She’s Grown Up Onscreen

Friday, Nov 22, 2013

Harper’s Bazaar — January 1991

— by Valerie Monroe


One year ago, Winona Ryder’s brilliant career was about to come to a crashing end at least, that’s what she was told at the time. Never mind that she had already starred in a string of Hollywood films before she’d turned 18. Or that her paramour was a desirable teenage heartthrob). Or even that she had become something of a role model and critics’ darling, acclaimed for her intelligence, crisp beauty and effortless acting.

All of her success was about to go down the drain due to a sinus infection. I was really in bad shape,” mutters Ryder now 19, looking back on the seemingly inconsequential but nonetheless debilitating ailment that brought her co-starring role in The Godfather, Part III to an untimely end.

Arriving in Rome to begin work in Francis Ford Coppola’s megaproduction, the odds were against her from the start. Just the day before, she had wrapped the grueling, troubleplagued shoot for Mermaids in Boston and, totally exhausted, had gotten off the flight with a raging fever and chronic fatigue. When she collapsed in her hotel shortly after and the production’s doctor pronounced her too sick to work, Ryder didn’t exactly receive any sympathy. “I was getting threats that my career would be over and that I was going to get sued,” she recalls.

But Ryder (born Winona Horowitz) has bounced back nicely. Counseled by her new friend Cher to ignore the threats and cut her work load, she has managed to appear in two films this season. In Edward Scissorhands, she portrays a desperately normal high school cheerleader who falls in love with the blade-fingered Johnny Depp (her real-life fiance); in Mermaids, she plays Cher’s adult-minded daughter in a bittersweet performance that has had insiders whispering of a possible Oscar nomination.

The daughter of ’60s counterculture intellectuals, Ryder was taught early on to “question authority.” Recalls her godfather, former LSD guru Timothy Leary, “Winona was surrounded by extraordinary people like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. This gave her intelligence, perspective and the ability to take life with a grain of salt.” She’s used her precocity well. Though just 13 when spotted by a Hollywood talent scout at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, she was quickly signed for her first film, Lucas. Eight movies later (including Beetlejuice and Heathers) she is now faced with the new challenge of growing up. “I want parts that aren’t about adolescent angst,” she states. But Ryder, who soon starts work on Jim Jarmusch’s next feature opposite Gena Rowlands, isn’t particularly concerned. “I’ve played such weird roles that I never got labeled, so I’m lucky in a way.”

Tim Burton, her director on both Beetlejuice and Scissorhands, thinks her bright future is the result of far more than luck. “In her teens, she offered something nobody else could. and she’ll do that in her adult roles. I’m not worried about Winona. She’ll do just fine.”

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