna audition for it.”
THR: Let’s talk about your many period dramas.
Ryder: I’m attracted to human relationships, and they seem to be explored more in period pieces. They take place in a time where people really talked to each other. There was no other way to communicate. Just face-to-face dialogue. That excites me. “The Age of Innocence” was a monumental turning point for me. It was… working with the greatest director and group of people and feeling like a grown-up.
THR: “Alien: Resurrection” is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Ryder: Oh, but I’ve been a huge fan of the “Alien” movies, especially Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley. I had a poster of her on my wall all through school. The first “Alien” movie had a huge impact on me when I was a little girl. It was the first time I saw a female action hero. I was really excited that they would think of me for this [movie] because no one ever thinks of me like that. And I was dying to work with Sigourney Weaver. I feel really lucky.
THR: Do you care about boxoffice success?
Ryder: Sure. If “The Crucible” had been a huge hit, it would have meant the world to me. I think it’s an important movie. It says a hell of a lot more about the First Amendment than “Larry Flynt” does, I’ll say that. I think it says a lot about politics in society, and it really bummed me out that the movie didn’t do better.
THR: You’ve also done smaller movies like “Reality Bites,” but you’ve said that although you are attracted to such projects, you feel that you ruin them.
Ryder: “Reality Bites” and “Boys” are the examples. I think that if those movies had had an unknown actress [in the lead], they would have stuck more to the script, but because they got a known actress, they tried to capitalize on that and make them big movies and, in the case of “Boys,” completely destroyed it.
Ryder: “Boys” was this tiny script that I liked and got attached to do. I also like [director] Stacy Cochran, so I verbally agreed to do it. Then I got this new draft in the mail that was completely different. I tried to pull out of it, but they said they’d sue.
THR: What did you learn from that experience?
Ryder: That next time I get a script for a tiny movie, I’ll have to have a serious contract drawn up saying nothing can be changed without my approval. Except the thing is, I don’t want to have that kind of power when it’s somebody else’s movie. I don’t want to start taking control away from the director.
THR: Is that why you’re getting in on the producing end of things now? You’ve optioned material for yourself: “Girl Interrupted” at Columbia, “The Trials of Maria Barbella” at Twentieth Century Fox and “Roustabout” at Fox 2000.
Ryder: When I was meeting with ["Barbella" director] Giuseppe Tornatore, I told him, “The only reason I have something to do with the production side is to ensure that you’re making your movie. It’s to protect you from people who would want to change it.” I want the director to make the movie he wants to make.
THR: This is certainly a different side of the business for you.
Ryder: It’s exciting to be involved in matching up great writers with great ideas and great directors. Of course, I’m not doing the dirty work, but it’s nice to feel like your input means something.
THR: The three projects you’ve optioned all happen to be books, as have been many of your other past projects.
Ryder: My parents were both writers and turned me on to books when I was younger. The characters were my friends when I didn’t have friends. Books were what I turned to when I was lonely or depressed. It was a way to get into another world – very much related to acting. I don’t know what I’d do without books.
THR: Is there anything in particular you really want to do now?
Ryder: I’m Russian-Romanian. My original last name is Tomchin. Horowitz (Ryder’s birth name) was something my dad’s family picked up when they immigrated to Ellis Island because they were traveling with this other family. Most of my family on his side were killed in the camps, but because of my family history, I’ve always wanted to do something about Russia or World War II.
THR: People who know you tell me you’re very funny and would love to see you in a romantic comedy.
Ryder: Try reading the romantic-comedy scripts that are out there. They’re so horrible, it’s embarrassing. The thing is, I would kill to do one.
THR: In building your career, are there any movies you regret doing?
Ryder: No. I think I’ve made some bad movies, but I’ve learned huge lessons on them, and I’ve made some really good friends.
THR: Ultimately, what do you want to be remembered for?
Ryder: I’d like to be remembered for contributing good female characters. I think we have a lot of problems between the sexes in the industry, and I’d like to show what we can do – show the possibilities. I think it’s really important to give people more choices.