Getting things started, we went right to asking Winona if she believed Kuklinski’s wife knew about his contract killing lifestyle:
Winona Ryder: I do. There wasn’t much research available on her that I was aware of. The research that was available was mainly the interviews with [Kuklinski] and the book, so in order to find anything out I’d have to get through hours of him talking about shooting people in the face and then just get a snippet about her. I wouldn’t say so much in the research said it, but I don’t see how anyone could be in a relationship for that long and be married, have kids, for that many years, in an era where people had offices and secretaries and he’s got just a beeper – there were too many things like that. My feeling, and this is just my personal feeling, is that she did know to a certain extent, but she was just in a very obviously deep state of denial, and to acknowledge it or ask the questions would have meant she would have had to bear some of the responsibility. She would have had to leave.
I think in a way she liked her life. She liked nice things. She like how she was living.
It’s interesting because you hear a lot about actresses talking about strong roles for women, and I actually think sometimes playing weaker people can be just as interesting and challenging. I think in a way there was a little bit of denial, but also she just didn’t have the courage. I think we’ve all dealt with denial to a certain extent, it’s very human, but this is to a level that’s mind-boggling to me.
There was definitely some nervous apprehension on my part before meeting Winona Ryder — which, having done this sort of thing hundreds of times before, doesn’t happen often. This most likely stems from my preexisting notion that she’s shy or reserved — or, at the very least, media shy and reserved in front of the press. Soon after meeting the petite actor — who still doesn’t look all that different from the person who danced to Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” at the end of “Beetlejuice” — I discovered something that would have put my nervous mind at ease: Winona Ryder is, well … a bit of a nerd.
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but she is a fan of the original “Star Trek” television series and used to have a life-size poster of Ellen Ripley on her wall.
Ryder’s new movie is “The Iceman,” the latest in a string of recent higher profile roles for the actress, following films as diverse as “Black Swan” and “Star Trek” (yes we’ll get to “Star Trek”). In “The Iceman,” Ryder plays Deborah Kuklinski, who is married to notorious mob killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) — only she’s not aware of that whole “mob killer” part.
In a conversation that lasted longer than planned, Ryder dove deep into her filmography to discuss everything from the 25th anniversary of “Beetlejuice” to two of her (somewhat surprising) favorite movie experiences: “Alien Resurrection” and, especially, Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” (Ryder’s return to acting after a time spent more in tabloids, not movies). If you take one thing away from this interview, it’s that Ryder really loves “A Scanner Darkly.”
I feel like you’ve been getting a lot of good roles lately, like the one in “The Iceman.”
Are you picky?
Well, I mean, who knows, really? I think there was a time when — and every actor will tell you — there’s a time when you’re sort of at the height of everything and people will tell you that you’re offered everything. You’re kind of under that impression. And then, years later, you find out maybe not. Or that they offered you something that you never even got told about.
“People have been saying that for a long time,” Winona Ryder says of her return. Some mark the beginning of that comeback trail with her 2010 “Black Swan” turn, others with her 2001 shoplifting arrest in Beverly Hills. The twice-Oscar-nominated actor drags out the vowel in the word “long” for several beats. “Honestly, I just don’t think about it that much,” she continues. “When something comes along that is special, great. If they want me to do it, great. If not, there’s a lot of other things in my life.”
“I’m very happy in my life,” she continues. “You get to an age and you’re grateful for the work, but I wouldn’t want to be working the way that I used to because it does become all about you and you start to lose perspective. I’ve had an amazing time, but I guess if you’re asking about slowing down, for me, it’s been really nice to come out and do things that I really want to do.”
Since her debut in the 1986 film “Lucas,” forty-one-year-old Ryder has been just slightly less wide-eyed than a Margret Keane painting. And today is no exception. The aperture of her dark eyes flare over the question of what she did for fun on the set of her latest film, “The Iceman,” which tracks her character’s marriage to a real-life contract killer.
“Nothing,” she says, again hanging on that first vowel. “It was a very intense set. We didn’t have a lot of money or time. It wasn’t a long time that I was there, but it was pretty dark. I do appreciate the experience, though, and getting to work with everyone, but we didn’t sit around and talk about the deeper aspects of what was going on with my character.”
“She really didn’t want to know,” the film’s director and co-writer, Ariel Vromen, supplies. “She didn’t read the script even. We delivered her a script with all the scenes she wasn’t in deleted. It was a little tough on me because I’d try and say something and she’d say, ‘Ahhh! I don’t want to know.’ The direction was a little methodic because she chose to live in that denial, accepting the fact that she does not know or even if she knew, she doesn’t want to know. She really lived that. On set, she was that woman.”
In The Iceman, Winona Ryder plays a woman in denial. A woman who doesn’t seem to realize her husband is really a serial-killing hit-man.
And Ryder can relate – kind of.
“I think we all have stuff [from past relationships] we’d rather not think about,” Ryder, 41, told PEOPLE Monday at the special New York screening hosted by Grey Goose. “Or things we remember differently in retrospect, or have selective amnesia [about].”
Ryder’s character, Barbara Kuklinski, is married to notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon. They are based on a real-life couple, and Barbara apparently lived for some time without realizing her husband’s true vocation.
“I don’t think she was [oblivious],” Ryder says. “I think she was in deep denial. She liked her life the way it was, and wasn’t asking the questions she should have been asking.”
She adds, “Following her gut also would have meant messing up her life. It’s a very complex character, and very ambiguous. We’ll never know the truth. Denial is a very powerful thing.”
So, yes, Ryder confirmed jokingly, she’s experienced denial. But “nothing that comes close to anything like that [movie]!”
Ryder – called “a legend” Monday by Shannon and “really great” by costar Ray Liotta – says early buzz about her performance and return to the big screen isn’t registering much.
“I do think I speak for a lot of actors when I say we try to block that stuff out – good or bad,” she says. “I think sometimes it’s not healthy to be listening to all that. But of course it’s always nice to hear nice things.”
“The Iceman” cometh.
Oscar-nominated actors Winona Ryder and Michael Shannon are starring in the intense new crime thriller. Unlike classics such as “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas,” “The Iceman” takes a less glamorous look at the mafia.
The film is based on the true story of notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski (Shannon), a veteran hitman who was hired by several crime families to murder their rivals and informants. Kuklinski earned his “Iceman” nickname because he was viewed as cold-blooded, even by other hitmen. He also liked to freeze his victims so the cops couldn’t determine an accurate time of death. From 1964-1986, Kuklinski is estimated to have racked up more than 100 victims.
Ryder plays Kuklinski’s wife in the film, who was renamed Deborah for the story. The actress sat down for an interview with CBSNews.com to discuss her character, who claimed to have absolutely no knowledge of her husband’s nefarious deeds: