Winona Ryder is whispering to me.
I have just stepped inside an anonymous suite on the 15th floor of the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, which has been overtaken by the PR team for Homefront, the new meth-head action film written by Sylvester Stallone. Jason Statham, who plays an undercover drug cop turned single dad trying to protect his daughter from drugland lowlifes, is doing his interviews in another room. So are Kate Bosworth (an angry addict) and James Franco (the dangerous local dealer). But it’s Winona I’m here to see. Winona forever.
The 42-year-old Minnesota native has had her ups and downs. The ups are legendary: Lucas, Beetlejuice, Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Mermaids, Night on Earth, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Age of Innocence, Reality Bites. The list goes on.
In recent years, however, Ryder has returned to the screen in a series of smaller, quirkier roles. Each time—Star Trek, Black Swan, The Iceman—she has proven that her iconic status is no fluke.
Which brings us to Homefront—and Ryder’s whispering. As the PR folks slip into the bedroom and gingerly close the door, leaving me and Winona alone together, she leans in and makes a confession.
“I haven’t seen the movie, so...” She smiles apologetically. She looks immaculate: black blazer, dark, longish hair, perfect skin, perfect teeth. If I didn’t know her age, I would say she was about 30. I promise not to interrogate her too aggressively about Homefront.
To be honest, I think Ryder is the best thing about the movie. She brings layers of vulnerability, confusion, and conscience to a drug-moll character that might otherwise have been a one-dimensional cliché.
But like Ryder—who is so eager to tell me about her other new project, the “amazing” BBC political thriller Turks and Caicos by David Hare, that I have to gently steer her back to the topic at hand before our interview can start—I would probably prefer to talk about other subjects as well: Beetlejuice 2, Reality Bites, how Hollywood has changed over the last 20 years, why aging is so much more complicated for actresses than actors. Even Homeland.
So that’s what we proceed to do.
You’ve played so many iconic women over the years. What does Sheryl Mott—your biker chick character in Homeland—have in common with them?
You said Homeland! Which I keep saying, too!
D’oh. I mean Homefront. The problem is that I also cover Homeland.
I just got ... you know that thing where it tapes?
Yeah. It’s so crazy now. You can watch an entire series in, like, a row. So I’ve been watching Homeland. It’s so addictive!
It is. But I think we’re supposed to talk about Homefront today. So your character, Sheryl Mott...
Yes, yes. It’s weird, because I think, honestly, at the time, I had just done The Iceman, which was actually something that I hadn’t done—playing a mother. I had never done that genre or that type of role. And then this came along and I was so surprised that they came to me for it. I had just come from doing these festivals with Iceman, and everyone was talking about how fragile I was. So I think there was some rebellious part of me that was, like, to play this arm-candy biker chick would just be fun. Something that I’ve never done.
It was so the opposite of something I would do that I just kind of said, “Well, why not?” And maybe that’s because I just turned 42 last week. Maybe it’s because when you get older you just want to start doing ... just trying.
Was it as fun as you imagined it would be?
I have to say, doing an action movie is a completely different experience, because you realize that logic doesn’t really apply. I’m someone who’s obsessed with matching, like, “Well, I would be over there, and they’re coming from there, so I would be running away in this direction.” And they’re like, “No. Just...”
“Just let us take care of the action sequences.”
Right! Logic doesn’t apply to this stuff.
You mentioned age. Do you think there’s a double standard in Hollywood for women—that Hollywood knows what to do with 40-year-old men but has no idea what to do with 40-year-old women?
I go back and forth. Of course there’s a huge double standard, and you see these older actors getting paired with these younger actresses. But there is something about getting older where parts, regardless of size, do get more interesting. Stuff that I could not have done because I started very young, and because people associate me with the things I did back then, when I looked young, I can do now.
Why is that?
I remember when I was like, 28, there was some sort of script with a part for a young lawyer. But they couldn’t see me as a lawyer because I seemed too young—even though I could have very well been a lawyer at that age. I was always young looking.
But I always go back to Bette Davis and Gena Rowlands and some of the great actresses whose greatest roles came later. Now, I don’t know if that’s going to happen with me. I’m sort of at that stage where—the life of an actor is so weird—you go through this thing: “I’m never going to work again. Clearly it’s over.” And then when you say that you get a call from David Hare.
Let’s talk about Reality Bites. It’s going to be the 20th anniversary next year.
Ben Stiller is also developing a half-hour series for NBC that will be set in the 1990s. Looking back, I feel like there was something really magical about that whole period: Generation X, Grunge, slackers. And Reality Bites was the movie that captured it.
It’s funny. I remember when we made it we had no idea. The woman who wrote it was like, 22, from Houston. It was Ben’s first movie. I had just done a bunch of period pieces and I wanted a break. And I was obsessed with his show on MTV. But we really didn’t foresee anything. It was a little movie.
But then this thing happened after it came out. First there was this weird backlash: “Oh, slackers.” Because people always do that. And then, over time, it got coined the “Gen X” movie. Years later, when I watched it, I realized it’s not trying to make any big pronouncement. There were a lots of references: cultural, TV, of course. But it’s actually just a really sweet little movie.
And yet it’s become this icon.
Yeah. It was the timing... What year did it come out?
That was when everything was going on. It was a great time.
Do you feel a particular nostalgia for the early 1990s?
I’m grateful that I got to start out when I did, and that I got to make movies during a time when all that mattered was that you were good. It didn’t matter how much the movie made. Nobody knew how much people were getting paid. Nobody knew anything. You would hear a year in advance that Pacino was making a movie. You would wait a year. You wouldn’t know anything about it. And then you’d go.
There was a group of friends—actors—some of them are big movie stars now, some of them are just working. But all that mattered was that you were good. It’s a different world now.
The younger actors, they don’t know that there was a time when there wasn’t monitors—that directors sat next to the camera. They’re like, “What?” Part of me, my heart sinks for them. But the other part is like, I’m so glad that I got to have that.
What’s gone wrong in Hollywood?
I feel like it’s so important to respect and know your lineage as an actor. It’s important to go and watch Preston Sturges and John Cassavetes and Sidney Lumet. It’s so important to know that stuff. But nowadays—maybe because of the Internet, and the instant access, and the social media—it’s like people have no patience.
This whole thing where you can watch movies on TV while they’re in theaters? I just discovered it. I was like, “What?” The experience of going to the movies is something that... I don’t even know if people realize what they’re missing. Because it’s such a great experience.
I just saw a news item about Beetlejuice 2. Apparently Michael Keaton is saying it’s a go. Would you do it?
Yeah ... Michael’s going to be in it. And I’m literally sworn to secrecy, and plus I don’t really ... I guess it might happen. Tim’s a really close friend and I know this writer was like, “Let me just try and see if you like it.” So I know that this script got written, and I know that they’re...
That’s one of those movies where little kids stop me. I’m so associated with it. I think it gave me my career. I was such a weird looking kid.
Anyway, Tim is such a dear friend. But it’s a very precious movie to people, so there are a lot people like, “DON’T.” But it’s not a remake. It’s 27 years later.
So it’s contemporary? Same characters, a couple of decades later?
Yeah. That’s what I know. And my first thought... because I first found out about it at a press conference. I was like, “What? What are you talking about?” This was a couple years ago. My feeling is I would never go near that if it was not Tim and Michael.
But that’s the conversation, right—you, Tim, Michael?
Yeah. Because those guys I love... And I do have to say that I love Lydia so much. She was such a huge part of me. And I would be really interested in what is she doing 27 years later, and doing that again, and not having to worry about it being a remake.
Again, I’m kind of sworn to secrecy, but it sounds like it might be happening. [Giggles] But the only way I would go near it is with Tim and Michael, because god... could you imagine anybody else?
The roles you’ve taken in recent years have tended to be smaller character parts—not all of them, but many of them. Why is that?
I think part of it is that they haven’t really known what to do with me. But part of it has also been—Black Swan, Star Trek—those were fun little parts.
There’s this whole thing where “if it’s not the lead, don’t do it.” This thing that used to happen when I was in my late 20s. But as you get older you become more yourself. You free yourself up. And you kind of just want to try something. “Why not have this experience?” It’s a really interesting question, and I still kind of wonder about that, because I am at an odd age.
There are not a lot of perfect careers, if you look. A lot of the great actors had low periods. And I certainly had an amazing run, and I’m so grateful. I always thought, “I get to work with Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch? I can retire.”
But then it’s hard to peak at that age. There’s still something really magical about acting that keeps me wanting to do it—to keep having these experiences.