Ryder-Jarmusch: A glitz-hip partnership

USA Today, May 1 1992

By Stephen Schaefer

Special for USA Today

NEW YORK – Director Jim Jarmusch and actress Winona Ryder first met over lunch at her invitation. “I didn’t think he’d want to meet me,” she admits. “I felt like one of the Charlie’s Angels.”

Now, in a suite overlooking Central Park, the Hollywood whiz kid and the New York hipster are plopped on a couch talking about their collaboration on Night on Earth, opening in New York today, and later rolling out nationwide.

Ryder, the luminous child-woman of mainstream flicks like Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands and Heathers, starring in a Jarmusch film?

At 39, the prematurely silver-haired lion of U.S avant-garde film is an idol in Paris, Tokyo and Helsinki. But Hollywood he is not. His strange and funny films – Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, Mystery Train – have little in the way of plot and lots of attitude.

“My movies are usually concerned with things we would consider insignificant,” says the writer / director. “When we take a taxi, we think of the ride as from point A to B, the ride itself is insignificant. So essentially I wanted to make an entire film of what in a normal film would be edited out.”

Night follows five taxi encounters in five cities. Ryder plays a chain-smoking L.A. cabbie. The actress, 21, says that when working with Jarmusch, she “didn’t have the pressure of being, quote, directed. He was so accessible, so – what’s the word?”

“Collaborative,” he suggests.

As both sip tea and smoke (“I had quit before we started shooting,” she says, while Jarmusch jokes, “Look what I’ve done to this poor girl!”), they disparage the image making machinery that typecasts each of them.

“They used to write that I dyed my hair white and wore black clothes and made black-and-white films because that was the image I was projecting,” moans Jarmusch. “My hair is white genetically. I’ve worn black clothes since I was 15 and wanted to look like Zorro or Johnny Cash. I made black-and-white films because I truly like black-and-white and didn’t understand why it was suddenly not viable anymore.”

It’s always “ ‘quirky Winona Ryder’ or ‘offbeat,’ chimes in Ryder, who thinks no one should be labelled. “I’m not incredibly insulted by that – I like ‘offbeat’ rather than any other words. I just do films that move me and that’s the only reason I’m in this business.”

Ryder, working almost non-stop, just completed Bram Stoker’s Dracula, her first reunion with Francis Ford Coppola since leaving his The Godfather, Part III, in which she was replaced by the director’s daughter Sofia Coppola. She’s now filming The Age of Innocence for Martin Scorsese.

“There was none of the bitterness between Francis and I that people created in the press,” she says. Coppola “understood my position when I left the film.”

Magazine reports of a nervous breakdown? “All untrue, I left because I was very physically ill and was tired and couldn’t do the movie. A doctor in Rome… sent me home.

“I couldn’t do this, and Francis completely understood and there was no hostility. Maybe there was from the studio or other people but never from him.” Dracula isn’t a payback, she says. “It just happened. I loved the script.

“When you are successful,” she says, “people do tend to make assumptions about you in your personal life that are really false. That’s frustrating but I feel really lucky to meet and work with incredible people I watched growing up and falling in love with at the movies.

“And,” she says, heading off a question about Johnny Depp, whom she has not yet wed but not been seen with much lately, “I’m keeping my personal life very personal.”

Source: Nigel Goodall’s research archive. Used with permission.