Rise of a breezy Ryder

USA TODAY — 21 December 1994

— by Karen Thomas

On co-stars, kid stars and road to fame.

LOS ANGELES — At first Winona Ryder wondered: “Where’s my strip-naked, run-through-the-woods scene?” That’s what cynics would expect in a ’90s Hollywood treatment of a classic like Little Women.

Ryder was no exception. Lucky for her, she, the movie adheres to the Louisa May Alcott’s pristine story of four sisters during the Civil War era. And despite lacking what usually makes a blockbuster, Little Women has insiders buzzing about possible big bucks and potential. Especially for Ryder.

The first to sign on with the project, she plays rebellious sister Jo, the angst-ridden writer and resident ettique buster. And with a powerhouse like Ryder signed, the project, long on rounds in Hollywood, got underway.

It has taken Ryder, 23, barely a decade to reach this status as an actress. And it’s been fairly easy road. Except for a part in The Hudsucker Proxy, Ryder says she’s landed every role she’s ever wanted.

And every part on her relatively short resume — which includes a best actress Oscar nomination for The Age of Innocence — has her paired with Hollywood legends.

So let’s play the name game.

Ryder rolls her eyes (which she does often).

They’re all “great. Great. Really great. Super-duper great,” she jokes, arm flailing.

Not nearly waifish, fragile, or undernourished as expected — but possessing all the pure beauty her onscreen persona projects — Ryder animated humor and directness comes across in full force.

Cher was fun in Mermaids. Susan Saradon, “tough, hard-working and spirited” in Women, she says, but, “I don’t want that to sound derogatory, OK?”

Geena Davis? “Oh God, did I work with her?” Think Beetlejuice. “Goofy.”

Her House of the Spirits co-star Meryl Streep is “themost beautiful woman in the world.”

And Innocence acting mate Michelle Pfeiffer? “Oh, God. I wish I waited ” before declaring the most beautiful woman, Ryder gasps, adding after contemplation: “Exquisite”

What about the blast-from-the-past Rob Lowe (Square Dance)? “Oh, God, please, do you have to ask me about that? I was 13 years old, I don’t remember… he seemed nice…”

And Innocence’s Daniel Day-Lewis: “Be still my beating heart, how ’bout, ” she says her oversized eyes at their widest as she leans forward.

Ex-fiance and Edward Scissorhands co-star Johnny Depp brings a different response: “Um.”

Trying for a word to describe him, Rydersays, “It’s weird” (actually, many things are “weird” to Ryder), and she retreats into her thoughts.

“He seemed like a really nice guy,” she laughs. “Actually,” she says, these days she doesn’t recognized Depp, whose shenanigans have made headlines.

Spirits’ Jeremy Irons is “surprisingly funny.” Heathers’ Christian Slater “really comfortable with himself.”

“Is going to be a whole story about people I work with?” she says suddenly, in mock displeasure. “What about me?”

OK what about her?

Wai., we missed Anthony Hopkins, she interjects.

“The best we have today,” she says of her Bram Stoker’s Dracula cohort. “Brilliant.”

Don’t look for trash talk from her. Just find it between the lines.

Director Francis Ford Coppola is “jovial, yet intense” she says. “He has a booming voice.” But she really did “get” his version on Dracula.

Martin Scorsese is the “greatest director on the planet,” she says, which doesn’t leave much for Tim Burton except, “he’s the greatest director off the planet.”

Ryder’s in a good mood.

Poised, wise and giggly all at the same time, it’s hard to believe she’s omly 23.

Hard to believe that her parents actually discouraged her from going into the movies when she was discovered working in a community theater.

Not the movies, they said. “But I must act,” Ryder dramatically says, of her reaction.

(Her connection to her hometown of Petaluma Calif., is still strong: Last year, she spearheaded a reward effort in the case of young Polly Klaas, who was abducted from her home there and eventually found dead. Women is dedicated to Klaas.)

Ryder did movies and stayed in Petaluma High, graduating with a 4.0 average. (And her parents have never missed one of her premieres, “even if I’m, like, not too happy about it. They’ll go even if I don’t go. It’s so embarrassing!”)

Fame didn’t cost her a childhood, she says, thanking her parents.

But Hollywood robs a lot of children, she thinks. “This is, like, a huge conversation,” she begins, filling the next long minutes with words like “dangerouns” and “should be illegal” and “life-threatening.”

Producers and directors work child actors like adults and treat them like toddlers, she says. The saddest, she says, is watching kids dealing with rejection they shouldn’t have to deal with.

On the set of Boys, her next film, in which she stars with seven young boys, Ryder says she saw some very “upsetting” behavior, “That had a huge effect on me.”

“When you’re 15 years old or 14 or 16 and you know if you get a cold you can’t stay in bed, that you are costing a production $300,000, and if you get a pimple you’re throwing off a whole team of adults who are judging you. … I really suffered, and I didn’t have it bad. I had it really good, (a) because I had really good skin, and, (b) I had great parents, and (c) I was really successful.”

Perhaps her biggest struggle: her last-minute exit from The Godfather: Part III when she was 18. She said flu. Others said nervous breakdown.

“When I work, I work really hard,” she says. “When I don’t work, I really don’t work.”

She has many interests, she says, including wanting to take some college classes (with as little hoopla as possible, with no intent on a degree) and collecting old photographs (“That’s where all my money goes”).

She calls San Francisco home, with occasional stays at her Manhattan apartment, and has a longtime love for Minnesota. That’s where she has family (her parents named her after a city in Minnesota where she was conceived) and where her boyfriend, Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner, is based.

She travels a lot between films, especially with Pirner (she refers to her “boyfriend” often in conversation).

“So I, like, have this full little life, y’know. It’s pretty fun. ‘Cause for a while I didn’t. Over the past couple of years, on my own, I got myself a life, and then I met him, and we meshed lives,” she says. They’re “very happy.”

(She won’t reveal what’s in the tiny note from Pirner, kept in a silver envelope charm she wears on a necklace.)

They’re “happily unengaged,” she says, adding she hopes to be a mom by the times she’s 30. Marraige will come first, she says (her parents married when Ryder was 11 years old), “if necessary.”

And in the much closer future, after she wraps her current film, How to Make an American Quilt, this winter?

“Sleep,” she says.

Like, sleep?

No, she giggles, eyes rolling. “As in hibernation.”