Child Bride – The Charms of Winsome Winona Ryder

Marquee – June 1989

— by Nancy Mills

Winona Ryder may be only 17, but she has her mind made up about a lot of things. “Boys are more susceptible to seduction,” she pronounces when asked about the perils of teen stardom. “They’re wimps when it comes to that kind of stuff. They want it all, all of a sudden.”

Ryder, who has made six films since becoming an actress four years ago, says she is “taking things slowly, thinking the same way I thought a couple of years before. But boys don’t believe in gradual anything. A lot of them are clueless, the way they don’t think it could ever vanish once they have it all. They think they’ll stay hot forever.”

In her new film, Great Balls of Fire, Ryder portrays the child bride of legendary rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis, played on screen by Dennis Quaid. In 1958, Lewis began a triumphal tour of England only to have the bottom fall out with the disclosure that he had recently married his 13-year-old cousin. He never regained the momentum that might have made him as big as Elvis, but he still draws crowds today whenever he performs.

“It was pretty heavy stuff,” Ryder says of the controversy surrounding her character’s early marriage. “Myra was yanked out of eighth grade to be a wife and a mother. She was really put through the mill those two years, to say the least.”

Ryder bites into her midmorning snack of bagel and cream cheese and ponders her career to date. “I’m not famous,” she says. “It’s weird. I don’t know what I am. I’d love to be able to read a script and say, ‘I want to do this’ and have it happen – or call up a restaurant and say, ‘I want dinner in an hour’ and have them get me a table.”

She decided to be an actress when, as a Northern California schoolgirl, she got her first acting job as a shy, lovesick teenager in Lucas. She has been busily employed ever since. In Square Dance, she ran away from the farm where she lived with her grandfather to lead a wilder life in town with her mother. In 1969, she tried being a hippie. In Beetlejuice, she was so sophisticated she could commune with ghosts.

One of four children of a bookstore owner, Ryder is not exactly at a loss for words herself. “After Lucas, people thought I’d be seduced by the teen queen image and want to become one,” she says disdainfully. “I don’t physically look like a teen queen. I don’t think I really appeal to that type of filmmaker.”

“I would like to play a glamour girl because it would be a challenge. I don’t have anything in common with them. Maybe I’ll play a one-dimensional, contrived character and be in a lousy movie. Actually, I sort of already did one in 1969.”

Now that she has graduated from high school, Ryder has left home for an apartment in Los Angeles with a girlfriend. “My parents trust me and know that I’m not going to do anything stupid,” she says. “I’m sure they worry a little bit, but I talk to them everyday. I have good friends down here who really look after me. They’re great people to hang out with, and they don’t bring me down at all. So I have a certain amount of stability.” As for college, she says, “I’m not going for a while. I’m not ready yet. I’m going to travel and work some more, and then I’m going to go.” She giggles. “Who knows if I’ll stick to that?

“I won’t do something I don’t want to do,” she adds with a 17-year-old’s intensity. “Then I’ll resent it. That makes sense.” Ryder insists her feet are firmly planted on the ground, unlike many of the young actors she has worked opposite. In the past four years, her male co-stars have included Charlie Sheen, Corey Haim, Rob Lowe, Robert Downey Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland.

“I guess a lot of them have messed up,” she says. “I’m still going through the turbulence that goes along with being 17. I don’t have problems. The most important thing is to have a sense of humour about everything, especially about movie stuff. You have to laugh. If you don’t you’re so bogus.”

As for drugs, she says, “I have no interest in them. That stuff repels me. I have experimented with drugs and alcohol, like most kids my age. A couple of years ago, sure, I would do something. But I always would get sick from it, so I never did it any more. I haven’t led this perfect little-angel life, but I don’t hurt my body.

“I’m really insecure about a lot of things, but not to the extent that I’ll crawl into a bottle. That’s depressing. I’m insecure in good ways – like ‘Gee, does my hair look O.K.?'”

She has no worries about her career. Already she has lined up her next film – Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael, to be directed by Jim Abrahams. She says, “I play this really weird girl, Dinky Bosetti.

“I’ve always thought, ‘I’ll only do a movie if I really really like it – not for the money or just because someone I think is cute is in it.’ If you keep your priorities and values the same as the years go on, you’re O.K. If you change them with every blow that comes your way, you’re going to pay later.”