October 29, 1971– Winona Ryder:
“I went from weirdo teenager to pixie waif to them not knowing what the hell to do with me.”
Just for fun, a little Mel Gibson anecdote from Ryder:
“I remember fifteen years ago, I was at one of those big Hollywood parties. And, he was really drunk. I was with my friend, who’s gay. He made a really horrible gay joke. And somehow it came up that I was Jewish. He said something about ‘oven dodgers,’ but I didn’t get it. I’d never heard that before. It was just this weird, weird moment. I was like, ‘He’s anti-Semitic and he’s homophobic.’ No one believed me!”
It’s tough to consider doe-eyed, dark-haired, emotionally fragile Winona Ryder without taking into account the myths that surrounded her as she came to define a certain kind of 1990s authentic cool. For young people during that era, Ryder represented someone outside of the mainstream. She became known in late 1980s as a sort of cult-movie ingénue: the Goth Lydia Deetz in Tim Burton’s horror-comedy Beetlejuice (1988); Veronica, the smart member of the mean-girls clique, in the dark comedy Heathers (1989); and tomboy cab driver Corky who picks up a Hollywood executive played by Gena Rowlands in Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth (1991). She was the very embodied the essence of Gen-X Existentialism in Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites (1994). Ryder became an icon of idiosyncratic angst, but she was also one of the most precociously talented actors of that generation.
Ryder was born Winona Laura Horowitz. Her mother is an author and editor, and her father is a publisher and antiquarian bookseller. Her godfather was psychedelics guru Timothy Leary, which explains some stranger things. She grew up in San Francisco, except for four years when they all lived in a commune in Northern California.
As a youth, she fell in love with the movies, especially attracted to the work of Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, and Audrey Hepburn. Her acting idols would be proud of her work during her adult era: The Crucible (1996) with Daniel Day-Lewis and Joan Allen; Alien Resurrection (1997), alongside Sigourney Weaver; Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992); Girl, Interrupted (1999), which she also executive produced, and Darren Aronofsky’s psycho drama Black Swan (2010).
Her work in Martin Scorsese’s The Age Of Innocence (1993) brought her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and two years later, she received another Oscar nom, this time as Best Actress for Little Women (1995).
But, Ryder took a little bit of a hiatus from showbiz to study constitutional law, linguistics, and etymology. She claims to have an archivist gene, possibly inherited from her father who was Timothy Leary’s official archivist.
She returned to acting in 2015, as a city council president who advocates for integration opposite Oscar Isaac in the HBO limited series Show Me A Hero, and then blowing away critics and audiences last year as the frantic but determined mother Joyce Byers in the Netflix supernatural, super-duper series Stranger Things, which brought Ryder Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations. She won the SAG for Best Ensemble, along with her Stranger Things cast.
Although Ryder doesn’t have children, she has real onscreen rapport with the young actors on Stranger Things. Of her character Ryder wrote:
“I feel tremendous compassion for her, like she was one of these people that had dreams, but she had kids. And it made me think of all the women I know who have kids, who when they talk about their lives as mothers, they always say ‘But I love my kids, I wouldn’t trade them for the world’. Like they feel guilty for even hinting that they’d want something outside of kids! It’s a weird thing.”
Unlike most people these days, Ryder is not on social media. She says she doesn’t know how to use it, and is glad because it spares her the experience of being stalked or harassed online. She says she knows what it is like to be bullied:
“As a kid, I was obsessed with the movie Bugsy Malone and had cut my hair short. I remember the halls were empty and these kids started shouting ‘faggot’, and I didn’t think they were talking to me. Walking home after leaving the nurse’s office, I remember pressing on the bandage because I wanted it to look more dramatic. I had this inner monologue going of Humphrey Bogart, like, ‘being roughed up!’. I was pretending I was in some gangster movie. It was oddly my way of dealing with it, because if I didn’t, I probably would have been really scared.”
She is open about her own struggles with anxiety and depression, which brings us to what you’ve probably been thinking about if you think about Ryder: she came under intense scrutiny and was the subject of many a joke when in December 2001, she was charged with shoplifting more than $5,000 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Several types of prescription medication were found in her possession at the time of her arrest. Every move of Ryder’s experience with the judicial process made news. Despite pleading not guilty, she was convicted of grand theft in November 2002. Ryder was sentenced to 480 hours of community service and three years’ probation. She was also ordered to pay several fines and undergo counseling.
Everyone talked about her as being cray-cray. Ryder had very public romances with Johnny Depp, Matt Damon and Dave Pirner from the band Soul Asylum. She and Depp were engaged in the 1990s, and he had her name tattooed on his arm.
In the years that followed, Ryder kept a low profile, only working occasionally. That is until Stranger Things. She can hardly hide now.
Stranger Things is set in the 1980s and is an homage to pop culture of that decade and is informed by the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King. The Duffers were drawn to Ryder because of her predominance in the films of the 1980s. Ryder praised that the show’s multiple storylines required her to act for Joyce as if “she’s out of her mind, but she’s actually kind of onto something”. It is a balancing act that Ryder pulls off perfectly.
The second season of the sweet and scary Stranger Things began streaming on Friday, October 27. Although there has been no official word from Netflix, The Duffers say they are in pre-production for Season Three.