IT WAS this REALIZATION THAT I STILL LOVED ACTING—AND THAT I STILL WANTED TO DO IT. But IT WAS AN AMAZING FEELING to KNOW THAT THERE WERE OTHER THINGS OUT THERE that WERE NOT ALL ABOUT ME and ALL ABOUT MAKING MOVIES.Winona RydeR
Winona Ryder knows her Simple Minds—and not just “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” to which she enthusiastically lip-synchs while propped up on her elbows on a dark red comforter on the set of our cover shoot. “Will you recognize me, call my name, or walk on by? Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling, down, down, down, dooowwwnnn . . .” But like most things with Ryder, her connoisseurship is not half-assed. She requests deeper cuts, like “Alive and Kicking,” off the band’s Once Upon a Time (1985) album: “Staaayyy . . . until your love . . . is . . . love . . . is . . . a-live and kicking!” We listen to that one twice, which is probably appropriate since Ryder’s own romance with acting—that thing that kept her very busy throughout most of her teens and her twenties—is a recently rekindled affair. She will appear in two films this year, the second of which, Gary Fleder’s drug-lord drama Homefront, with James Franco and Jason Statham, is due out this fall. The first of them, though, hits theaters this month: Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman, a period piece set mostly in the 1960s and ’70s that stars Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski, a real-life contract killer for the mob in New York and New Jersey who is said to have murdered more than 100 people. The real Kuklinski, who was arrested in 1986 and died in prison in 2006, is said to have hid his bloody business from his wife, Barbara, who is played in the film by Ryder (the character is renamed Deborah), while she and their two daughters enjoyed a life of relatively affluent suburban idyll. The film is dark, at times difficult, and unlike anything that Ryder has ever done. But in her hands, Deborah emerges as something much more complicated than a dutiful wife—in one sense, a sympathetic figure, but in another, a woman whose blindness seems as much a product of a darker, more conflicted willfulness as ignorance.
I spoke with the 41-year-old Ryder recently in New York.
STEPHEN MOOALLEM: I heard that you’ve been under the weather.
WINONA RYDER: I don’t know if it’s a cold—it’s just that my voice was kind of going. But it’s back, so I’m actually okay. In a weird way, I was actually hoping that whatever voice thing I’ve got could stay so that I could sort of have a Debra Winger thing going on. I’ve always loved her voice. But it’s getting better, so I’m going to sound like me.
MOOALLEM: Well, you can take advantage of it while it lasts. I’m just going to make sure that we’re recording. Our recorders are digital now, and for some reason, I always doubt that they’re recording.
RYDER: And they used to do this with tape recorders . . . The world.
MOOALLEM: It’s 2013, so I’m sure somebody somewhere is recording us right now anyhow.
RYDER: Big Brother.
MOOALLEM: Well, you grew up in California in the late ’70s—you must’ve been around some conspiracy theorists.
RYDER: Oh, god, yeah. Welcome to my childhood. [laughs] My parents are awesome, but they’re pretty left-wing. They live in Canada now. They moved when Bush was re-elected. You know how a lot of people said they were going to do that? My parents actually did it. So I was raised with what I would say was a healthy alternative political view. Certainly, most of my memories of my childhood are at City Lights, because that’s where I was babysat. Lawrence Ferlinghetti would watch me, and I would play in his office. But, yeah, I have a whole relationship with technology that I’m struggling with a bit. I totally acknowledge that there are great things that are happening because of it, but I just have a knee-jerk reaction to the whole “adapt or die” bit. It’s like if you’re not involved with social media now, then you’re not relevant or human. But I know I’m being extreme. People are using it to address a lot of really important issues and to support things that I want to support, so I’m coming around. But I’ve been driving people nuts; I’m just not a computer person.
THAT THING THAT HAPPENED…I THINK A LOT of PEOPLE THINK that THAT IS WHAT SORT OF SENT ME OFF IN ANOTHER DIRECTION, but I WAS ACTUALLY STARTING to HAVE SOME TROUBLE a FEW YEARS BEFORE.Winona Ryder
MOOALLEM: You have an iPhone, though.
RYDER: I do have an iPhone—I just got it. I have to admit, though, that when I went to get the iPhone, this guy who had been helping me in the store said, “We should go up to the bar,” and I thought it was an actual bar. I was like, “There’s a bar here?” Anyhow, I’m really trying to find a happy medium where I can hold on to some degree of privacy and dignity. As much as I gripe, the good of this stuff far outweighs the bad. I’m just coming from a more personal—and, I guess, more nostalgic—point of view. I mean, I love books and going to bookstores. My favorite sound is the sound of the needle hitting the record.
MOOALLEM: So you’re in New York most of the time now?
RYDER: Yeah, I’m in Brooklyn. I’m actually trying to do the bicoastal thing now for real. I did it before, but not really. My home is San Francisco—that is definitely what I consider my home. But I have a little place for when I’m in L.A., and then there’s this apartment in Williamsburg, which is the part of Brooklyn where my dad grew up. He came to visit . . . It’s just so hip now.
MOOALLEM: You lived in New York before, though, right?
RYDER: Yeah. I lived on Gramercy Park, which was amazing. I sort of miss it.
MOOALLEM: Do you find it different this time?
RYDER: Well, I’ve been back a couple of years, but I’ve been working quite a bit, so I’d really like to spend a good year here and see how I feel. But I will say that if you’re at all recognizable, it’s pretty easy in New York to avoid the tourist areas, and people in general are a lot less interested in that stuff. I mean, some people go to L.A. just to see recognizable people. There are tour buses. But in New York, everyone seems a little less into that. I will say, though, that San Francisco is a very friendly city. It’s the kind of place where people smile at you and you can strike up conversations on the street, so there’s always an adjustment when I come back to New York. If I smile at someone on the street in New York, then they think there’s something up—like, “Why is she smiling?”
MOOALLEM: They probably think it’s cool, to be honest.
MOOALLEM: “Winona Ryder smiled at me.”
RYDER: I don’t know. I haven’t really tried it, but I have gotten some weird looks that maybe I’ve misread.
MOOALLEM: So you’ve been working a lot lately.
RYDER: Yeah. I’m actually about to do something that I’m really excited about. It’s this film that David Hare is doing that’s part of the Worricker Trilogy. It’s part two—the first one, which he did a couple years ago, was called Page Eight , and it had the most insane cast—Bill Nighy, Ray Fiennes, Judy Davis, Rachel Weisz. Bill Nighy plays this MI5 agent, so it’s sort of a spy thing. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s sort of relevant politically, and the role I play is really different for me.
MOOALLEM: I did a little refresher on some of the films that you’ve done over the last few years—The Private Lives of Pippa Lee , Black Swan, The Dilemma , the new one, The Iceman. They’ve all been very different roles for you. You’ve played a lot of women in the past who are kind of repressed or maybe a little bit vulnerable—and you kind of root for them because of it. But some of these characters are not even necessarily likeable.
RYDER: I would say that the last 10 years—and I did take a few years off at the beginning of that—have been different for me for so many reasons. I mean, you get used to thinking that things are going a certain way because of something, but then you just kind of grow up. Looking back—and this is all in retrospect—I did have a lot of success and a lot of great opportunities earlier in my career. But I did also have this thing that was sort of happening in my late twenties where, whether it was because of how I looked or because I started so young, even though I was the right age for things, people didn’t think that I was old enough. I’m just guessing, but I think for a lot of people, I was the girl from Heathers or Edward Scissorhands . And by the way, it could’ve also been that they just didn’t want me—that might have also been the case. There was a lot of brilliant, exciting talent coming along. I had been working for a while, but then we get someone like Kate Winslet or someone like Sarah Polley—both of whom I love. But who knows? It’s hard thinking back. I mean, I work with people nowadays and see them going through stuff that I went through, and maybe making some mistakes because they’re having their moment. But I remember going through that, too. So it’s interesting for me now to be the older one, because I was always the kid.
I’D NEVER ASKED MYSELF the QUESTION BEFORE OF, “IS IT OKAY IF I’M NOT GOING to ACT? IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE?” BECAUSE THAT WAS ALL I really KNEW. Winona Ryder
MOOALLEM: Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m sure there were a lot of people back then who would conveniently treat you like a kid when it made sense for them to do that . . .
RYDER: And then they’d work me like an adult. Totally—that happened all the time. I mean, as I remember things, I’ve always been on time and prepared. So in my mind, I think I was always a professional in that way. But I’m sure over the course of the last 30 years there were times when I probably wasn’t as fun or whatever as I want to remember. It’s interesting running into people I’m really close with now, but when I worked with them when I was younger . . . Like Gary Oldman, who I love and who is truly one of my favorite actors. I’ve always thought that about him, but when we worked together [on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992], he was going through kind of a hard time. He was going through a divorce, and I think I can say this because he’s pretty open about it, but he’s been sober for a long time now, and he’s raised three kids, and he’s a dream. He’s a good friend of mine now—and I don’t mean to make it sound like more than it was—but when we were working together, I was young and, you know, there was some teen drama. Ethan Hawke is another person who I love—and by the way, I didn’t dislike him when I was working with him [on Reality Bites]. It wasn’t like that. We were just at that age, and everyone was telling us how great we were all the time, so we were sort of buying into it a little bit. But then you get older and you kind of . . . I’m not saying you cringe, but you’re like, “Oh, god.” So I think back on those years, and I do remember them as fun. But I do also remember being told, whether it was by people I was working with or my representatives or people around me or possibly even the media, I was, you know . . . I’m searching for the word here, but it’s really hard to think of an actor who has sustained a perfect career.
MOOALLEM: It’s funny that you mention that time period because we’ve been talking about nostalgia, and there’s this kind of nostalgia for the early ’90s right now.
RYDER: Well, what is it—that it takes 20 years for people to become nostalgic about things? It’s interesting, though, because, growing up, I was always very into the Replacements and the Clash. Then that whole Britpop thing was happening, with the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses and all that—it was becoming really popular. But I remember at the time, even though I may have liked some of that music, I kind of just didn’t want to like it. Then a certain amount of time goes by and it’s like, “Oh, I love that song.” And it’s not about being too cool to listen to pop—I love pop. I mean, at the photo shoot I was putting on—
MOOALLEM: Simple Minds.
RYDER: Simple Minds. I’m particularly nostalgic for those songs. They were big for me because Chrissie Hynde was married to Jim Kerr, who later married Patsy Kensit, who later married . . .
MOOALLEM: Liam Gallagher.
RYDER: Yeah. I remember going to the Greek Theatre in Berkeley when I was 11 or 12. Simple Minds was opening for the Pretenders. I was in the front row and I was getting squashed, so they pushed me up on the stage. I wasn’t trying to get on the stage like other people—I was just literally so small that the security guys came to grab me. But Chrissie was like, “No, no.” So they pulled me up on stage, and she put me up on, like, a speaker and sang “2,000 Miles” to me and ran her fingers through my hair. It was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me to that point. Then later, I met her at a PETA thing—with River [Phoenix] and Martha Plimpton, actually. I was very nervous, but she was so nice. Then I remember I saw her at this concert in Manchester. The hotel where everyone was staying was across the street from the stadium, and I remember walking back there with her and talking about love and stuff. It’s funny because I see so many girls walking down the street now dressing like her. Even with photo shoots—not that I do so many, but the references are so often Chrissie and Siouxsie Sioux. I mean, I went to those shows . . .
MOOALLEM: I think you mentioned to me at one point that you auditioned or screen-tested with River when you were really young.
RYDER: Yeah, for Lucas . I remember . . . I mean . . . he was just so good.
MOOALLEM: He was incredible.
RYDER: Yeah, he was, and maybe I was sort of sheltered or blind to see what was going on, but I didn’t feel it . . . I can see, though, why there might be nostalgia for that time now. I certainly remember that there was more of a mystery about things. I mean, this is what I miss: being an actress, you’d hear that a movie is being made with Al Pacino or Robert De Niro or one of those guys, and then you’d wait a year and then you’d wait on line at the theater. You wouldn’t know anything. You’d maybe know the tagline, or maybe you’d get some inside information from friends, but you really didn’t know. I don’t really understand how it works now with the Internet, but it seems like how can you keep anything a secret? When I did Star Trek , there was a day when I was in a crazy costume, and they were trying to get me from the trailer to the set, so there were all these PAs with umbrellas. I actually thought they were doing it for my comfort, so I was like, “No, guys—it’s okay. I can walk.” But they were like, “Uh . . . No.” Even though we were shooting in the desert, they were holding up the umbrellas because they were worried about paparazzi shooting with long lenses from far away. I remember being like, “Oh, you’re trying to keep this a secret”—like, my outfit.
YOU cannot PLEASE EVERYBODY. PEOPLE WANT YOU TO STAY THE SAME, BUT then THEY KIND OF DON’T. PEOPLE DON’T WANT YOU to GET OLDER, but THEN IT’S like, WHY DO YOU LOOK YOUNG?Winona Ryder
RYDER: I have to say, I really wonder if I would become an actress if I was their age now. I’ve only seen part of Twilight , but I’ve seen their other work and they’re both super-talented. I don’t know how they do it, though, in just trying to maintain some degree of a personal life and privacy. I don’t know how you feel, but when Jodie Foster gave that speech at the Golden Globes, I heard people who were like, “Why is she talking about privacy when she’s on stage?” But I have to say, I got what she was saying. Look, this is a story in Interview, so I do get how people complaining about privacy when they’re actually doing very public things can come across as a bit hypocritical. But I do feel so lucky that I got to get in at least 15 years pre-whatever that show is called where they follow you around and then put it on the Internet. That stuff just didn’t exist before. I also have yet to make sense of reality shows and the whole famous-to-be-famous thing where I don’t really know what they do, but they’re very famous—I know that’s a whole other thing. But in terms of what happened to me or to other people who are friends of mine who have gone through difficult times where it’s really publicized . . . You know, it’s hard—and I do have feelings about it. So it’s a combination of my heart goes out to them, but then at the same time I know that they don’t know anything different.
MOOALLEM: My recollection, though, is that you were always pretty open about what you were going through, whether it was the anxiety or the insomnia or your relationships.
MOOALLEM: But I also think that a lot of people became invested in you in a way that they aren’t with a lot of other actors because of some of your earlier roles, like Lydia in Beetlejuice and Veronica in Heathers.
RYDER: Well, those two roles that you just mentioned are the two that are closest to me. It’s almost like I wasn’t in those movies—I’m a fan of both of them on that level. But if I didn’t get those parts, then I don’t think I would’ve continued to be an actress. I was unusual looking—I didn’t have the look of that time. If you look at Lucas—and, basically, my first five or six movies—the characters are not described in the scripts as attractive people. So I scored in the sense that if I hadn’t done those, I don’t know that I would’ve been cast in other things, because I wasn’t really considered a beauty.
MOOALLEM: Did anyone actually say that?
RYDER: Oh, yeah. I remember one time in particular. I was in the middle of auditioning, and I was mid-sentence when the casting director said, “Listen, kid. You should not be an actress. You are not pretty enough. You should go back to wherever you came from and you should go to school. You don’t have it.” She was very blunt—I honestly think that she thought she was doing me a favor.
MOOALLEM: How old were you?
RYDER: I was around 15 or 16. But it’s funny—and this is a testament to my parents and how they raised me—I wasn’t crushed. They had always instilled in me that it was way cooler to be an individual and to be unique and that you don’t want to blend in. So I was lucky in the sense that, for a lot of girls, I think that would’ve just crushed them. It also happened a couple other times. And then it happened a couple of times through my agent—like, that’s the message I got, but not directly. It’d start as, “She’s not right.” “Well, why not?” “She’s just not pretty enough.” Dan Waters [who wrote Heathers] is a very good friend, and I cannot get this answer, but I believe that they did offer the part to Jennifer Connelly first. Then after that, I did Great Balls of Fire! —which was, again, kind of odd, because I was playing a 13-year-old. But I’ve always sort of assumed that it wasn’t until Mermaids  or Dracula that people thought I was pretty. Although, in Heathers, if you think about it, I am playing pretty. I’m one of the clique. I just had to convince them that I could do it.
MOOALLEM: How did Age of Innocence happen?
RYDER: I did that right after Dracula. I found out I got the part while I was on the set of Dracula. I think they were having a thing for Francis [Coppola] one night, and Jay Cocks, who wrote Age of Innocence, brought me over to Marty [Scorsese], and it just sort of happened. I was so taken aback that I was cast. It was like a dream.
MOOALLEM: It’s really interesting that you were able to go from doing Heathers to working with someone like Tim Burton and then making these films with Coppola and Scorsese, and then also doing a movie like Reality Bites. It sort of set you off on this path with a lot of great turns.
RYDER: I know that the agent I had at the time told me that if I did Heathers, I would never work again. It was so offensive. But I know so many actors with similar stories. I mean, thank god that River and Keanu [Reeves] did My Own Private Idaho . Thank god that Johnny [Depp] did Cry-Baby .
MOOALLEM: Do you think it’s harder in the beginning? Or is it harder later, when you’re more established and you have to find your way after you’ve achieved all of these things?
MY FAVORITE ACTRESS GROWING UP WAS RUTH GORDON from HAROLD AND MAUDE. That’s WHO I WANTED TO BE. Winona Ryder
RYDER: Well, when I said those things about people saying that I wasn’t pretty—I don’t actually think of that time as hard. But I have to credit Tim Burton with that enormously. Not just in getting to work with him as a director, but in getting to know him as a person, as a friend—I kind of went from feeling a little bit weird to feeling very special. That, combined with my parents being the way they were, made me feel like what I was doing was actually kind of cool and exciting.
MOOALLEM: What about that other time you were referring to earlier—the time later on, when you were struggling with the perception that people had of you and what you could do or couldn’t do?
RYDER: That’s something that people . . . You know, that was something I was dealing with before that thing that happened [Ryder’s 2001 arrest for shoplifting]. I was starting to have some trouble before that. I think a lot of people think that that is what sort of sent me off in another direction, but I was actually starting to have some trouble a few years before. And then there were also a couple of movies that I was going to do, that were all set up, and then, at the last minute, they fell apart. I remember that there was a Milos Forman movie with an incredible script, but something happened with the funding, and it was just, you know, bad luck. So I did come up against what felt like a wall. And with what happened . . . I was living up in San Francisco and I really needed the time off, which ended up being a couple of years. In a weird way, it was almost like the best thing that could have happened because I’d never asked myself the question before of, “Is it okay if I’m not going to act? Is there anything else?” because that was all that I really knew. But what I eventually realized was that there were all these other things that I was interested in that I had sort of tried before, but I’d always had to stop because I had to go to work. There were all of these very interesting paths in life that I could explore—and so I started to do that. And then what happens is that you throw yourself into something else and you say, “Oh my god, this other thing is what I want to do.” But then some time goes by and, for me, it was this realization that I still loved acting—and that I still wanted to do it. But it was an amazing feeling to know that there were other things out there that were not all about me and all about making movies. I’ve never really talked about it because I’ve always felt like it might not translate, but whether it was writing or working on reservations, which I’d been doing since I was 20, it was really about having this feeling of actually following through with stuff and also just getting back to having a daily life that you could feel good about and being there in your relationships with your family and your friends. Honestly, as terrible as this sounds, when you’re making movies, you think that those other things are not as important—the most important thing is that you do a good job in the movie and that you’re prepared. So just getting that kind of perspective on life really helped me . . . There was a foundation that I had early on, but I think lost my footing—you know, obviously. [laughs] But then I sort of regained it. I have to admit, though, that every time I hear “comeback, blah, blah, blah,” it’s kind of hard for me. I’m not trying to be super-sensitive at all, but there is a little bit of defensiveness because I do feel like I have contributed. Even if I’d just made Beetlejuice and Heathers, I put in work. So I don’t know if it has to do with the way the business has changed or the press has changed or that people have zero patience because of this instant access, and they get almost amnesia from it . . . I don’t know what it is. It wasn’t like I wasn’t being offered anything. But then, at the same time, I do feel lucky to be working. I just really wanted to be much more selective. I know that a lot of actors can’t afford to do that—and maybe I will become one of them. But I do love what I do, and I want to continue to do it.
WE WERE JUST at THAT AGE, AND EVERYONE WAS TELLING US HOW GREAT WE WERE all THE TIME, SO WE WERE SORT OF BUYING INTO IT a LITTLE BIT. Winona Ryder
MOOALLEM: What makes you want to work now?
RYDER: I try to just pay attention to what I’m feeling. If something is scary to me, then that’s sometimes a good sign—although, sometimes it’s not. [laughs] But I feel like I’ve been taking baby steps. I kind of came back and did Pippa Lee with Rebecca Miller, who I’d known from The Crucible  and Daniel [Day-Lewis, Miller’s husband]. She’s just phenomenal—and to come from that family, it really takes something to do what she’s done. And then Black Swan was interesting because it was a very small role—I’m still not sure why people responded the way they did. You know, Natalie [Portman]—my god, watching her was just incredible and very inspiring. I mean, I felt almost like a Vaudevillian next to her—like old school. She is also a great example of someone who started really young, and I know that she did the whole Star Wars thing for I don’t know how many years, but what she’s done says a lot for getting an education and knowing that there are other things out there. But when Black Swan came out, I was surprised, because I was really just around for a couple of days and I was only in a couple of scenes.
MOOALLEM: But they’re pretty impactful ones.
RYDER: Do you think it’s because of the stabbing in the face?
MOOALLEM: Generally speaking, I want to say that that kind of thing tends to draw focus.
RYDER: Well, when Darren [Aronofsky] approached me about it, it was a very small role, so obviously you have people saying, “Can you beef it up?” and stuff like that. But I was like, “No, don’t say that. It’s not about that.” I’ll be honest, my thought was, “You know, I’ve had my time—and it was fucking great. But this is Natalie’s time, and I would love to support her.” And, obviously, Darren is a very interesting director. But then I also always loved the character of Margo Channing [played by Bette Davis] in All About Eve . There’s this whole scene where’s she’s like, “I’m 40. Bill’s 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it 20 years from now I hate men!” The dialogue in that movie is amazing. So I’m not in any way saying like the Natalie character was like Eve, but I saw Black Swan as an opportunity that I may not get again to have that Margo moment—even if it was very brief. So that was how I approached it, and when the movie came out, it seemed like people responded to it, which was very wonderful and flattering. But at the time, I really didn’t know what it would be.
MOOALLEM: That sort of gets back to what we were talking about earlier about this last run of movies. Obviously, there’s something that you bring to that character, Beth, in Black Swan—both in terms of how you approached it and in terms of how the audience is used to seeing you and feeling about you—that makes her feel much more complicated. That’s one of the things that makes your character in The Iceman, Deborah Kuklinski, a really interesting one, too. Obviously, she’s different for you in the sense that she’s a mother and she’s married to this guy who is a contract killer. I read a piece where somebody referred to Deborah as “naive”—
RYDER: Oh, I disagree.
MOOALLEM: I was just going to say—I disagree, too, because that sort of infers that she was completely blindsided by the discovery that her husband was a hit man. I don’t think I know enough about the real Richard and Deborah Kuklinski to speculate, but based on the characters that emerge in the film—and maybe this is because of how you and Michael Shannon played it—I feel like there is something else going on. How did you read it?
RYDER: I saw her as not naive, to be honest. You know, this was something that I’d never done before—this genre, true crime—and my biggest fear was that there would be something romantic about it. I’m not saying this was the right thing to do, but I could not watch all of those interviews with Richard Kuklinski that are on YouTube or do a lot of research, because what creeps me out even more that the guy himself is the fascination that other people have with this kind of violence. I mean, I get it, but I also see it as repulsive, because this was not a guy in a situation where this guy was war-torn and it was kill or be killed. He was straight-up murdering people for a lot of money. They were living well. Yes, he came from an abusive home—and I do think there is something cyclical about violence. But this guy didn’t overcome anything. I mean, I did look at some of the stuff that’s out there, so I did know the gist of what he did, and then I thought about the wives of people like Bernie Madoff and even about The Sopranos. But I didn’t do a lot of research, because if I had, then I think I would have played it in a way that the director did not want me to play it. I just went through the script with a Sharpie and blacked out all of the scenes where he was killing people and the ones that I wasn’t in where things were happening that she wasn’t aware of—or maybe she was aware them, but was choosing to be in denial about them.
MOOALLEM: I don’t know what happened in real life, but in the movie, Deborah is not really privy to the violence that comes with the killings—although, there are points where she does clearly catch glimpses of that side of him.
THERE WAS a FOUNDATION THAT I THINK I HAD EARLY ON, but I THINK I LOST MY FOOTING—YOU KNOW, OBVIOUSLY. BUT THEN I sort of REGAINED IT. Winona Ryder
RYDER: Well, the fact is that he put her in the hospital. It was not a healthy relationship. That’s why I am reluctant to say, “Oh, I was so fascinated with him.” But what I was fascinated with was the denial aspect and how she could stay with him so long. On some level, she had to have known, and so I think she does bear some responsibility, and that was something that I tried to infuse into the character—a sense of greed and of, like, “Baby, you better go do what you gotta do, because I want to buy my Valentino suits.” It was very important to me to show that she was not this naive, wide-eyed mother. She wants to live the way they’re living. There’s also a scene where the girls come into their bedroom and Deborah says the thing about how there are too many people in the world for god to care about all of them. That’s actually a horrible thing to say to your kids . . .
MOOALLEM: That’s why I feel like there is something more emotionally complex than naïveté going on. It’s actually a much more powerful idea—that someone would prefer to believe something or choose to not acknowledge something.
RYDER: That’s what I really worked for. It was incredibly challenging for me, this part. Another huge thing was that I was the only girl except for these little actresses who play our daughters. They were both around the same age that I was when I started, and I just felt so protective of them because what they were being exposed to, in terms of the subject matter, was really kind of hardcore. I don’t have kids, but I did feel this very instinctive thing, which I think helped. I mean, this was the ’70s, and Deborah didn’t really come from a lot of money, so the idea of taking the kids and leaving him would’ve probably been hard for her. I believe she’s still alive, but she didn’t want to have any contact. So this role was different in a lot of ways. But the biggest thing was that I didn’t want to be part of anything that would cause a lot of pain—especially to the victims’ families. And while I know that a lot of people refer to her as a victim, I don’t. Maybe she didn’t know that he was, like, shooting people in the face, but to have stayed with him for that long, she had to have known on some level.
MOOALLEM: I was watching this American Masters on Philip Roth a couple of weeks ago—
RYDER: He’s like my favorite writer. I’m completely obsessed.
MOOALLEM: Well, he was talking about the research he does for his books, and he said something to the effect of, “I’ve got to rub two sticks of reality together to get a fire of reality.”
RYDER: Wow . . . I love that.
MOOALLEM: Well, I’m wondering: how do you access a character like this that is so different from you and where you kind of think she’s complicit in a way? How do you find your way into it?
RYDER: Well, I have to admit that I do have a crutch where, if I’m on a film and I don’t understand the director or really what’s going on, I just kind of open my big, brown eyes and use that sort of thing that I have. I’ve probably used it more in more forgettable stuff. I’m not proud of it—and now that I’m older, I’m more conscious of it, so I look for things where I can’t do that. This was a role where I could have done it, though—or they might have even wanted me to do it. So I had to really work against that. Michael did help me, too. He doesn’t rehearse, so you don’t really know what he’s going to do until you’re rolling. Actually, in the scene where I confront him, it was written that he walks out of the room. But I didn’t know he was going to go into the kitchen and start throwing things around. But I thank him for it because it pulled me into the present.
MOOALLEM: What’s it like to let go of that crutch?
RYDER: I’ve actually felt liberated in a lot of ways as I’ve gotten older—like I kind of secretly enjoy it. That’s one of the reasons, though, that I can’t really engage too much in the Internet. You cannot please everybody. When you start out as a kid and then you have these great roles early on and even into your twenties, you’re doing movies like Reality Bites, people want you to stay the same, but then they kind of don’t. People don’t want you to get older, but then it’s like, “Why do you look young?” It’s funny, because I went straight from the Interview shoot to this premiere, and I still had on all the makeup, and my friend told me that some people were literally saying that I’d had work done—which, by the way, I’ve found is like normal hygiene now on sets. I’m not trying to knock it, but, you know, I have a little bit of traffic now on my forehead—which I’m like very proud of actually—and it’s interesting how people just instinctively are like, “Oh, maybe you should get something done for that.” And it’s like, “Really?” So I’m excited about this new phase. You know, my favorite actress growing up was Ruth Gordon from Harold and Maude . That’s who I wanted to be. So I’m flattered that someone thought I looked nice at the premiere, but I just want to remember to be present and to have that sort of thoughtfulness about what I’m doing. As much as I hear people say that thing of, “Look, it’s a job—it’s a gig,” even if you’re doing a scene and it’s just like two lines, so much can happen—and it can happen with a huge movie star who is brilliant or with a day player. I remember having a moment like that when I was 14 and working with Jason Robards. It’s in those moments that you fall in love with acting. Or re-fall in love with it.
STEPHEN MOOALLEM IS THE EDITOR IN CHIEF OF INTERVIEW.