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Creator / Winona Ryder

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"When I'm acting well, it's the most exhilarating experience. When I'm bad, it's miserable."

Winona Ryder (born Winona Laura Horowitz; October 29, 1971 in Winona, Minnesota) is an American actress.

She became famous for playing kooky, slightly awkward characters from the late 1980s through the 1990s. A few of these roles have been Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice (1988), Veronica Sawyer in Heathers (1989), Kim Boggs in Edward Scissorhands (1990), Jo March in Little Women (1994), Abigail Williams in The Crucible (1996), and Susanna Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted (1999).

In the 2000s, her career saw a downturn and she took a sabbatical from films before eventually returning to the screen towards the end of the decade, appearing in high-profile works in roles such as Spock's mother in Star Trek (2009), Sandra Dulles in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), a supporting role in Black Swan (2010) and Joyce Byers in Stranger Things (2016-).

She was romantically involved with the actor Johnny Depp after meeting him in 1989, later being engaged to him from 1990 to 1993, dated Matt Damon from 1998 to 2000, and also dated Soul Asylum member Dave Pirner. She has been in a relationship with fashion designer Scott Mackinlay Hahn since 2011.

Filmography includes:

Ryder's roles provide examples of:

  • Ability over Appearance: She is, by all rights, far too petite and pretty to have played the coltish, gangly Jo March in the 1994 adaptation of Little Women — but so perfectly captures Jo's spunkiness and spirit that it's near impossible to imagine another actor of her generation doing the role better.
  • Actor Allusion: Winona's characters keep a diary in the following films - Little Women, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Girl, Interrupted, Heathers and Reality Bites (if a video diary counts).
  • Advertised Extra: Despite prominent billing in Black Swan, she has only four minutes of screen time.
  • Awesome, Dear Boy: She has said that she took the role in Alien: Resurrection before even reading the script, because she had always wanted to be in an Alien movie and could brag about it to her brothers.
  • Career Resurrection: A case that took time to gradually build. After taking a few years off from acting while she was on probation for shoplifting from Saks Fifth Avenue, she starred in a film rendition of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, which was critically acclaimed. From there, she would manage to pop up in acclaimed independent projects (Black Swan, Experimenter, Show Me a Hero) and occasionally have small parts in more high-budget features (Star Trek, Frankenweenie). However, it really seemed to take hold in a higher profile when she decided to star as single mother Joyce Byers in the Netflix drama series Stranger Things, earning much press and support upon the show's release and even earning nominations for a Golden Globe and a SAG.
  • Contractual Purity: By the end of the 80s, she had a family-friendly image for roles such as Beetlejuice, and her agent begged her not to star in Heathers out of fear of ruining that. She ended up doing the film anyway and, although it flopped at the Box Office, she had no problem getting roles in the likes of Edward Scissorhands. It has since become a cult classic and she considers it one of her best roles.
  • Dawson Casting: Averted early in her career, when she was close in age to most of her teenaged characters. She was sometimes criticized for playing teen roles ("I'm like, 19. What do they want me to play, a judge?"). She became a straighter example of the trope as she grew older. She was 28 in Girl, Interrupted whilst her character was 18. Her petite frame and wide eyes contribute to looking much younger.
  • Dye Hard: Her hair is naturally blonde. She was required to dye it brown for her first film Lucas - and has alternated between that and blonde over the years.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Often, but Lydia Deetz is the best example.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • In Bram Stoker's Dracula, when Mina is caught drinking Dracula's blood, Francis Ford Coppola was shouting "slut!" and "whore!" at Winona to get a genuine ashamed reaction out of her.
    • She and Angelina Jolie avoided each other on the set of Girl, Interrupted, with Jolie saying if she saw anything human about Winona then she'd be unable to act out the sociopath character of Lisa Rowe as effectively.
  • Fake Brit: As the Victorian lady Mina Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
  • Fatal Method Acting: A near miss—she nearly drowned during the shooting of the underwater scene in Alien: Resurrection.
  • Former Child Star: Aversion. She began acting at 13 but enjoyed far more success in adulthood.
  • Hollywood Hype Machine: She was soon recognized as a talented actress and earned lots of prestige roles, even getting Academy Award nominations for two straight years. But her box office success was variable, and getting arrested for shoplifting downright prevented her from working for a while. She eventually got a Career Resurrection, but mostly in secondary roles.
  • Hostility on the Set: She and Gary Oldman seemingly got on fine during rehearsals for Bram Stoker's Dracula but then suddenly just didn't get along during filming. Supposedly it was a combination of him being distant due to going through a divorce and a clash of acting styles - him being an intense method actor whose approach unnerved her, and her needing a coach to bring out the necessary emotions. Years later, she dismissed it as "teenage drama" and says they became friends.
  • I Am Very British: Adopts this type of accent for Bram Stoker's Dracula.
  • The Other Marty: Emily Lloyd was originally cast in Mermaids. But Cher complained that there was no way they could play mother and daughter, and so she was recast. She got $435,000 and 2.5% of the net profits for her troubles after she sued the filmmakers.
  • Playing Against Type:
    • In Edward Scissorhands and Little Women she played a Girl Next Door and a Spirited Young Lady, respectively, in contrast to her other moody, slightly awkward characters.
    • The Crucible is one of her most evil roles. While Abigail has some sympathetic qualities, it's very surprising to see her as someone so villainous.
    • In Stranger Things, she plays a Mama Bear of kids who seems to be close to Ryder's age at the time. Many reviews pointed out that it was the virtually the first time she played such a role, as her petite frame and young looks made her prone to Dawson Casting and play characters younger than 30.
  • Romance on the Set:
  • Those Two Actors: With Keanu Reeves, with whom she appears in Bram Stoker's Dracula, A Scanner Darkly, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and Destination Wedding.
  • Stunt Casting:
    • Columbia only agreed to finance Little Women (1994) if Winona played Jo, since they feared a female-oriented film would flop if they didn't have a bankable star in there. Luckily, she was a big fan of the book and eager to play the role.
    • Reality Bites was likewise only greenlit because she was attached to it.
  • Typecasting: Early in her career, she found herself playing a lot of moody adolescents - Beetlejuice, Heathers, Mermaids and Reality Bites. She also found herself playing a lot of Innocence Lost characters - Bram Stoker's Dracula, Girl, Interrupted, Alien: Resurrection, The Crucible.
  • Vacation, Dear Boy: A variation. She did Reality Bites because she had been doing so many period pieces, and needed a vacation from Gorgeous Period Dress for a while.
  • Wag the Director:
    • She said she would only do Reality Bites if Ethan Hawke starred alongside her. She also insisted on Janeane Garofalo being rehired after she was fired early in production.
    • She agreed to appear in The Plot Against America on the condition that her 1940s Jewish character would say "Gay kocken offen yom" at someone. It's Yiddish for "Go shit in the ocean" and basically means "Go fuck yourself." The showrunners were only too happy to agree. She ultimately says it to the rabidly antisemitic Henry Ford.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • She was cast as Mary Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, but withdrew. The part went to Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, leading to all the accusations of Nepotism and criticisms for Sofia's acting the film would later get.
    • Woody Allen wanted Ryder to star in Melinda and Melinda, with Robert Downey Jr. to co-star, but after her shoplifting arrest and his drug problems, no one would insure them, so Allen couldn't get a bond to complete the movie.
    • Bram Stoker's Dracula was originally just going to be a Made-for-TV Movie directed by Michael Apted. When Winona saw the script, she brought it to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, and it got turned into a theatrical feature. Michael Apted remained on as producer.
    • She was jokingly told a pitch for a Heathers sequel featuring Veronica trying to assassinate a senator to be played by Meryl Streep, and excitedly said she'd do it.