The Newcomers

Los Angeles Times — 28 May 1989

— by Kim Masters

Diminutive Winona Ryder, with her innocent brown eyes, may have one of the summer’s most dicey roles – playing Jerry Lee Lewis’ 13-year-old cousin and bride. Even though she’s all of 17, she worried about her love-making scenes with 34-year-old leading man Dennis Quaid.

“I look about 11 years old,” she says. “My hair’s back in a ponytail and I’m wearing these little Peter Pan-collar things. I was really concerned that people were going to see it and go, ‘This is so perverted – 34 and 17.’

“I was afraid that was going to take away from them watching the movie, that all they were going to think about was Winona Ryder and Dennis Quaid, not the love story.

“But Jerry Lee and Myra – as weird as it was – I think they really were in love with each other and I really wanted that to come across. I wanted to come across like, when love comes on so strong, there is no right or wrong.”

Ryder finally met Myra, when she was invited to attend one of the screenings of the “dailies”: “I was so nervous. We were showing her some stuff where he was picking her up from school and says, ‘I’m gonna marry you.’

“I looked over and she was crying and I was so scared because I didn’t know what she was crying about. I didn’t know if she was crying because I was a bad actress or that it was so real.

“And then she turned to me and hugged me and said, ‘You’re a gift from God.’ It was probablythe most amazing feeling that I’ve ever had in connection with acting.”

Ryder has little in common with a 13-year-old growing up in Memphis in the ’50s. But she admits that she’s not entirely grown up yet, either. “Now, amazingly, people look at me – I don’t even want to say it but – not like a little girl anymore. I’m talking about guys. It is sort of strange because I’m not, like, this really experienced – I don’t really know what to do in . . . situations.”

She laughs. “This is a strange place to be when you’re 17. I’m still jailbait, really. Thank God. When I turn 18, I don’t know.”

All this made her scenes with Quaid awkward, particularly because her leading man immersed himself in the role of the rocker living legend.

“I never knew when he was being himself,” she says. “When he would say something to me, I didn’t know if it was him or Jerry Lee Lewis saying it.”

Right now, Ryder’s enthusiasm for life is fully restored. She and her best friend, model Heather Bursch, have plans. “I want to do the backpack thing – first drive across the United States, rent a car and bring no money and no clothes and write really bad poetry,” she says, dissolving into a self-mocking laugh.

“Then we want to go to Europe and do it there. We also want to go to Africa. We want to go to college together. We want to end up in Trinity in Ireland for the last two years, but the first two years we want to go somewhere in the United States.”

Ryder grew up in Petaluma. She’s the third of four children born to Cindy and Michael Horowitz; her mother makes educational videos, and her father runs a bookstore specializing in the ’60s and the counterculture. The daughter chose her current surname when she started acting.

Ryder’s work prevented her from attending her local high school so she studied independently and completed her high school requirements with a perfect 4-point average.

“I was not Miss Popularity,” she says. “Me and Heather were sort of the geeks. They would say, ‘You’re going to go nowhere.’ It’s funny. Now, she’s in Elle and I’m sure all those girls are feeling a little bit stupid.”