Winona Ryder: The early ’00s were ‘a cruel time, there was a lot of meanness out there’

Winona Ryder covers the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar, mostly to promote Stranger Things. The fact that Winona has been able to have a career resurgence in her 40s – and now 50s – is so pleasing to me. She is one of the best actresses of her generation, and I love that she’s on one of the most popular Netflix shows and that she’s still popular within the industry. She’s also a mentor to the young actors on Stranger Things, and those kids really look up to her. As it should be! Winona talks about all of that and more in Bazaar. Some highlights:

She was overwhelmed in the first part of her career: “Being talked about, being reviewed … realizing that someone could pause you, could rewind you? It was so overwhelming.”

Fame and money didn’t insulate her: “I know it’s kind of like ‘Oh, poor Winona.’ But when you’re in pain, pain is pain. But that [realization] took me a while. This business is brutal. You’re working constantly, but if you want to take a break, they tell you, ‘If you slow down, it’s going to stop.’ And then it did slow down. So then you’re hearing,‘It’s going to be impossible to come back.’ And then that changes to ‘You’re not even part of the conversation.’ Like, it was brutal.”

The breakup with Johnny Depp in the early ‘90s: “That was my Girl, Interrupted real life. I remember, I was playing this character who ends up getting tortured in a Chilean prison [in the 1994 drama The House of the Spirits],” says Ryder, who credits “an incredible therapist” for encouraging her to imagine being gentle to a younger version of herself. “I would look at these fake bruises and cuts on my face [from the shoot], and I would struggle to see myself as this little girl. ‘Would you be treating this girl like you’re treating yourself?’ I remember looking at myself and saying, ‘This is what I’m doing to myself inside.’ Because I just wasn’t taking care of myself.”

Michelle Pfeiffer tried to help her: “I remember Michelle being like, ‘This is going to pass.’ But I couldn’t hear it. I’ve never talked about it. There’s this part of me that’s very private. I have such, like, a place in my heart for those days. But for someone younger who grew up with social media, it’s hard to describe.”

Disappearing after her shoplifting conviction: “I definitely retreated. I was in San Francisco. But I also wasn’t getting offers. I think it was a very mutual break.”

The early 2000s: “It’s so interesting when you look at the early aughts. It was a kind of cruel time. There was a lot of meanness out there…. And then I remember coming back to L.A. and—it was a rough time. And I didn’t know if that part of my life was over.”

Mentoring the kids on Stranger Things: “I want the kids to understand, this does not happen,” she says of being on a show so zeitgeisty that people are clamoring for your attention. “This is really unusual. And I’m always telling them, ‘The work is the reward!’ Because when I was that age, it was so hard to enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

She’s been dating fashion designer Scott Mackinlay Hahn for five years: “We have so much in common. We connected on so many levels. But it was amazing that he’s not in this business…. I really did try to keep it quiet.” (Hahn is so far removed from showbiz that when he first met Ryder, he didn’t even recognize her. “He thought I was Milla Jovovich,” Ryder says, laughing. “He told me I was great in The Fifth Element.”)

[From Harper’s Bazaar]

Damn, imagine not recognizing Winona Ryder! Are we sure this guy is legit? The way she talks about him, you can tell she’s grateful to be with a generational peer. He’s 51 years old, she’s 50 years old. They have the same cultural Generation-X references and worldview. That’s really nice. I love that Winona is telling the Stranger Things kids “the work is the reward, don’t expect everything to be a hit,” because someone needs to tell them that. I hope they’re listening! She’s also right about the industry back in the 1990s and early ‘00s. That is what women were told, that if they stopped working for a year, they would never come back, that people would forget them. Gwyneth Paltrow taking a year off, Julia Roberts taking a year off, those women were the outliers – and honestly, they were “allowed” to take that time away because of their enormous fame.

Cover & IG courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar.

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35 Responses to “Winona Ryder: The early ’00s were ‘a cruel time, there was a lot of meanness out there’”

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  1. C says:

    I’m not surprised her relationship with Depp took a toll on her given he was 25 and she was 17 when they got together.

  2. Bettyrose says:

    Ryder has been so wronged by Hollywood. Girl Interrupted was meant as her Oscar vehicle and it ended up being Angelina Jolie’s breakout role. I can’t even watch it because it breaks my heart for Winona. Then she was blackballed over the dumbest incident. And I hate for her that she was cast as a bitter has been in Natalie Portman’s Oscar vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, I love all these other actresses too, but I’m #winonaforever

    • WiththeAmerican says:

      She got totally screwed. And if we look at what male stars of her caliber we’re doing back then, it’s even more insulting.

      I’m so glad she found her way into something authentic and all hers.

    • Twin Falls says:

      I had a Free Winona tshirt lol. Team Winona forever, too.

    • cherry says:

      I agree with you about the cruelty of her being blackballed over that dumb shoplifting incident. But I don’t quite understand your point about her her roles. How do you figure her part in Girl Interrupted and Black swan equal ‘wronged by Hollywood’? She could have said no to Black swan. And the fact that Girl interrupted became Angelina Jolie’s breakout role and not Winona’s ‘Oscar vehicle’- well. it’s not like anyone planned it that way, you know? Seems to me that Winona is a grown woman with her own agency, not merely a helpless victim.

      • Bettyrose says:

        Cherry – I don’t know the intricacies but things rarely happen by accident in Hollywood. At some point a decision was probably made to not mount an Oscar campaign for her and instead market the newer star. Or maybe it did all happen organically but it’s still a disappointing turn for her career. As for Black Swan, by that point Ryder had been out of mainstream films for awhile so it probably was a good opportunity for her. The role still made me sad. She’s worked consistently and with tons of interesting projects. There are sadder stories, for sure, but as a huge fan I do think she could have and should have been a bigger star all along. I’m thrilled to see her in this massive comeback in such a worthy show.

      • Thinking says:

        Angelina Jolie really stood out in that movie. It’s no surprise she walked away with all the attention.

  3. Jo says:

    She truly comes across as someone very fragile who probably needed a healthy break, or a more pressure-free kind of role rather than being deemed the new Babe of the Movies. Even here when people talk about her there is an over-the-top fawning over her. I find it horrible how she was ostracised but I do think she has a limited range as an actress – who in no shape or form however, deserved what happened and I am truly happy to see her work and have loads of success. And mentoring kids!
    As a person she seems really sweet, she seems to be what Depp thinks he is – attention averse, solitary, a bit kooky, a true original.

  4. Lucia says:

    Male actors have been let go with so much as a slap on the wrist for doing much, much worse things than what she did. It’s unbelievable. At least she’s killing it right now. And I still remember how hard it was for me to watch some of her scenes in La Casa de los Espíritus. They were brutal.

  5. K says:

    She is kinda magical to me.

    • tealily says:

      Yes! And she’s somehow managed to retain that energy after all these years. She’s something special.

  6. Flowerlake says:

    That and the 90s had such an unhealthy focus on women having to be unnaturally thin.

    I credit people like Beyonce for changing that.

    • Oh gosh the 90’s were so brutal in so many ways! I am 46 and the mother to a beautiful,intelligent,and talented 19 year old daughter; its still so hard for us women out there (young and old)but I am so glad that we are moving away from the unnaturally thin aesthetic.My daughter and I have so many talks about body image and she really doesn’t get it-that the 90’s we’re brutal AF,re thinness .Heroine chic and Pam Anderson were our standards and that was impossibly hard.
      Love Winona and am so happy she seems to be in a great place!

    • Bettyrose says:

      Do you think that hurt her career? I mean she’s absolutely tiny. But not skeletal.

      • Thinking says:

        She was considered a waif, I think.

        I don’t think her weight ever hurt her career since I think she had the type of thinness that was appreciated. I can’t recall her weight even fluctuating. She’s one of the few people who seems to have stayed the same size throughout her life.

        I think the only thing that hurt her was the shoplifting. It probably wasn’t the worst thing in the world someone could do, but at the time it did make her seem a little weird.

      • Thinking says:

        I don’t think her figure hurt her career. She’s always fit conventional standards of beauty.

  7. jferber says:

    Depp and Gwyneth. I wouldn’t want to run into either one in a dark alley. Or a lit restaurant.

  8. Granger says:

    Not a popular opinion but I’ve never thought Winona Ryder was a good actress, let alone one of the best of her generation. She’s basically always the same, in virtually everything she does. The one exception is Age of Innocence — she was perfection in that, which I believe says a lot about Martin Scorcese’s ability to get exactly what he wants from an actor’s performance. Anyway, none of this is to say that she deserved to be blackballed for the shoplifting, and I’m happy for her renewed success, because she seems like a good person who truly wants to do good work and help those Stranger Things kids survive the Hwood machine.

    • kirk says:

      Sounds like she’s got a great message for the younger generation, that “the work is the reward,” rather than all the distractions that come with it. Kinda forgotten about her until I started watching Stranger Things where she’s very sympathetic.

    • Matilde says:

      I agree. Unfortunately, she’s never been a good actress. She could carry films in her early years through her beauty and quirkiness (Beetlejuice, Heathers) but the reason Angelina Jolie won for Girl Interrupted is because she acted Winona off the screen. I do have a soft spot for WR and I’m glad she’s back in the spotlight.

    • Mimi says:

      Agree. She’s not bad but she’s not mindblowing either. It was no surprise to me Angelina overshadowed her in Girl Interrupted because Jolie really was a lot more captivating.
      Winona’s a pretty girl and I have always liked her personality, but she’ll never be Meryl Streep. And she did no favors to herself when she went shoplifting, I’ll never understand why she did that. She torpedoed her own career.

    • Elsa says:

      I couldn’t disagree more. She elevated every movie that she was in. I LOVED her. She was so different than every mainstream actor of her time. She had such a vulnerability. I think she is one of the greats. It always broke my heart that she wasn’t in the last Godfather. She would have made all the difference in that film.

    • Thinking says:

      I don’t think she’s a very good actress either.

      She’s very beautiful and I think that has always helped her.

      But put the same range on a less pretty person, and I’d probably wonder how that person got into acting.

      There ARE certain roles I think she can play, but I don’t think her range is out of this world or anything.

  9. Jaded says:

    I highly recommend watching Turks and Caicos with Winona and Bill Nighy. She’s amazing in the role and plays a very fragile, damaged woman who’s caught up in a spy vs. spy situation. Art imitating life.

  10. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I’ve loved her since Heathers. “Well, great pate, but I’m gonna have to motor…” She’s our 90s darling, and I love seeing her now.

  11. jferber says:

    Also, the Little Women version she did with Susan Sarandon and Kirsten Dunst was iconic. I haven’t seen the Greta Gerwig version yet. I don’t see why the shoplifting incident (obviously a psychological rather than a criminal matter) killed her career like it did. The jokes about her were never-ending. So stupid. Depp and Paltrow screwed her over big time, yet both still have support.

    • Thinking says:

      I don’t think shoplifting would register on anyone’s radar these days because we see so many weirder things on social media these days. But at the time the shoplifting incident happened it did seem unusual.

      I didn’t think she was a bad person for shoplifting, but I think it might have made her seem ill. She shoplifted into the thousands of dollars (it was not a small sum) and her attorney should have just had her plea it out. Instead, she went to trial and we got to see the tapes over and over. The tapes made her seem a little strange. A lot of people wondered why she would do that. And she herself made jokes about her shoplifting on SNL. The whole thing was odd.

  12. Correction says:

    Just a note about one of the bolded summary headlines introducing her interview quotes above: She’s been dating her boyfriend for 11 years [since 2011], not 5 years.
    [The 5-year mark was when she revealed at the 2016 season 1 premiere of Stranger Things that she had been with someone for a while.]
    Just in the spirit of accuracy. xo

  13. H says:

    It’s true that Hollywood was and is a mean place, but let’s not forget how much Winona was a part of that. For awhile it was an open secret that she was just absolutely awful to people, including Brittany Murphy on the set of Girl, Interrupted.

    • Thinking says:

      I thought this was why her career took so long to get back on track after the shoplifting thing. Rumours in some of those blind items implied she was tough to work with.

      She’s always been very beautiful but her voice kind of limits the range of roles she plays. I don’t think of her as capable of playing certain kinds of roles whereas she’s fine in other roles where her beauty is allowed to shine.

  14. Thinking says:

    I wonder if the shoplifting hurt her career because the crime was sort of at odds with how she looks. She has such an innocent looking face, people probably couldn’t believe that SHE would be capable of shoplifting. If Lindsay Lohan were to shoplift, who would be shocked? Probably no one. But that incident is at odds with how Winona Ryder looks and presents herself.

    It was like a mask dropping off of someone. The private reality was different from the public face. I guess I had the same reaction to Aunt Becky and the college cheating scandal. Aunt Becky has such an innocent looking persona, I couldn’t believe she’d find herself caught up in that sort of thing.