Hollywood Spotlight: Winona Ryder

239 views November 16, 2017 12:00 PM

Written by: Karen Cryer

This week our Hollywood Spotlight is on the immensely talented Winona Ryder! With her recent success in the Netflix sci-fi thriller series “Stranger Things”, plus her nineties status as a teen icon and her unique performances in an array of unusual roles, we wanted to discover more about this timeless, quirky actress.

Born Winona Laura Horowitz in Olmsted County, Minnesota, on 29 October 1971, the actress was surrounded by a fairly large family growing up. She has one younger brother, Urie, an older half-brother, Jubal and an older half-sister, Sinyata, from her mother’s previous marriage. Her mother, Cynthia, is an author and video producer and her father, Michael, is a publisher and bookseller.  

Image: PK Baseline

From the age of seven, Ryder and her family lived on a 380-acre property with several other families in Northern California. It was during this time that she developed a passion for reading and reflects back on her years surrounded by redwood trees with much fondness. Her parents (her father was an Atheist and her mother a Buddhist) raised her with few rules, encouraging her to make her own decisions and to think for herself. She claims that her strong sense of independence is all thanks to her parents.

When Ryder was 10 years old, her family moved to the nearby town of Petaluma. She attended Kenilworth Junior High for one short, miserable week because a group of children bullied her and ended up beating her up so badly that she needed stitches. Instead of expelling the bullies, the school kicked Winona out. For the rest of the year, she was home-schooled.

By the time she was 12, she had already caught the acting bug, after watching old movies with her mother. She enrolled in the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and began taking acting classes. It wasn’t long before Ryder was cast in her first movie role. After spotting her at an audition for the movie, “Desert Bloom”, director David Seltzer decided to hire her for his movie “Lucas” in 1985.

Her first starring role was in “Square Dance”, as a young girl who has to deal with living in a big city after growing up in the country. Although the movie wasn’t particularly well-received, Winona’s performance certainly was, with the Los Angeles Times hailing her performance as a ‘remarkable debut’.

Image: Bustle

She excelled in her next role as sarcastic goth Lydia in Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice”, holding her own alongside Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Keaton. After starring in 1998’s “Heathers” as a teen murderess, alongside Christian Slater, Ryder became a teen icon and her subsequent roles throughout the nineties as the quirky rebel resonated with young audiences.

She was the antithesis of the “all-American girl” and inspired with her intelligent, dark performances, even when she played a peppy blonde cheerleader, in Tim Burton’s strange, unconventional love story “Edward Scissorhands” in 1990.

Her highlights during the nineties include playing Cher’s daughter in “Mermaids”; starring in Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth” as a cab driver; playing Mina Murray/Elizabeta in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”; the spirited Jo March in “Little Women”; acting alongside Ben Stiller in “Reality Bites”; playing a patient in a psychiatric hospital in “Girl, Interrupted”; and playing the naive young woman in Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence”.

Then, in 2001, came the infamous shoplifting incident: Ryder was caught on camera stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from the upscale department store, Saks Fifth Avenue. She was sentenced to three years’ probation, 480 hours of community service and fined several thousand dollars. 

She did appear in a couple of films during 2002 that were filmed before the incident (“Mr. Deeds” and “Simone”) but took a step back from acting for several years. Although her break felt necessary for her, and she welcomed returning to ‘normal life’ for that period, it also made her realize how much she loved acting and ultimately, she decided that she couldn’t stay away.

In 2006, she returned with a bang in Richard Linklater’s disturbing sci-fi “A Scanner Darkly”, based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. That same year, she appeared in the comedy “The Darwin Awards” alongside Joseph Fiennes. Since then, she has continued to surprise and intrigue audiences with her variety of roles and powerful screen presence.

Whether playing Beth in the critically acclaimed “Black Swan”, wife of real-life contract killer Richard Kuklinski in “The Iceman”, or playing comedic roles in “The Dilemma” and the television series “Drunk History”, we still can’t get enough of Winona Ryder.

Of course, we can’t talk about Ryder without mentioning “Stranger Things”. The eerie Netflix hit show, released in October 2016, has fully propelled Ryder to the forefront, yet again. She plays Joyce Byers, a single mother whose youngest son mysteriously disappears. Perfectly cast as the tough, off-beat outsider, her performance as Joyce is totally convincing as she has thrown herself into the emotionally demanding character in each and every episode.

Image: Business Insider

Ryder is an intensely private person and prefers to stay out of the limelight. She was famously engaged to Johnny Depp back in the nineties - she was with him for four years - and dated Matt Damon several years later. She has been in a relationship with the fashion designer, Scott Mackinlay-Hahn since 2011, but doesn’t intend to marry. Her parents are still madly-in-love and she claims this gave her an extremely high, perhaps impossible, standard to meet in her own love life.

What makes Ryder so appealing, especially in today’s world of social media and image-centric society is her independent spirit. She still shies away from the public eye, bucking the trend of tweeting and Instagramming every aspect of her life. In contrast to many fellow celebrities, she has never had cosmetic surgery or a stylist and instead embraces growing old, continuing to be a trendsetter to this day. 

Ryder won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Supporting Role in 1993 for her performance in Scorsese's “The Age of Innocence”, Favourite Supporting Actress (Sci-Fi) at the 1997 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards and Best Supporting Actress at both the 1990 and the 1993 National Board of Review Awards, as well as being nominated for several Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Screen Actors Guild Awards throughout her career.

Here are some more fun facts about Winona Ryder:
  • She was named after the town of Winona, in Minnesota.
  • When the director of “Lucas” asked how she wanted her name to appear in the film credits, a Mitch Ryder record was playing in the background and she decided on ‘Winona Ryder’. 
  • Her godfather is the famous psychologist, Timothy Leary.
  • Her middle name is Laura because her parents were friends with the author Aldous Huxley’s wife, Laura Huxley.
  • Johnny Depp got a tattoo which said ‘Winona Forever’ when they were engaged. He then changed it to ‘Wino Forever’ following their split.
  • In 2001, she offered a reward for finding a kidnapped girl, Polly Klaas, who went missing from her hometown of Petaluma.
  • After discovering that Klaas had died, she dedicated her performance in “Little Women” to Klaas, as this was the girl’s favourite book.
  • Her favourite band is The Replacements.
  • She was initially cast to play Mary Corleone in “The Godfather Part III”, but had to back out due to an illness.
  • Often described as ‘ageless’, she is someone who is actually excited about getting older and finds that playing women her own age is liberating.
  • In 2015, she became the face of Marc Jacobs.
  • She cried for 10 hours after shooting the scene in “Stranger Things”, where Joyce is able to communicate with her son using Christmas lights.

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