Hex Appeal

New Weekly (Australia), February 3 1997

Hex Appeal

By Gill Pringle

“I am finally out of corsets and speeding off into the next century,” says Winona Ryder, the woman who, for the last decade, has been defined by her demure roles in movies such as Little Women, Age of Innocence, How to Make An American Quilt and her latest release, The Crucible.

But that’s about to change, thanks to her latest role in the sci-fi flick Aliens: Resurrection. In this big budget action thriller, also starring Alien’s Sigourney Weaver, Winona plays a cropped-haired android with evil intentions.

“I’m sick of being described as cute or elfin. This role is completely removed from my usual work,” says Winona.

In the process, her $3.8 million price tag increased by $2.8 million, allowing her to buy a home in Beverley Hills.

Winona’s private life has also undergone a radical change. For five years she was engaged to actor Johnny Depp, before moving on to rocker Dave Pirner. Back then, her favourite pastime was hanging around the house wearing old jeans and writing poetry. She rarely ventured out and made a point of avoiding nightclubs and crowds.

But that’s all in the past. Today, she has shocked even those who know her well by bursting out on to the social scene with a string of unlikely dates including X-Files’ David Duchovny and Dodi Fayed, fun-loving son of Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed.

Party-shy no more, 25-year-old Winona is often seen hanging out with actor Gwyneth Paltrow at New York’s trendiest clubs, and Gwyneth regularly fixes Winona up with the hottest young guys on the music and movie scene, including Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob.

She’s been spotted at fashion shows, movie premieres and nightclubs wearing sexy clothes with plunging necklines. She’s been pictured hugging all the hippest fashion designers and even went to dinner with veteran man-about-town Eric Clapton. “I guess I’m just learning to have fun,” she says. “I’ve always had a sense of humour, but people just wanted to pigeon-hole me as ‘little Winona, the serious and sensitive one.'”

“When I was younger, every time I’d open my mouth on the set people would go, ‘Isn’t that cute? Winona has her little ideas. That’s soooo cute. Well, I’m not the youngest person on the set any more and I demand to be heard.'”

“It’s been interesting for me, this new life,” says the 163 cm tall actor, referring to her six-hour training sessions as she beefs up for her new role. “It’s vital that I train and get tough, although I’m not sure whether I’m entirely cut out for it. I mean, muscles look weird on me. I’m really small and don’t have that kind of body.”

The role involves combat and fight sequences, something she hasn’t previously tackled – and she’s anxious to discuss physical violence on screen. “To me, a person slapping someone across the face is more violent than someone getting shot, because it’s so humiliating and it’s such a horrible feeling.”

“I know I’ve slapped a few people, but I’ve never gone out with a guy who’s hit me. I’d say most of my female friends have either been raped or hit or beat up by boyfriends.”

“It happens much more than we all think. It happens a lot in this business. Actors do it to girls, to extras. I was once around an actor – I was really young, 15 or 16, and he was a lot older – and he was coming on to me, and it made me uncomfortable. I never said anything because he was a big star, and I wasn’t, and I always regretted that. He didn’t hurt me, but I think I should have said something.”

In one fiery scene in The Crucible, Winona’s character, Abigail, looks shocked as she is slapped in the face by Bruce Davison, who plays Salem’s tormented preacher. “That hurt,” says Winona, who didn’t see the slap coming. “Even if you’re doing a movie, you still feel this sense of humiliation.”

Winona says she is sympathetic to her character: “Abigail was 12 and John Procter was 65. He’s been [having sex with] her since she was a little girl, and all of a sudden she’s branded a witch and kicked out of the community. I really feel for her. It was so obscene how children and women were treated.”

Now that she’s disposed of her sugar-sweet image, she says she’s finally beginning to feel comfortable in Tinseltown.

“Playing cute and confused doesn’t interest me anymore. I’m a grown woman and it’s ridiculous that I still keep being offered these parts,” she explains.

“I think a lot of people are going to be surprised. I’m sick of being nice and I want everyone to know that.”