Winona Ryder has done just about everything in her career. She’s been an Academy Award® nominee twice - for The Age of Innocence and Little Women. She’s worked with some of the biggest directors in the business, including Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. She, along with Johnny Depp, was part of a trendy, celebrity, tabloid-ready couple before celebrity couples were given those trendy, tabloid-ready nicknames. Johnona? Winonny? Rydepp? Okay, so their names don’t really mesh for a catchy nickname like Bennifer or Brangelina.
According to rottentomatoes.com, she’s starred in the sixth best cult classic of all time, Heathers. Of Heathers, Ryder’s eyes lit up. “Heathers, which is one of my favorites – it’s so good, right? [My people] are always, ‘act like you’re not in it’ because I love it so much.”
One thing she hadn’t done until now was star in a movie based on a true crime. However, next up for Ryder is The Iceman.
Inspired by actual events, The Iceman follows notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Academy Award® nominee Michael Shannon) from his early days in the mob until his arrest in 1986 for murdering more than 100 men. He appears to be living the American dream as a devoted husband and father but in reality, Kuklinski was a ruthless killer-for-hire. Neither his wife nor daughters had any clue about his real profession.
Ryder, who portrays Kuklinski’s wife Deborah, refuted the notion of Deborah having no knowledge of her husband’s double life.
“I do believe that she was aware, maybe not specific details, but I do believe she was aware…but was in a certain amount of denial and maybe took a [figurative] sharpie like I did [to the script], except she was doing that in her head,” she said. “I’m hearing from different people about how much she really did or did not know. I don’t think she was this wide-eyed innocent – or a victim. I think she was a dark person herself.”
Ryder, who has portrayed many strong women on screen, is more of a reactionary, almost passive character in this film.
“You hear actresses talk about strong, female roles, but it’s equally as challenging to play a weak female, to play cowardly people,” she said. “It is called The Iceman and not The Icewoman (laughs).”
Before Kuklinski died under mysterious circumstances in prison, he was the subject of several documentaries that explain his violent childhood, which might have led to his choice of such a violent profession. Though he did love his family, the documentaries also delve into the domestic violence he inflicted upon his wife. According to writer and director Ariel Vromen, this was left out of the film due to time and story constraints. When asked about how the movie portrayed him as more of a loving family man than he was in real life, Ryder became very animated.
“Right!” she exclaimed. “That was a big conversation. Economically for the story to move along, that just couldn’t be a part of it. I had a hard time with that. It’s such a huge issue – globally – and you never just want to brush it under the carpet. But that just wasn’t part of the story that they were telling. If they had brought [the domestic violence] up, it would have been a totally different movie.”
What people might not know about Ryder is that she has been involved in preventing and solving violent crimes for years. She is a supporter of the Polly Klaas Foundation, a national nonprofit that was created to help recover missing children after Polly Klaas was kidnapped 10 years ago.
In October 1993, career criminal Richard Allen Davis kidnapped 12-year-old Polly from her bedroom during a slumber party in Petaluma, Calif. The horrific case received widespread media attention and Ryder, who is also from Petaluma, offered a $200,000 reward for Polly’s safe return. Sadly, two months later police found Polly’s body.
Ryder’s efforts to help find Polly (and the support she gave to the foundation after Polly was found) show another side to the actress. She dedicated the film Little Women to Polly since it was her favorite book, and she also persuaded Universal Pictures to turn the February 1994 Los Angeles premiere of Reality Bites into a benefit for the Polly Klaas Foundation.
We’ve all grown cynical of celebrities who seemingly join the current flavor-of-the-day charity to create good PR with the media. But with Ryder, her involvement in Polly’s case is genuine. When asked about it, she became visibly choked up: “The grief was so tangible. You just wanted to do something.”
Perhaps because of these events, Ryder still seems grounded. While many actors who’ve starred in critically and commercially successful films become jaded after a while, Ryder seems to not take it for granted.
“I literally have to pinch myself with some of the things I’ve gotten to do,” she said.
The Iceman is currently playing in theaters.