WINONA RYDER IS AMUSED. 'Did you hear why we didn't have the royal premiere?' she says, arching her perfect eyebrows. 'The Queen viewed the movie, and nixed it.' She is three weeks into filming her next film, Alien: Resurrection with Sigourney Weaver, but it is The Crucible that is on her mind: 'Yeah! Apparently it is because it's about infidelity,' she says, chuckling. 'And there's too much going on already.'
It is the first time in our interview that Ryder has had that impish-punk quality that, in films such as Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, and Beetlejuice made her an icon of the M.T.V. generation. The young woman sitting opposite me in a demure Prada outfit is at pains to show how much she has grown up. As Abigail Williams, in Nicholas Hytner's magnificent rendition of The Crucible, she has made a leap forward as an actress. Gone is the off-beat minimalism that has been her signature ever since, aged thirteen, she sidled out of a crowd of teenage children in David Seltzer's Lucas, and said in a deadpan voice: 'Hi! How was your summer?' Gone, too, is the androgynous Gestalt and sticky gaze. In its place is a performance that is rawer, more powerful and more (hetero) s-xual than anything she has done before. Her eyes burn holes in the screen.
'It was the best acting experience I have ever had,' she says. 'And my relationship with Nick [Hytner] was the best I've ever had with a director. I feel like I've really found someone who understands me and communicates perfectly with me.' Hytner will collaborate with her again on her next film, The Object of My Affection, a comedy of s-xual manners from Stephen McCauley's novel of the same name.
In his autobiography, Timebends, Arthur Miller has said that the idea driving The Crucible is 'the projection of one's own vileness on to others in order to wipe it out with their blood.' Put simply: Abigail is a mega-bitch. Ryder has a different take on the character:
'To me, the key line in the movie is when Proctor [played by Daniel Day-Lewis] says to her, "We never touched." For a man to say that to a girl he's been f-cking since she was a child! It's so sick. So abusive. It would be enough to send anyone spinning.' And spin she does, destroying a whole town because the man she loves has dumped her. 'I've always played the person that you root for, the person who does the right thing. And to play someone who is responsible, in a way, for these deaths, was a great challenge. But I had to justify it: you have to - you have no choice.'
Abigail Williams as an Oprah-style victim? When I suggest that, in another context, she would have been the sort of girl who betrayed Jews to the Gestapo because she had been jilted by a Rabbi, Ryder sucks in her breath with a strange, croaking sound.
The suggestion cuts to the bone. She was named Winona after the Minnesota town of her birth, and Ryder after Mitch Ryder, a jazz musician her father happened to be listening to when her agent called and asked how she wanted to appear on the credits of her first film. Her real name is Horowitz. Some of her relations died in the Holocaust. 'I'm Russian and Rumanian. So's most of my family. My grandparents made it out to America.' Is that where the melancholy, that always seems to be hovering just below the surface, comes from?
THE TRAGEDY AT THE CENTER OF The Crucible is precipitated by Abigail's ability to act. She pretends to pull a dagger from her stomach. She shams seeing a yellow bird in the courthouse. Was it hard acting acting? 'Nick asked me to play it like we were really hallucinating. You're acting but you're still saying: "Okay, this is really happening." But, eventually, she believes her own lies. She's clearly completely insane.'
Finding that insanity in herself was Ryder's greatest challenge: 'I think it's always complicated to play someone who's insane, but you have to understand their insanity, and that's an oxymoron.'
Oxymoron is not the sort of word you hear very often in Hollywood, and few actresses claim to be bibliophiles. 'I have the best first-edition collection in the world! I have all of Salinger,' she enthuses (with her strong California accent it comes out as Sarrnjer). 'And all of George Orwell. A lot of Yeats. I have Forster, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde. It's what I spend my money on.'
Well, some of it. Though only 25, Ryder already has two houses: one in San Francisco, the other in Los Angeles. She drives a new Mercedes-Benz, and has a soft spot for not exactly cheap clothes from Milan. Up-close, she is minute. She might no longer have the seventeen-inch waist once reported of her - the elfin frame is filling out with womanly curves but the first, startling impression is one of tininess. Everything - her wrists, her ears, her feet - is in miniature, as though the shrinking process she underwent in Beetlejuice has not quite worn off.
'I blow over when it's windy,' she says, laughing. Has being so small affected the way she experiences the world? 'I love it romantically, I have to say. I love feeling small against a man.' Blushing. I change the subject.
'Does being so small make you feel vulnerable?' I ask, reminding her of an incident from her childhood, when two louts beat her up in her high-school locker-room (they thought that she was a gay boy). 'Yeah,' she says, chuckling. 'I wonder if I should have told that story. I mean, every kid was. But, yeah...'
The thought fizzles out. Then she leans forward, rests her chin in her hands, and becomes very serious: 'I used to think in my late adolescence - well actually, my mid-to-late adolescence, until I was about twenty - I used to think that I really didn't belong here. It wasn't a suicidal thought: it was very rational. Like, I don't think I was meant to be here on this planet.'
Like the screen icon of an earlier generation, Katharine Hepburn, Winona Ryder remains preoccupied with her childhood and adolescence. With the slightest prompting, she will talk about it at length. When she does, she has a way of disappearing into herself. She is rarely expansive and never theatrical. Yet, like a Peking Opera actor, she has a gamut of minimalist gestures with which she communicates feelings. Martin Scorsese, her favourite director, has said that all her energy is in her eyes, and it is true. Her body-language is cool. Her eyes are all heat and emotion: they glow with enthusiasm, they darken with Angst. 'I feel what happens to you when you're a kid, or a teenager, is as important as what happens to you as an adult. And I think it's important to give that kind of respect: speaking to a six-year-old about their problems should be as important as talking to an adult. I hated it when adults talked down to me. Kids are smart. I am much more fascinated by what they say than by most adults.'
Ryder's childhood was an unusual one, to say the least. Her father, Michael Horowitz, played a Sixties Boswell to Timothy Leary's Dr. Johnson, chronicling the L.S.D. guru's every word and, at one time, even busting him out of jail and smuggling him to Switzerland. To return the favour, Leary became Winona's godfather. She was with him when he died last summer. 'These people were all sitting around really stoned, and I just wanted to go: "He was a person!" He wasn't just all this talk, all these words in books! He was a person. He was my godfather! My relationship with him was one of the most stable relationships I have ever had.'
The commune where Ryder lived with her parents and seven other families on a 300-acre tract of land among the redwoods of northern California was anything but stable. 'For years, I had tinfoil on my windows so no light could come in. I hated light. And my parents were really worried that I had that disease where I couldn't be in sunlight, or something. I moved the T.V. into my room, and I would just watch this channel that played old movies. I just wanted to remove myself completely from the world I was living in. I hated the whole hippie movement. I hated that we lived in a commune. I hated that we were always very poor. I didn't mind that, actually. But if we had to be poor I wanted it to be like in a movie. I wanted it to be like Oliver Twist'
THE YEARS ON THE COMMUNE forged her personality. She will not 'do nude' in films. She loves comfort, not squalor; Armani, not gladrags; structure, not chaos. She does not take drugs. She does not drink. She does not sleep around. Surprisingly, she does adore her parents and siblings Sunyata, Jubal, and Yuri (for Yuri Gagarin, no less), though you can be sure that if she has children herself she will not choose names like those. 'I just wanted so desperately to be normal. Timothy Leary always said: "Question authority!" And I remember when I was little saying to my parents: "Well, you're my authority, and I'm questioning you. My rebellion and my individuality is this."'
Not that she is exactly 'normal'. She likes to hang out with singer Victoria Williams, a sort of female Arlo Guthrie. She is fascinated with other worlds and parallel universes. She likes off-beat films and books. But, when I suggest that her most recent intimate others, Johnny Depp and David Pirner, the hirsute singer of Soul Asylum, with whom she has just broken up, are Sixties-type rebels, she laughs. 'They're actually not. That's their image, maybe, but they're momma's boys, and have a strong sense of family. That was what attracted me to them.'
And that is all she will say about her love-life. She responds to questions with the candour of a teenager, and her reactions - a fluting laugh, a conspiratorial whisper - have a child-like spontaneity at odds with Hollywood's well-lacquered surfaces. But, by skating over difficult subjects and rambling on about ones with which she feels comfortable ('the best thing is to just talk away, and then the interviewer can't ask you too many questions'), she manages to withhold as much as she discloses.
This combination of naivety and a highly evolved sense of self is the secret of her success. She has been a Hollywood insider since childhood (she made her first film at thirteen, and nine more in the next five years). Few actresses work harder at perfecting artifice. None is as besotted by or informed about Hollywood culture. She has seen, and sees, everything. An ingenue Winona Ryder is not.
Nicholas Hytner has said, 'She is having such a good career, because she never worries about her career.' But no one gets where she has got in Hollywood without worrying about every last detail of her career. By following her instincts, and being discriminating about the films she will do (bottom line: no junk), she has only increased her value.
It now stands at about $4 million per role, putting her just outside the top ten female earners. Recently, she has emerged as a major behind-the-scenes player. Little Women and Dracula (the only junk she has done) were made only because she went to bat for them. She has also been quietly building a career as a producer. She has secured film rights to several books, hired the script-writers, and commissioned the directors. One is Girl Interrupted, Susan Kaysen's memoir of her confinement in a psychiatric hospital. The other is The Trials of Maria Barbella, by Idanna Pucci. Both are about the Weltschmerz of young women.
Winona Ryder knows all about that, but she seems to be leaving it behind. 'I read a quote of Meryl Streep where she said that she finally felt relaxed when she turned 40. She finally felt like she was in her own skin. And I finally feel like I am in my own skin. You spend years being treated like a kid, and worked like an adult, which is weird. Now I've graduated: 'I've done the cross-over'
Nine years ago, Winona Ryder was in trouble - if not exactly a girl interrupted, then a young woman with personal problems. Burned out from shooting The House of Spirits in Europe, wracked by her breakup with her first serious boyfriend, Johnny Depp, and suffering from insomnia and anxiety attacks, she felt that her grip on reality was slipping away. "I thought I was losing my mind," she said. "You know when you are just so tired you can't sleep?"
Ryder checked herself into a hospital, where she rested for two days, recording her thoughts in a journal and reading J.D. Salinger's Franny & Zooey. After filming Girl, Interrupted, a 1999 movie that eerily mirrored her own situation, she spoke about her time in the hospital, making it clear that even someone blessed with extraordinary beauty, brains, talent, wealth and fame can go through blue periods.
"One of the things I thought for years, which is kind of f--ed up, is that I'm not O.K.," said the actor, who kept her insecurities to herself because she worried that "..people would think I'm a brat if I complained about anything." She explained: "If I say I was depressed, they'll attack me." Her revelation? "That's not true. I'm allowed to say 'Wow, I had a hard time.' "
These days, Ryder, 30, is going through a rocky period once again, only this time, at the behest of her lawyer, she's not allowed to talk about it. On December 12, she was arrested outside Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and charged with stealing $4,760 worth of merchandise - reportedly clothes, hair accessories and handbags - and possessing pharmaceutical drugs (a potpourri of addictive painkillers thought to be Demerol, Percocet and Vicodin) without a prescription. Ryder's attorney, Mark Geragos, who has defended Whitewater figure Susan McDougal and former first brother Roger Clinton, tells us that "there was no theft" and termed the incident a "misunderstanding that will be explained."
And the drugs? According to Geragos, a few days before she went shopping, Ryder re-injured the wrist she had broken in April while shooting her next film, Mr. Deeds, a comedy also starring Adam Sandler, and she was carrying pain relievers that had been prescribed by doctors. "Once the police see the prescriptions, I expect them to drop those charges," he says. "It's nothing."
Perhaps he's right, and whatever happened will be excused at Ryder's January 11 arraignment as what a former associate calls "the karma that comes with being a bit of a drama queen." However, the police maintain that they have not seen any store receipts or prescriptions ("The drugs weren't in the type of vials you pick up at Rite Aid," says Lieutenant Gary Gilmond of the Beverly Hills Police Department). So whatever the legal maneuverings, Ryder's day in court this week may not clear up all the questions about her behavior. "If the police bring us the evidence, we'll make the decision whether or not to file charges," says Sandy Gibbons, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles district attorney's office, who sloughed off Geragos's characterization of the incident as a mistake. "What do you think he's going to say?" she says. "Most suspects aren't Winona Ryder."
Indeed, Winona Laura Horowitz, as she was born, has been twice nominated for an Academy Award (for 1993's The Age of Innocence and 1994's Little Women) and has often been held up by people her age as a role model. Many of Ryder's films - such as Heathers, Edward Scissorhands and Reality Bites - have become Generation X touchstones. In 1993, she lent comfort to the parents of murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas, a former neighbor of hers in Petaluma, California, and she has campaigned to free jailed Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Since breaking up with Depp, she has dated Matt Damon and a who's who of alternative rockers, including Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner, Beck and, most recently, Pete Yorn. "She's Ava Gardner but add 80 I.Q. points," says a friend.
Ryder fits the profile of a Saks customer, not a criminal. She commands an estimated $6 million per film, lives in a $3 million Beverly Hills home, likes wearing the classic styles of designer Giorgio Armani and, as one of her friends tells us, "has impeccable, really gorgeous taste."
Many in Hollywood did not take the news of her shoplifting arrest seriously. Soon after the incident, 'free winona' T-shirts began popping up across L.A., from studio soundstages to the shops on fashionable Melrose Avenue. E! Online gossip columnist Ted Casablanca reported going into Saks and asking two saleswomen if Ryder had been in lately. "Faster than it takes to max out your credit card in a joint like that," he wrote, "one of the smock-covered babes stretched her plump forearms skyward and yelled 'Free Winona!'"
Yet Ryder's actions in the three-story granite-and-marble shoppers' mecca did catch the attention of Saks security personnel on that pre-Christmas Wednesday evening. Police said store security observed her for more than a half-hour as she used scissors to remove sensor security tags from several items and place the goods in her shopping bag.
Around 7 p.m., Ryder left the store and was immediately stopped by two security guards - one male and one female - who escorted her back inside and called the police. When the officers arrived, they handcuffed Ryder, took her to the Beverly Hills station and led her upstairs to the second-floor jail area, where she was fingerprinted, photographed and then allowed to call her attorney. Despite the circumstances, she was polite and pleasant - the officers described her as a "nice lady." Finally, at 11:40 p.m., she was released on $20,000 bail.
Geragos asserts that Ryder bought merchandise at Saks, has receipts and was stopped simply because store clerks in different departments were unaware "what personnel were doing in other areas." "I don't like to make statements that will bite me in the butt," he says, "but I have with my own eyes seen charges for that day at Saks."
Does that mean Ryder could have bought some pieces and then not paid for other merchandise by mistake? "It's been reported she didn't purchase any items, but I think that's categorically untrue," he says. "She did purchase thousands of dollars of items. I assume they're claiming she took merchandise, too. The fact is that my client never had any intent to deprive anybody of any property."
If it turns out that she did take merchandise, Ryder - who in 1997 admitted that she was the object of a citizen's arrest after stealing a comic book when she was 12 - would not be the first celebrity to be caught shoplifting. Also accused of pilfering: tennis star Jennifer Capriati (jewelry, in 1993); former Miss America Bess Meyerson (department-store items, in 1988); '40s actress Hedy Lamarr (drugstore sundries, in 1991); film critic Rex Reed (C.D.s, in 2000); and rap star Ol' Dirty Bastard (sneakers, in 1998). Tales of celebrity shoplifting are a colorful part of Hollywood lore. "For years, I've heard about a former s-x symbol who's supposed to be a klepto," a Hollywood executive tells us. "Supposedly, her assistant calls after she's been in the store and asks how much she owes."
Why do wealthy, high-profile people steal things they can afford? According to Dr. Robert Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell University, celebrities can often develop overriding - but fragile - feelings of grandiosity. If they don't receive the acclaim that they have grown used to, he says, "they really sink; they plummet, like bursting a narcissistic balloon. . . . It's self-involvement of 'I've failed, I'm the worst, I'm alone.' It's tremendously isolating. [Then] they actually take physical or personal risks . . . because they are not adequately paying attention to the outside world."
Ryder has kept a low profile since her arrest. She spent the holidays with her family and has, in the past few weeks, been at several film-related meetings. Even though "she's doing well," according to a close associate, "she's obviously upset by the situation. It was horribly embarrassing to her." According to several sources, Ryder has failed to return phone calls and e-mails, which is unlike her, and for some, that's reason to worry.
Ryder was 7 when her hippie parents, bookstore owner Michael Horowitz and teacher Cindy Horowitz, moved her and her two brothers, Jubal and Uri, from their home in Winona, Minnesota, to a commune in rural Northern California. Lack of convention was the norm. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg was a friend of the family's, and L.S.D. guru Timothy Leary was her godfather. Once, her mother screened old movies in a barn during the day, and Ryder was allowed to stay home from school to watch.
When she was 11, Ryder's parents moved to Petaluma, a small town outside San Francisco, and she took acting classes at the American Conservatory Theater. Four years later, Ryder was cast in Lucas, her first film. By 18, she was on Hollywood's fast track on and offscreen, having starred in 1988's Beetlejuice and fallen in love, in 1989, with Depp, who got a tattoo that said 'Winona forever.'
However, by 1990, Ryder began to show signs of being physically and emotionally fragile. In that year, she backed out of playing Mary Corleone in The Godfather: Part Three after reportedly catching the flu. According to a friend of Ryder's, she injured her ribs wearing a corset during The Age of Innocence and suffered from an ear infection on Alien: Resurrection four years later. Last spring, she broke her wrist making Mr. Deeds, and this past August, she came down with a severe gastroenterological problem that forced her out of the film Lily and the Secret Planting. Yet the day after she flew back to L.A. from the London production, Ryder was photographed hiking in Franklin Canyon near her home in Beverly Hills. "Very strange, since she was supposed to be resting," says a photo-agency source.
Ryder's personal life has been plagued with unfortunate reversals as well. Her close friendship with Gwyneth Paltrow mysteriously evaporated almost as soon as it started. "Don't ask," she told an interviewer two years ago. In 1997, the two became inseparable after meeting at an Armani fashion show. Their relationship fizzled just as quickly, reportedly when Paltrow landed her Oscar-winning role in Shakespeare in Love after seeing the script in Ryder's apartment. "I wasn't around for the main fight, but from what I understood, some heavy punches were thrown on both sides," says a friend of the pair, speaking figuratively. "The friendship burned out real fast because it was on high speed from the start."
Earlier this month, Ryder also had to quell reports in The National Enquirer that her ups and downs stem from a drug problem that worsened after her two-year relationship with Damon ended in early 2000. The actor's representatives deny that Ryder has a substance-abuse problem. "Because of her upbringing, she's certainly experimented and would say that to anybody," a woman who has worked with Ryder tells us. "But she wasn't doing drugs when I was around her."
But she does like to have fun. Last June, Ryder was partying hard at New York's Russian Tea Room with Courtney Love, who shared a setup of scotch, vodka and wine with her friend before performing a scorching set of old torch songs. "Ryder was a brilliant emcee," says Love, who at one point during her boozy set declared, "We're the two most f-cked-up Jewish intellectual c-nts on the planet." What does Love think of her pal's latest jam? "I don't know, and I'm not tattling," she says. "She's not a bad person. She's a good actor. She's a good friend."
Ryder has remained devoted to the family of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped from a slumber party in 1993. Ryder offered a $200,000 reward and volunteered in the search effort. (Three months later, Klaas was found dead; Richard Allen Davis was convicted of her murder in June 1996.) The actor still sends the family Christmas cards and donates money in their name to charities. "She was totally genuine," says Polly's father, Marc Klaas, of Ryder's support during the search. "She shed real tears, showed real concern and took time to help a desperate family. She was our angel." Some in Hollywood say Ryder will be able to fly above her legal problems, however they're resolved. "I'd hire her in a second," says Tom Rothman, the chairman of 20th Century Fox Studios. "She's a fantastic talent, a professional, and the people who work with her know that. Talent and decency will win out in the end." Adds Klaas: "Whatever went down, no one got hurt, and there was no evil intent. She will be fine."
She may even shop again - at Saks. The store's corporate spokesperson, Lori Rhodes, says Ryder is welcome back: "I can't imagine why she wouldn't be... if she came in and paid for something."
On a warm afternoon in May, I go to Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. with Winona Ryder and her father, Michael Horowitz. She is spectacularly pretty, and he is handsome, albeit in a nebbishy, professorial sort of way befitting a cultural critic and dealer in rare books such as himself. There is something anachronistic about the duo. Ryder, in fisherman's cap, men's cashmere hoodie by Marc Jacobs, black miniskirt, black tights, and black boots (also Marc Jacobs), lacks only a battered copy of Howl to be utterly and ravishingly Beat; Horowitz, in beat-up denims, a gray cloth cap, and a Joy Division tee layered under a skinny striped shirt, seems only a paperback of The Basketball Diaries short of being a poster man for grunge. In fact, father and daughter are shopping for a copy on Philip Roth's When She Was Good (1967), which Ryder hasn't read in donkey's years. But Book Soup doesn't have a copy, and the two of them do what bibliophiles everywhere do, which is to drift through thickets of fiction in a trance of happiness, pausing only to exchange opinions on tomes by Joseph Heller, William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thomas Pynchon.
Then something happens that does not happen very often to bibliophiles everywhere: We bump into Marianne Faithfull, carrying volumes of Gore Vidal that she plans to read on her tour bus. "My dear sweet girl," Faithfull says in that Anglo-Irish purr, removing her Roger Vivier sunglasses and enclosing Winona in a hug involving Louis Vuitton (belt), Chanel (bag), white shirt, and jeans. They've known each other for years, it turns out. "I just sold a signed copy of your autobiography to a collector in Geneva!" exclaims Horowitz. Faithfull nods: "I know the guy—Julio." While she and Horowitz start talking about Gregory Corso ("I loved Gregory awfully. He was awful, but I adored him," Faithfull says), Ryder keeps trawling through the stacks. A bookstore clerk approaches her. "Have you heard the new Wilco?" he asks nerdily. "No, I haven't. Can you believe that?" "I can't," the clerk says, a little bitterly. "I thought you were hard-core."
Ryder settles on Arthur Miller's last novella, Homely Girl; Flight, by Sherman Alexie; and an episodic memoir by Peter Case (former lead singer of the New Wave band the Plimsouls) titled As Far as You Can Get Without a Passport. But when it comes to settling up, something odd happens: She and her father seem completely at a loss as to how exactly to do it. There is a lot of faffing about and anxious discussion over whether the line to pay is too long, whether she should come back tomorrow, and whether, in fact, they have all they need or perhaps too much. At bottom, it's a transitional crisis: how to leave the sanctuary of the bookstore and reenter the glare of Hollywood. Indeed, once they're outside, a schlubby male fan immediately asks Ryder for her signature; she declines. ("He'll call the paparazzi," she predicts, and, yes, within ten minutes, one appears.) She autographs "only for under-thirteens."
Which makes one ask, how many under-thirteens out there are fans of Winona Ryder? It's hard to believe, but it's been more than a decade since Ryder, now 35, was one of the most sought-after actors anywhere. It's also been more than five years since her highly public arrest and conviction on charges relating to a shoplifting incident at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. After the trial and her nearly 500 hours of community service, Ryder all but disappeared. It wasn't until A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's haunting 2006 adaption of a Philip K. Dick science-fiction story, that Ryder resurfaced, and even then she was protected by the animated sheen of that film. This fall she makes a cameo appearance in David Wain's The Ten—where she dramatizes the commandments Thou Shalt Put No Gods Before Me and, winkingly, Thous Shalt Not Steal—and in Sex and Death 101, written by Daniel Waters (who wrote Heathers nearly 20 years ago), in which she plays, er, Death. She will soon be seen in The Last Word, Geoffrey Haley's romantic comedy about a writer of suicide notes. It's pretty dark stuff, but then, at least by Hollywood standards, Winona herself is pretty dark stuff—and, for this reason, peculiarly fascinating.
"She has a very bewitching quality," says her friend the screenwriter Jay Cocks. "You get this sense of haunting fragility and strength." It's this quality that led a vast chunk of America to be smitten by her right from the start. It helped that she had, in the words of Marc Jacobs, "an innate understanding of clothes" and didn't need a stylist to wear a flapper dress or something from Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe on the red carpet. "Once she turned up for a show in a dress with two little guitar pins—just flat tack pins, not brooches—on the straps of the dress. This is what I wish everyone would do," sighs Jacobs. "Winona, Kate, Sofia: You don't have to tell them what to wear," adds Robert Rich, who runs Jacobs's store in New York.
It also helped to have the most-wanted boyfriends on the planet: the young Matt Damon, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, and, of course, Johnny Depp. "They were the hottest couple in the United States at that time," Horowitz recalls. "Like Brad and Angelina...."
"Not—" Ryder starts to reply.
"You guys were cool," her father qualifies.
"You performed a wedding, and you stopped a wedding," she says.
"We loved Johnny, but you were seventeen."
"Like the baby I was, I called my parents. It was one of the few times you said no. When your father says no...."
"Was Johnny angry at us for stopping the wedding? We had dinner soon after, and I didn't get a bad vibe."
And then, of course, there was the acting talent. Martin Scorsese directed Ryder in The Age of Innocence and says, "She is unafraid of trying to find the truth of a character or situation. Add to that her extraordinary range, warmth, and humor, and I believe she's truly one of the best actors of her generation." Cocks, who co-wrote the Edith Wharton adaptation, adds, "You can talk to her about Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor for a long, long time. She not only knows what they did but how they did it and why."
So how could it be, in an era of celebrity misconduct (think of the D.U.I.s, the vehicular manslaughters, the racist or anti-Semitic outbursts), that such an icon of originality and style could absent herself—or so it seemed—over a matter as relatively banal as shoplifting? In five years, Ryder gave no interviews about "the incident," as she refers to it.
I initially broached the subject with Ryder last winter at the Chateau Marmont, off the record. It was the first time I'd seen her close-up, and she was stunningly beautiful. She was also very chic, dressed monochromatically in an indigo peacoat, turtle-neck, and pleated skirt. She spoke candidly and reflectively. Two months later, she was ready to talk on the record. We met at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. On this occasion she was very nervous and puffed on one cigarette after another. Her hand shook as she described her experience of the oddly fateful afternoon and all that followed. Here are some selected statements:
"Two months prior to that, I broke my arm in two places, and the doctor, a sort of quack doctor, was giving me a lot of stuff [Oxycodone, not to be confused with OxyContin], and I was taking it at first to get through the pain. And then there was this weird point when you don't know if you are in pain but you're taking it. That's, I guess, the really scary point, because that's when people get hooked. In a way, that [incident] happening at that time, in a very weird way, was a blessing, because I couldn't do that [painkillers] anymore.
"Have you ever taken painkillers? It isn't a reckless [state], like you're out of your head. It's just confusion. I wonder if that hadn't been going on if I would have done things differently. I can't or won't ever know. But I remember being really confused.
"When you are in the public eye, you are treated differently at these places. And you're used to shopping with someone who is like...you feel like things are being sort of...everything is taken care of. I mean, there had been times when I had come home and there were things I didn't know that I had got or when I was charged for things that I didn't get. That can be a big scam in L.A. To this day I don't go into those stores, because when I do, there have been many times that I felt like they're watching me, and I don't blame them.
"The attention was what was embarrassing. It was the December after September 11. I remember this one day: It was the day that they apparently had Osama bin Laden captured in a cave, and I was still the top story. I didn't watch the coverage; I didn't read the coverage—I couldn't. But I remember watching the news—so much attention was being paid to me, when we had just been attacked, and there was all this really important news going on."
"No one [in my family] ever got angry with me. Concerned, yes, but not concerned with a drug problem or anything. Because after that night I pretty much didn't ever....If you are arrested you can't ever do that again. I was very honest with them about that. So it was protecting me, and being angry at things people were saying. Being angry at the court itself. Being angry at the charges. Being angry at the statements."
(Her father sums it up thus:
"It was a national story for several months. Letterman and Leno were starting out their shows with jokes about how we haven't caught Osama bin Laden, but at least Winona Ryder's in jail. There was a sense of exposure for us. I felt more angry at what I felt was a going after her. The authorities really make hay when a celebrity is arrested. I was really concerned for her, but there was also anger at the culture for blowing this up. She spaced out. That's all that happened. She left her credit card there. They could have simply said, You could have put it on the credit card.")
"I didn't have this tremendous sense of guilt," says Ryder, "because I hadn't hurt anyone. Had I hurt someone in any way, had I rear-ended...had I done anything, even in the past, that I felt this was some sort of retribution for, had I physically harmed someone or caused harm to a human being, I think it would have been an entirely different experience. I could never wrap my head around what I was supposed to be feeling and the perception of what I was going through. I just sat there. I never said a word. I didn't release a statement. I didn't do anything. I just waited for it to be over."
Then it was over. The actress sees it as a "blessing"—it ended her usage of Oxycodone, and it enabled her to "really feel like I found myself." She quit Los Angeles for San Francisco, made "a very conscious decision not to work," and stayed close to her family. "It was also about turning 30, being near 30. I was definitely at a point where I was trying to figure myself out and figure out how to have a life when I'm not working or in a relationship. That was happening anyway, and then [the trial] catapulted it, like a boomerang that brought me back home to San Francisco. Being in San Francisco then was some the best times I have had."
Ryder, of course, is famously a child of the Bay Area counterculture. Her godfather was Timothy Leary, and her father went on the lam with Leary when she was just born (Leary inscribed her baby picture with "Love to the beautiful newest Buddha girl"). For a time, the Horowitz family lived in a commune. At age eleven, Ryder was discovered by a casting agent who spotted her skateboarding in front of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. While still in high school in Petaluma, she shot Heathers and Beetlejuice and became a star. These days Ryder keeps a Victorian on Nob Hill, where her parents live and where she spent the best part of the last five years.
She also has a house in West Los Angeles, which is where I meet her on a May day. It is Bernie Taupin's old place and enormous for a girl as small as Ryder, though quite modest and ramshackle by local standards. A Jazz Age frieze of naked maidens in a vaguely paradisiacal setting winds around the stairwell, but otherwise the interior is all Winona: battered English country sofas and armchairs with eclectic pillows; Art Nouveau sideboards and tables; and, in every room, rock-'n'-roll trophies. I saw guitars (she owns twelve), a drum set in the bar, Louis Armstrong's signed bongos, and framed posters of the Replacements, the Clash, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, the Runaways. There are photographs everywhere, of her family, of exes, of friends famous and obscure. Ryder brings out boxes of yet more photographs, and in the random sifting that follows, it becomes clear how extraordinary and magical her life has been.
There's the actress at eighteen, clowning with Cher and nine-year-old Christina Ricci on the set of Mermaids. There's her and Dave Pirner in a photo booth ("He looks so sweet there"). There's blonde Winona, at age 11, with a crew of little kids—Titanka, Ricochet, and "Ooby-Dooby's sister"—outside a tepee on the commune. There's her late, magnificently unlined grandmother Ethel, age 97, on the set of Autumn in New York. There's baby Winona in the arms of her leggy, flaxen, hippie-chic mom, Cindy, in South America. There's a young Winona at a U2 sound check ("I know I was nineteen here. That was the one and only time I met Phil Spector").
In this last picture, she looks especially tomboyish—the close-cropped hair, the white tee. And although now her hair flirts with her shoulders, she remains at heart a gamine. In addition to the BONES BRIGADE, CBGB, and FENDER stickers, snapshots of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Bono are taped to her massive sleigh bed. Her armoire is full of boys' things: her dad's old jeans, men's cashmere cardigans from Marc Jacobs, tons of lace-up oxfords and Doc Marten-like pole-climbers. She also has scores of beautiful antique evening bags and Victorian jewelry and lacy Victorian underpinnings and studded bags and ballet flats from Marc Jacobs ("I love the studs. It's not a phase for me. These are the greatest things ever"). Although I can see the deep logic of this wardrobe—Ryder is so unbelievably gorgeous that it's almost too much to see her in conventionally feminine looks—she herself explains her style in terms of healthy identity politics: "I never felt like a physically beautiful girl, but I've always felt like I was unique, and that mattered way more to me. Getting into the music I was into was so much more about individualism than beauty. At least I had that for a little while, at a time when I could have been really sad, really lonely, really unhappy with myself."
Thus she has a no-nonsense approach to beauty: Cetaphil cleanser. Aveeno bath products, Neutrogena tinted moisturizer. Aluminum-free deodorant from Santa Maria Novella. Few manicures (she's a guitarist). No facials. No Botox ("I'm not against it, but it goes against everything I think an actress should do"). "I don't have anything I want to fix," she says. "I'm happy with how I look and growing older. It's strange how birthdays are treated so funereally out here." Even Ryder, though, is touched by the passage of time: "When I turned 30, I couldn't fall asleep with my makeup on. I've been thinking about using eye cream a bit."
There is, of course, more to aging than managing the lines under one's eyes. On the one hand, she is almost spookily ageless: While her Gen X fans and contemporaries have gotten dumpier, grayer, and burdened with nanny crises and minivans and marital effort, not so Ryder. She has no diet or exercise regimen. She's single at the moment and has had only one boyfriend (a not-famous Oregonian based in New York) since her legal troubles. On the other hand, this is not necessarily what she had in mind. "I think I assumed I would be married and have a kid by the age I am now. It kind of occurred to me for the first time this last year: I actually want to go on and have kids....It's this weird pressure that I probably shouldn't even talk about." But she does talk about it, with charming frankness: "You know how people ask, Who is the love of your life? God, I hope I haven't met that person yet, in a way, because I'm single. I hope I haven't had that, since that would be sad."
The issue is complicated, of course, by her celebrity. "I went out with someone, and I wasn't his type at all: Physically, I was the opposite. But he associated fame-movies-magazines with beautiful. I still worry about it. I don't know if I'll ever hear anything that I will completely believe is totally pure."
It must be noted that the actress, when she utters these statements, is not as gloomy as she sounds. A trick of growing up—and perhaps the reason for her happiness about entering her late 30s—is putting impurities into a proper context, which requires a sense of proportion, which in turn requires a sense of values. If there is one thing that Ryder has grasped more firmly than ever these last five years, it is that which is of real value and that which is not. No coincidence, then, that the films she now wants to make are ones whose narratives echo those of her family: a Leary biopic; a drama centered on the espionage trial of a left-wing Jewish woman during the Cold War.
After the soul-searching, there's some clothes-searching. Ryder and I go shopping at Decades, the vintage store on Melrose where she buys big-night dresses—a strapless 1950s Dior in black satin for a recent American Film Institute tribute to Al Pacino—and where she also disposes of things. We head upstairs for the prime pieces (Angelina got her Balmain for the Cannes Film Festival here). Everything that draws my eye turns out to have once been Winona's: a dress of black charmeuse and ecru broderie anglaise with Bakelite roses on the collar, worn originally by Katharine Hepburn; a black-and-white fifties dress that fit Ryder "shockingly well" and another with a black velvet bodice and polka-dot skirt; a smattering of Empire dresses in moss crepe and prints. (Decades owner Cameron Silver to Ryder: "Your Ossies are over here." Ryder: "This one fits me so well. Why am I selling this?" Silver: "We had this discussion. Because you never wore it.") Now the actress is drawn to a full-skirted dress of black Chantilly with a label from Harry Cooper of Beverly Hills and Pasadena. "I've tried this on so many times, and it doesn't fit," she murmurs resignedly. Stopping in front of the jewelry cases filled with sizable Chanel pearls and Saint Laurent chandeliers, she says, "I have a pair of earrings that Otto Preminger gave Dorothy Dandridge. A pearl and a diamond. I wear one as a necklace on a leather cord."
Downstairs, the resale shop has just expanded into the space previously occupied by an antiquarian bookseller, a place where Winona spent many hours with her father searching for signed first editions of her favorite American classics. Today she's looking for classics of a different stripe, specifically a "pale-colored bag that's light" and a "pair of low-heeled d'Orsay pumps." No luck. Marni relics are cast aside because the label can be "a little complicated." Chloé is deemed "pretty pricey." A droopy Dries Van Noten dress in black silk with a white hem detail is "very San Francisco," but not, it would seem, in a good way. She spies a gilded cabled Prada cardigan from a few seasons back.
"Christos," she says to the shop's co-owner, "I think I love that cardigan." He puts it to one side, and it is agreed that she will come back for it the next day to settle up. She steps outside onto the bright, sunny street, where a van of paparazzi awaits.