That Time Winona Ryder Lived In A Tree

By
Photography Michel Haddi

Published July 4, 2019

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our December 1990 issue with cover star Winona Ryder: teen angst luminary, 90s superstar, and unsung environmental activist.

It’s become pretty easy to engage in social movements without having to do much of anything (a concept known colloquially as slacktivism)—much less, say, join an environmentalist living in a tree to protest the fact that it’s being cut down. But Winona Ryder–Tim Burton muse, millennial pink trailblazer, and perpetually concerned mother—has risen above the tide of celebrity slacktivism, and done exactly that. Known for her sharp and sophisticated portrayals of misunderstood teens as a  beloved 90s indie film darling, she played to a myriad of sensibilities; her characters were simultaneously angsty, touching, wry, and sincere, sometimes all in the same scene (how very, indeed). But Ryder had concerns beyond Westerburg High; in a 1990 Interview cover story, Ryder spoke about her concerns for the environment and hollow celebrity activism with Jeff Giles in our December 1990 cover story:

JEFF GILES: How do you relax nowadays?

WINONA RYDER: I read a lot. I watch movies, I listen to music, and I write.

GILES: What do you write?

RYDER: I keep a journal. It’s not a corny journal. It’s not like, “Today, I had some Honey Nut Cheerios and then I went for a walk.” It’s train-of-thought-type of stuff. I also write short stories, and I like to travel. Sometimes, I’ll get up and go to Texas, or something.

GILES: Texas?

RYDER: I love Texas. Even if I am a little bit famous or a little bit popular… You go to places where you’re not and just live like everybody else lives. I’m not crazy about this country in terms of the shape it’s in, but I do think there are lots of great places to go to. I think I should take advantage of it while this country still exists.

GILES: Do you worry that the country’s not going to exist?

RYDER: I don’t know how much longer the environment is going to exist. I sort of strongly believe that we’re in danger. Not to go off on that.

GILES: You can go off on that if you want.

RYDER: I don’t want to preach, and I don’t want to tell people what to do.

GILES: Actors tend to preach in interviews.

RYDER: They go off on all these world issues. I’m not saying that all of them are jumping on the bandwagon, but I think they should back up what they say. I really believe that, because I think a lot of them are full of shit. And if you’re gonna talk about the environment or make a big deal about South Africa or Northern Ireland, you should know what you’re talking about.

Ryder took a break from the public eye following her 2001 arrest for shoplifting, which she told Stephen Mooallem in our May 2013 cover story was “almost like the best thing that could have happened.” During her acting hiatus, she tapped into her activist instincts by sitting in on constitutional law lectures at Berkeley College. This led her to join environmental activist Julia “Butterfly” Hill at Luna, the thousand-year-old, 180-foot-tall Redwood tree Hill was living in. Protesting the Pacific Lumber Company’s plan to clear-cut the area, Hill lived in Luna for 738 days, from December 10, 1997 to December 18 1999. Ryder stayed for only six. (More than we’ve ever camped out for.)

Though her stint with Hill was short-lived (40 mph winds and an exclusively vegan diet, apparently, aren’t for everyone), Ryder can proudly add environmental demonstrator to her résumé of noble titles, alongside Stranger Things matriarch and goth icon. As for Luna, Hill and Pacific Lumber eventually came to a resolution that guaranteed its protection, and Hill vacated the tree. With the exception of a brief act of vandalism in 2000, Luna is still standing tall in Humboldt County, California. Road trip, anyone?