Petaluma Hatches Promising Actress

Publication: San Francisco Chronicle
Title: Petaluma Hatches Promising Actress
Date: April 17, 1986

By Peter Stack

You wonder what it takes to be a celebrity in Petaluma these days. I sat in Christine’s Café the other afternoon with Winona Ryder, a small star in the hit movie, “Lucas.” And not one person – Petaluman or otherwise – gave her a nod of recognition. Me? I think Winona Ryder, a freshman at Petaluma High School, is the Someday Streep of Lower Sonoma.

“I guess it would help if the movie I’m in was playing here,” said 14-year-old Ryder, fidgeting with the lace scarf she was wearing over her beat-up Levi’s jacket.

“But you have to go all the way to Santa Rosa or San Rafael to see it. So it’s not like everybody around here knows I’m in a film.”

Recognition came recently, however, for the petite Winona while she was at a local shop with her best friend Heather.

“A girl my age, I mean like a peer, looked all funny at me,” said Ryder. “And then she said I looked exactly like a girl she’d just seen in a movie the night before. So I asked her, was the movie `Lucas’? And when she said yes, I sorta burst out, `Well, yeah! That was me!’ ”

Winona Ryder – her mom, Cindy, and dad, Mike, and her sister and two brothers and many friends call her Noni – said being in a motion picture was easily the biggest event of her life “other than being born.”

“Now that I’ve done it, I’m totally hooked on acting,” said the actress.

“Lucas” is a sweet, funny movie about a 14-year-old boy named Lucas who falls in love with a 16-year-old girl. But the girl’s in love with a guy even older, and he’s a football star. Back there in the 14-year-old arena, another girl named Rina, played by Winona Ryder, is totally in love with Lucas. But Lucas hardly even notices her existence.

Lucas star Winona Ryder, 14 isn’t gettting much attention in her hometown“It’s about real stuff,” said Ryder. “I think that’s why people like it. I mean, hasn’t everybody at some time fallen in love with a person who doesn’t even acknowledge their existence?”

“Absolutely,” I said, wondering whether I’d ever thought of that when I was 14 – and whether I’d articulated it to any non-peer.

Ryder and the film crew that made “Lucas” for 20th Century-Fox worked three months last spring in the northern suburbs of Chicago. She got the part simply by auditioning for it, but she got the chance to audition by keeping her ear to the grapevine at the ACT school in San Francisco, where she studies acting and heard that an audition was scheduled.

“I wouldn’t say I was real experienced when I tried out for the part,” said Ryder. “But I knew what I wanted to do with it. And that helped.”

Ryder has seen her movie three times – once in Los Angeles, when the studio screened it for the cast, in San Francisco, when it opened at the Galaxy theater, and once in Santa Rosa.

“In Santa Rosa a lady sitting in front of me said to the guy she was with that I looked sad on the screen. I guess she meant the part about being hopelessly in love. I wanted to ask her what she meant, but instead I started really looking at myself on the screen. It’s hard to be objective about your own performance.”

Winona apparently was a little taken with Charlie Sheen, who plays the football hero. Charlie is the brother of “brat pack” star Emilio Estevaz, and son of actor Martin Sheen. In “Lucas,” he played a guy named Cappie. Winona said Sheen is a sweet, really nice and sensitive guy.” She thought highly enough of him to name her pet rat after the character he plays.

“It’s a really great rat,” she said.

Winona didn’t want to be interviewed at her house on the west side of town. I figured it was because she had a messy room or something.

“My room’s a little messy,” she said, “but it was really because my big brother is totally into heavy metal and I figured he’d be playing the stuff loud, and then my little brother is this totally baseball player and, to bug me, he throws the ball at the wall of my room.

“So, I just wanted to have some privacy, I guess, and not feel all disturbed. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brothers, they’re really cool people. But I wanted to be able to talk a little about being an actress, because I hope to stick around and not just be remembered as a child who acted in one movie.

“I’m proud of being an actress, and I feel great that I can spend my life doing it.”

Photo credit: John O’Hara.
Source: Nigel Goodall’s research archive. Used with permission.