â€œPeople have been saying that for a long time,â€ Winona Ryder says of her return. Some mark the beginning of that comeback trail with her 2010 â€œBlack Swanâ€ turn, others with her 2001 shoplifting arrest in Beverly Hills. The twice-Oscar-nominated actor drags out the vowel in the word â€œlongâ€ for several beats. â€œHonestly, I just donâ€™t think about it that much,â€ she continues. â€œWhen something comes along that is special, great. If they want me to do it, great. If not, thereâ€™s a lot of other things in my life.â€
â€œIâ€™m very happy in my life,â€ she continues. â€œYou get to an age and youâ€™re grateful for the work, but I wouldnâ€™t want to be working the way that I used to because it does become all about you and you start to lose perspective. Iâ€™ve had an amazing time, but I guess if youâ€™re asking about slowing down, for me, itâ€™s been really nice to come out and do things that I really want to do.â€
Since her debut in the 1986 film â€œLucas,â€ 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, â€œThe Iceman,â€ which tracks her characterâ€™s marriage to a real-life contract killer.
â€œNothing,â€ she says, again hanging on that first vowel. â€œIt was a very intense set. We didnâ€™t have a lot of money or time. It wasnâ€™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 didnâ€™t sit around and talk about the deeper aspects of what was going on with my character.â€
â€œShe really didnâ€™t want to know,â€ the filmâ€™s director and co-writer, Ariel Vromen, supplies. â€œShe didnâ€™t read the script even. We delivered her a script with all the scenes she wasnâ€™t in deleted. It was a little tough on me because Iâ€™d try and say something and sheâ€™d say, â€˜Ahhh! I donâ€™t want to know.â€™ 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 doesnâ€™t want to know. She really lived that. On set, she was that woman.â€
That woman is Barbara Kuklinski, billed in the film as Deborah Pellicotti, widow of notorious, New Jersey hit man Richard Kuklinski. Despite the money rolling in from hundreds of contract kills, Madame Kuklinski claims she no knowledge of her husbandâ€™s chosen profession, choosing instead to believe his facade of suburban dad who took the family on annual outings to Walt Disney World. But for Ryder, this is pure fantasy land.
â€œShe had to know,â€ Ryder maintains. â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s possible to be in a marriage that long and not know. So I was very interested in exploring that level of denial. Who are these women who are married to everyone from Bernie Madoff to, like, warlords? Deep down, she had to know it wasnâ€™t clean money, but to acknowledge it would have meant taking responsibility and also leaving with the children, which would have been hard. It says a lot of about who she was.â€
Ryderâ€™s co-star Danny Abeckaser agrees. The relatively new actor already has a substantial true-crime resume under his belt after producing and starring in 2010â€²s Jesse Eisenberg bio of a Brooklyn Hasidic kid who becomes an ecstasy kingpin. Heâ€™s also part owner of Manhattanâ€™s Lindsay Lohan-hang Marquee so he knows from true crime.
â€œHow can you not know?â€ Abeckaser asks. â€œSome people go along with it. Everything is great and they just donâ€™t want to hear about it.â€ Getting to know Ryder between takes was just as complicated. â€œNo one talked,â€ he says of the somber set, â€œnot even the director!â€ He futzes with the Tibetan prayer beads snaking up his right arm and finally says of Ryder specifically, â€œShe was in her trailer a lot.â€
True crime vet Ray Liotta, who plays Icemanâ€™s Gambino boss Roy Demeo, came closest to breaking Ryderâ€™s icy remove, famously resting his hand on her rump on the red carpet of last summerâ€™s Venice Film Festival where the film had its world premiere. â€œI wasnâ€™t holding her ass,â€ Liotta asserts. â€œNah, nah, nah, no! She was right next to me and she came in because they said, â€˜Can you get closer so we can get you?â€™ And I wasnâ€™t going to put my arm around her, thatâ€™s like â€¦â€ He trails off, then marvels, â€œI got more press out of that than almost anything.â€
â€œWhen youâ€™re playing pretend,â€ Liotta continues, worrying a Band-Aid on his finger before digging into his suit pocket to remove a fresh one, sticking it directly atop the old, â€œyou do what you have to do. I wouldnâ€™t call it grim. I think everyone was serious about their work. Youâ€™re actors. You gotta pretend youâ€™re killing people. And the only control an actor has is between action and cut, but it wasnâ€™t a bunch of peacocks running around saying, â€˜Youâ€™re in my chair. Get out of my chair!â€™â€
Michael Shannon, who plays the titular character, agrees. â€œIf the cameraâ€™s not rolling,â€ he says, â€œI prefer not to be acting because nobodyâ€™s ever going to see that. Between takes I just sit in my chair and try to relax. Itâ€™s all about conserving energy to make sure youâ€™re putting everything on the screen.â€ He admits this was a particularly rough shoot for Ryder, who was thrown into a violent car chase her first day on set.
â€œWinona and I got along quite well,â€ Shannon says. â€œMost of our scenes are fraught and her emotions are very accessible to her so she does get very worked up and it is hard for her to calm down. Fortunately, we also had some scenes that werenâ€™t as dramatic, particularly with our daughters: the family scenes. Those were a relief to do because something terrible wasnâ€™t happening.â€
â€œThey were the exact age I was when I started acting,â€ Ryder remembers of the young actors playing her daughters in the film. â€œEven though I donâ€™t have kids,â€ she continues, â€œI had this weird, primal protective thing going on because it really wasnâ€™t a very kid-friendly set. I feel like Iâ€™ll hopefully forever be bonded to them.â€ When told that sounds like an actory line, her eyes grow wider for a final time. â€œI was just texting them yesterday,â€ she whispers breathlessly.