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.
What’s an example of that?
Let me think. … I remember running into a really amazing legendary actor.
Can you say who?
I can’t. … This is like 10 years ago. And he was like, “Hey, you didn’t like the script?” And I was like, “What? What script? What are you talking about?” Now I’m in a better situation. I think it happens to every actor when they reach a certain level, if they’re around certain people, they just assume there has got to be egos.
For example, after “Reality Bites,” were you getting inundated with offers to play that type of character again?
And you know what? I may not know!
Do you feel in more control now?
Well, I think I feel … I don’t want this to come across the wrong way, but I do feel like a bit more selective. I’m not saying that I’m being flooded with offers all of the time. The way the industry is now, where if you decide you want to take some time off and go to something else, it’s not as easy. Back then, I was able to do that. I was able to do it a few different times in my life. I was able to slow down — I was able to do other things I was interested it. But, now, with the Internet and this sort of instant access — which is a whole other conversation.
I have been misquoted, even just in the last week when I was doing the junket in LA, someone asked me something — and it was very sort of casual — and they were talking about me and the ’90s and they said something about “take its toll,” and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you know.” And then I see this headline, “It Took Its Toll.” So, you never know. The other one that was my favorite, my dad sent it to me because I never go on the Internet that much, “Winona Ryder Wants To Be In a Philip Roth Movie” … and I wasn’t talking about an adaptation. And I actually maybe shouldn’t have said that because they were asking me about films.
It’s like asking if someone wants to be in the next “Star Wars” movie, which becomes a headline.
I’ve been asked this a lot, but I didn’t realize there was another “Star Trek.”
Oh, yeah, it comes out in two weeks.
Well, I’ve been working and I heard, but …
What appealed to you about doing “Star Trek”?
Well, I was a fan of the show. Did you ever see that great documentary, “Trekkies?”
It’s such a good documentary. And the woman who was in “Star Trek” [Denise Crosby], I thought she was so gracious in the way she was talking to these people. She was so present and interested and gracious.
It’s not there to make fun of anyone.
Exactly. And I have to say, I was a fan of the original show — I didn’t see “The Next Generation.” And it was a couple of days, you know. I remember I was dressed in some like outfit and we were way out in the desert. And they came and they knocked — they had these PAs with umbrellas — and I thought they were for me. And I was like, “Oh, I can just walk.” And they were like, “No, because if you get photographed …” It was so funny because I thought they were for me and I was like “Oh, you guys, don’t be silly.” My God. I had no idea you had to sign your life away.
Do you like doing sci-fi? Was “Alien Resurrection” a good experience?
Not everyone loves that installment.
I know. But it was one of the greatest times. It was so fun and, you know, I know how certain people feel. But, it’s kind of like a really cool art film. It’s not scary, but it’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who was actually my idea. Because they were a few directors who were going to do it — Danny Boyle was going to do it — and it didn’t work out.
And David Fincher had just done the one before.
Yeah, and I was obsessed with “Delicatessen” and “City of Lost Children.” And, so, I was thrilled. And our first assistant director had done “Rosemary’s Baby,” so it’s this amazing French crew. And the cast was amazing and I’m still really close to all of them. It was just a great, great time. It really was. When I was a kid, I had a wall-size poster of Ripley — she was the first female action hero. You think it’s going to be Dallas, you don’t think it’s going to be her — you think it’s going to be Tom Skerritt. And, of course, back then you didn’t have all the secrecy. I guess now there’s all of the spoilers. I’m very nostalgic for the old days because of that mystery and not knowing.
Which is why J.J. Abrams made people come to your door with umbrellas. He wants it all to come out in the movie.
It has changed. The business has changed. I do wonder if I would have gotten into it if I were starting out now — if I were younger and starting out now. Because, back then when I started out, it was just different.
And now it’s been 25 years since “Beetlejuice.”
I know. I know. That is crazy. And it’s weird because I still feel, weirdly, very close to it. I just got an email from Tim [Burton]. I think there’s a nostalgia going on for that era, or something. But I do feel like Lydia, that character, really, if I hadn’t done that role, I don’t think I would have ended up an actress.
I didn’t have that look at that time. So, doing that and then “Heathers” right afterwards … yeah, yeah, it’s interesting.
I saw a study that the name Heather lost a lot of popularity as a baby name after that movie?
Wow. That is funny! That is funny. But you do want to be more selective because it’s like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And when you are cranking out, suddenly two years go by. And you’re like, “Where did that go?” And then it’s also “all about you.” And then, meanwhile, your friend is going through some horrible time and you’re like, “Oh, I just have to finish this.” And I don’t want to be that person. I want to be a good friend, a good sister, a good person and a good actress. And, also, I started so young and it’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I think it’s important to have as much as a normal life and take the time to get perspective because it only helps your work in the long run.
You alluded to that time period in which you were doing other things. How important to you was “A Scanner Darkly”? Did it have to be a movie that was really interesting and weird to come back to making movies?
Well, gosh, it thrills me to no end that you brought up that movie. That makes me so happy because I think that’s such a great, brilliant movie. And you’re absolutely right. I was like not … I was in San Francisco, I was doing work with City Lights — doing a whole thing. And I wasn’t wanting to — and I got that call. It was kind of a no-brainer and it was [Richard] Linklater.
Well, not really if you weren’t wanting to be in movies.
Yeah, but it was also Robert Downey Jr. and Keanu [Reeves], who I had known since I was 16. And I worked with both of them and I had known Woody Harrelson. But, Richard Linklater — who I think is so great — and then Philip K. Dick who I’m a huge fan of and who had been roommates with my godfather. I am so happy that you brought that up because people don’t bring that up a lot. That is a movie that I’m so proud of and I really hope that, in time, that movie has an audience. “Heathers,” people didn’t catch — it took awhile. But that one is a real special one.
I’ve heard it discussed by movie writers.
Oh, good. That makes me so happy.
I feel it was a good comeback role.
Well, I really appreciate that … I don’t want it to come across that no one ever asks about it, if that’s mean to the movie. It just means so much to me. It’s such a special movie.