Bazaar Magazine (UK), August 2000
Winona takes all equal parts old fashioned girl and gen- X icon, WR is a study in elegant contradictions. Henry Alford asked the star about her man- eating reputation, her passion for fashion,and why she’s happy to let someone else play the ingenue.
90 seconds after i have met Winona at the appointed time (4:00pm on a rainy Sunday) and the appoint place,she removes her floppy fisherman’s hat and asks, “Would you do me a favor? Would you feel my forehead?”.
She wonders if she is as sick as she feels. I oblige her and offer a bleak prognosis;the heat emanating from her brow has the fiery intensity of nuclear fission. But Ryder’s unguarded nature- I allude, of course, to the impromptu temperature- taking,but also to a blithe manner that is somehow exhibited by her denim-intensive outfit and her consumption of copious amounts of chocolate-covered raisins- will be thrown into contrast by her habit, during the interview, of holding her hand in front of my tape recorder when saying anything that might be construed as gossipy. Indeed, like many interesting people, 28 year old Winona is a study in the unexpected.
She is a Gen-X icon, yet her personal interests run to things like Preston Sturges films and first- edition books. She was raised a Buddhist by hippie parents in San Francisco;yet her friends describe her as conservative, and her elegant,$2.5 million Beverly hills home has been featured on the cover of Architectural Digest. And though she appears, in person, to be someone who has wandered off the set of Reality Bites, her best performances are arguably her work in period films like The age of I,The Crucible and Little Women.
Ryder’s new film, Autumn in New York, directed by Joan Chen, is contemporary in setting, but it harks back in spirit to the Hollywood melodramas of the ’30s and ’40s. Ryder plays a terminally ill artist who falls in love with an older man-a romantic situation that, as it turns out, has some surprisingly personal resonance for the young actress whose relationships have tended to be with men closer to her own age(Depp, Pirner,Damon).
Although she will neatly dodge my questions about her most recent ex-” I don’t have anything really to say. It was amicable”- Ryder graciously accepts my invitation to discuss a variety of non- Damon topics. When ,before we begin, she retrieves a small inhaler of cold medicine and asks if i mind if she applies some of it to her nasal passages, I encourage her to forge ahead; after all, we have already shared a certain amount of forehead-based intimacy.
Q: Have you ever fallen for an older man?
Winona: On movie sets, I used to get crushes all the time on older men who worked in the camera department. There’s no vanity with those guys. They’re working and they’re sweating and they’re hilarious. Not crushes like I wanted to sleep with them. I just love them. There was a guy who was a focus puller on Girl ,Interrupted, and there are close-ups of me where, off-camera, I was holding his hand. Not as a sexual thing, but because he was so there for me.
Q: What was working with Richard Gere like?
Winona: He was great. I’ve worked opposite guys who became movie stars, but it was first time working opposite a real movie star. You forget how many movies Richard’s made – he knows whether a scene is working or not. He’s also serene, which obviously has something to do with his Buddhism. He’d get up an hour before our call time each day to meditate.
Q: Did you guys meditate together?
Q: In Girl, Interrupted, you were the lead and Angelina was the ingenue. How dose it feel not to be the ingenue anymore?
Winona: When we first started shooting,I realized I was the oldest girl in the movie. I was so depressed for the first few days. But then I kind of love it because i saw [the actresses] going through stuff that I’d been through, and that felt nostalgic. It also gave me a great opportunity to give them advice. A lot of young actresses think that if they’re offered a movie, they have to take it. I try to encourage them to have a life and not to do movies just to do a movie.
Q: You have made a lot of literary adaptations;your character in Reality Bites was fired from her job for “intellectual condescension”.Do you ever worry about being called a snob?
Winona: I was just accused of that! I was flabbergasted. I was making fun of the questions on Who want to be a millionaire, and my friend said,”Not everyone was raised in a library, you know.”
Q: In your first three movies, you played either a nerd or a witch.
Winona: Then I did Heathers, and the script literally said, “the least attractive of the girls” I got very used to the idea that if I was not going to be a leading lady, I would be like Ruth.. Ruth…
Q: You collect vintage clothing.What do you look for?
Winona: I kind of go along with what fashion does. If fashion is featuring pencil skirts, then I’ll go buy great vintage ones. What I really collect are cloths that have been in movies that I love. I have Claudette Colbert’s dress from It happened One Night. I have some of Pier Angeli’s clothes.
Q: You also own the Ava Gardner dress you wore to the Oscars this year, Leslie Caron’s dress from An American in Paris,and the Sandra Dee bikini from the Tammy movies. What’s up with that?
Winona: I have always wanted the world to be a movie; I wanted theme music when I walk down the streets. When I was little, whenever something bad would happen, I would close my eyes and try to “face to black”.After I started making movies, I started saying “cut” when I wanted a conversation to end; I’ve even said it-this is so sad-to boyfriends.
Q: Do you own any snoods?
Q: Do you know what snoods are?
Winona: No, [I explain that they are hair nets that were popular in the 1940s] No. But all my clothes in Beetlejuice – that frilly lace, the clingy black dresses – were my great-grandmother’s.
Q: I read that a lot of your friends are gay men. Which is interesting because you love old movies, you like vintage clothing,you have a good sense of humor-in a way, you are kind of like a really cute gay guy.
Winona: Well, I don’t like to generalize. A lot of my friends are real guys – it’s not like me and a bunch of drag queens. But I did grow up in San Francisco, right near the Castro. My mom made the first documentary about AIDS,and I was in it.
Q: Didn’t you get beaten up in seventh grade for dressing up like Jimmy Cagney?
Winona: I was wearing an old Salvation Army-shop boy’s suit. I had a hall pass, so I went to the girl’s bathroom. I heard people saying “hey, faggot”. They slammed my head into a locker. I fell to the ground and they started to kick the shit out of me. I had to have stitches.
The school kick me out, not the bullies. Years later, I went to a coffee shop in Petaluma, and I ran into one of the girls who’d kicked me, and she said “Winona, Winona, can I have your autograph?” and I said “Do you remember me? I went to Kenilworth. Remember how, in seventh grade, you beat up that kid?” and she said, “Kind of”, and I said “That was me. Go fuck yourself!”
Q: You are natural blonde?
Winona: Yes. I started dying my hair when I was 11 or 12 – I would dye it blue or purple. When I auditioned for Lucas, my hair was black and they wanted to keep it.
Q: Describe a perfect day.
Winona: Sleep really late. Call up a friend, walk around San Francisco, and see a Preston Sturges double feature – Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve. Go buy a bunch of CDs and an ice cream.
I get home and there’s a message on my machine from Tom Waits. I go to Tom and Kathy’s house – I babysat their kids when I was 15 – and Tom would be working on something, and he’d play it.
Then John Priner would stop by, and Bonnie Raitt, too. They’d all play. Jim Jarmusch would be there. He’d turn to me and say,”Will you be in my next movie? Tom is going to be in it, and Elias Koteas, Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands…”
Then everyone in the room would individually tell me how, for a really long time, they secretly thought I was great. Suddenly my cell phone rings: Marty Scoresee calls me to tell me that scientists have discovered an inexpensive way to restore old movies. Then he says, “By the way, will you be in my next movie?”
Q: Is it hard to meet guys who aren’t intimidated by you?
Winona: I don’t know. I don’t fell like I’m a famous person. I fell like I’m the dark-haired girl from Beetlejuice or the girl from Heathers. What happened to Julia Roberts never happened to me. I’m a familiar face; I was always just kind of there. I’ve never been in really big movies. Or if I’m in big movies, it’s not because of me, it’s because it’s a Tim Burton movie or because it’s Dracula.
Q. US magazine once published a six-degrees-of-separation chart where they traced a lot of Hollywood hunks back to you.
Winona: Which was bullshit!
I hadn’t met half those guys.That really pissed me off. [Lemonheads bandleader] Evan Dando: I shook his hand once. He was roommates with my ex, Johnny. I’ve met David Duchovny, talked for maybe seven minutes. Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind – met him briefly. I don’t like to be linked with people I hardly know. I’m 28. I have had four long relationships. I don’t know if four is a lot for 28 or not many. But I don’t feel like I have to answer for that.
Q: Who are you seeing now?
Winona: I’m dating myself, I guess you’d say. I’m taking myself out for dinner. I’m taking myself out and I’m going to play with nice music in the car. I may end up taking advantage of myself. Maybe I’ll even tie myself up.