ORLANDO, Fla. — She doesn’t look it. Winona Ryder is still pale, diminutive and breathtakingly pretty. She still peppers her speech with the vocalized pauses of her teen years — “you know.”
But Winona, hearthrob of “Heathers,” girl-next-door of “Mermaids” and “Edward Scissorhands,” is 41. Yes, you’re allowed to feel “old” now — but just for a moment.
Because Ryder, years removed from her Oscar-nominated / Golden Globe winning heyday in films such as “The Age of Innocence” and “Little Women,” almost a decade removed from the career-crippling bad press of an ugly shoplifting conviction, is on the brink of being a hot property all over again. Not that this is anything she’s looking for.
“As you get older and you get to a certain place in your life, you get more selective,” she says. “But I am starting to appreciate being the age that I am and finding roles that I couldn’t play before, because I was just too young. Even if I was the right age, I didn’t look the right age.”
She’s still “fragile” and “vulnerable, not just as an actress, but as a person,” director Ariel Vroman says. He cast her as the female lead in his acclaimed new true story hit-man thriller, “The Iceman,” pairing the dainty Ryder up with the formidable Michael Shannon, who plays murderer-for-hire Richie Kuklinski.
“She has faced something like the sort of drama this role requires, on screen and in her real life,” Vroman says. “She was … perfect.”
Critics are agreeing, with London’s Independent newspaper calling her turn as the unknowing mob wife “touching and credible” and The Hollywood Reporter enthusing that “she brings a lovely ethereal quality to Deborah, as well as a certain willful blindness.”
That was Ryder’s chief task in this film, to be a 1960s woman courted by a man who keeps his work life secret from her. And it being the ’60s and ’70s, she let him.
“I did the opposite of ‘research’ for this part,” Ryder says. “I went into denial, like Deborah. I didn’t want to know about the real crimes. I wanted to do what she was doing, block it out.”
She worked with the costume designer to construct this woman, “who liked having money, liked her life. We started with the shoes, because a woman who wears heels is different from a woman who wears sandals.” Deborah shows up, well put together, in scene after scene — a Valentino suit here, another perfect ensemble there — “because whatever she didn’t want to know about his work, she didn’t want to be broke. These people had money, thanks to all this killing her husband was doing.”
With a James Franco / Jason Statham film — “Homefront” — in the can, and other projects in the works, Ryder faces her latest busy stretch with the perspective of someone who didn’t work much at all for a few years. And that taught her “balance.”
“When you make movies, back to back to back, life becomes all about you. You have people who are important in your life who need you, and you’re like, ‘Let me finish this movie and I’ll be there for you.’ It’s equally as important for me to be happy in my life, to be as present as I can and appreciate each day and be a good person, friend, sibling, all of that stuff.
“I’m lucky, I know, because a lot of people have to work just to make a living, and that’s a different life from mine. For me, life goes by and you don’t want to have that day when suddenly, two years are gone and you’re like, ‘What?’”
You can find her, in between jobs, at home in San Francisco, haunting the stacks of the famed City Lights Bookstore. If she was ahead-of-the-curve hip in the ’80s and ’90s, dating Johnny Depp, Dave Pirner and Matt Damon, these days she’s behind-the-curve retro.
“Yeah, I’m really boring,” she laughs. “With the way the world is, with all this instant Internet access to things for you to react to, I’m nostalgic for the old days. Nostalgic in a sweet way. It makes me want to do retro stuff like go to revival house theaters, or go to a real bookstore, where you see and pick up all these books you never would have thought of reading.
“Video stores were that way, too. You see things you never would have thought of renting.
“My friends call me ‘old school.’ A little too old school, I’m afraid.
“For instance, I actually learned that there ISN’T a (Genius) bar upstairs in the Apple Store, a place where they serve alcohol and everything. Very embarrassing.
“The worst thing a person can do is Google yourself. I did that once and friends had to talk me off the ledge.
“I just need to understand it more. Obviously, if I’m asking people how a ‘cloud’ can hold information, and ‘What happens if it rains?’ If I’m thinking there’s a bar for geniuses upstairs at the Apple Store, then I’m a little out of step. And I’m pretty insecure about that.”