Only Nineteen

Seventeen — December 1990

— by Claire Connors

Winona is the name of a small town in Minnesota. When I tell Winona Ryder that not only have I heard of the tiny city where she was born, but that I’ve been there, the actress looks at me with genuine surprise, gives my hand a firm shake, and says in her low voice, “Isn’t it beautiful there?” Like the town she was named after, Winona is petite and quite lovely. The first time I meet her, she’s standing in the middle of a large photo studio listening to one of her favorite bands, The Sundays, and looking at clothes for our shoot. The nineteen-year-old wrinkles her nose at some of the more fancy clothes that don’t appeal to her. “I’m not really into fashion,” she explains. “I dress just to be comfortable.” She points to her well-worn lace-up boots and says proudly, “See these? I’ve had them since I was in eighth grade.” After finally deciding on the right outfit (consisting mostly of her own clothes), Winona is ready to go. As the music floats through the studio, she strikes a few very un-voguelike poses. “The music I listen to in the morning affects what I am going to wear that day,” she says as the photographer snaps away. “I also listen to music for inspiration for my characters. Like, I listened to The Replacements for Heathers and Mermaids. I love the Replacements,” she says with true reverence. “Paul Westerberg is, like, my idol.” While we’re on the subject of movies, I ask Winona about her newest film Edward Scissorhands. “For Edward, I listened to a lot of The Sundays and Cocteau Twins. It’s a really sad love story,” she says thoughtfully. “Really sad. Johnny plays Edward, and he has blades instead of real fingers.” Johnny is, of course, Johnny Depp. Winona’s fiancé. It’s hard not to notice the giant diamond displayed on her left hand. And while she drops his name as casually as you or I would our boyfriend’s, I decide to wait until our next meeting to get the Johnny scoop. As Winona whirls around the studio, I bid her good-bye with a promise to meet for coffee in a couple of days.

Winona walks into her publicist’s office a few days later and quickly apologizes for what she thought was bad behavior on her part at the photo shoot. “I wasn’t feeling well at all,” she explains as she sips her first cup of coffee, “so I wasn’t in a very good mood.” Obviously Winona is very polite. “I was taught to be courteous, but my parents were really good about not telling me and my brothers and sisters what we could or could not do,” she says. “Instead of telling us ‘Don’t do that’, they explained why they didn’t think something was smart a idea. I think that’s the way to raise kids today. We have to be treated like human beings.” I point out to Winona, who’s been acting since she was fourteen, that because of her age and the parts she has played, she’s become, in a way, the voice of teenagers today. The idea makes her squirm a little in her chair. “I’m really flattered by that, but I’m not really comfortable with the idea” is her hesitant response. “I mean, I know that a lot of people look up to me. I look up to a lot of people, too. But hey, I change my mind all the time, and I could be wrong about a lot of the things I say. I just live my life and try to be an honest person. I mean, I’m only nineteen.”

Only nineteen? With nine films under her belt (including 1969, Beetlejuice, Great Balls of Fire, and her recently released Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael), it’s hard to believe this strong, observant and opinionated woman is still a teenager. On the other hand, she looks so young and innocent it’s hard to believe she’s engaged to be married. To Johnny Depp. Understandably protective of their relationship, Winona eyes me suspiciously when I ask how they met. “We met a year and a half ago through a friend,” she says cautiously. Was it love at first sight? She smiles shyly. “well, it was good. It was…you know…” she looks up pleadingly. Okay, off the hook. Where are they living right now? “We have a house in San Francisco, and we just bought a loft in Manhattan. But it’s not like a chichi loft,” she points out quickly. “It’s just space, and we’ve filled it with all the stuff we collect. Like Johnny has his Elvis stuff, and we have lots of records, CDs, and boxes of books.” Finally, i have to ask the dreaded question: When will she and Johnny tie the knot? She’s prepared for this one, having been asked it only about it a million times. “You know, getting engaged just means that we’re committed to each other. It’s nobody’s business when we’re getting married,” she says emphatically. “For now, we’re just enjoying our lives and having fun.” Winona looks at me with her big, soulful eyes and practically reads my mind. “I know to a lot of people I seem to be going really fast,” she concedes. “But what am I supposed to do? Slow down to be normal? I’d just end up going crazy and being bored.” She flashes a satisfied grin at me and says, “Right now I am just really happy.”