Winona Ryder (born Winona Laura Horowitz; October 29, 1971) is an American actress. One of the most profitable and iconic 1990s actresses, she made her film debut in the 1986 film Lucas. As Lydia Deetz, a goth teenager in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), she won critical acclaim and widespread recognition. After various appearances in film and on television, Ryder continued her acting career with the cult film Heathers (1988), a controversial satire of teenage suicide and high school life that has since become a landmark teen film. She later appeared in the coming of age drama Mermaids (1990), earning a Golden Globe nomination, in Burton’s dark fairy-tale Edward Scissorhands (1990), and in Francis Ford Coppola’s gothic romance Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
Having played diverse roles in many well-received films in the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s, Ryder won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award nomination in the same category for her role in The Age of Innocence in 1993 as well as another Academy Award nomination, for Best Actress, for the literary adaptation Little Women the following year. She later appeared in the Generation X hit Reality Bites (1994), Alien: Resurrection (1997), the Woody Allen comedy Celebrity (1998), and Girl, Interrupted (1999), which she also executive-produced. In 2000, Ryder received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honouring her legacy in the film industry.
Ryder’s personal life has attracted significant media attention. Her relationship with Johnny Depp in the early 1990s and a 2001 arrest for shoplifting were constant subjects of tabloid journalism. She has been open about her personal struggles with anxiety and depression. In 2002, she appeared in the box office hit Mr. Deeds alongside Adam Sandler. In 2006, Ryder returned to the screen after a brief hiatus, later appearing in high-profile films such as Star Trek. In 2010, she was nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards: as the lead actress in When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story and as part of the cast of Black Swan. She also reunited with Burton for Frankenweenie (2012).
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Ryder was born Winona Laura Horowitz in Olmsted County, Minnesota, the daughter of Cynthia Palmer (née Istas) and Michael Horowitz. Her mother is an author, video producer and editor. Her father is an author, editor, publisher and antiquarian bookseller. He also worked as an archivist for psychedelic guru Dr. Timothy Leary (who was Ryder’s godfather). Her father’s family is Jewish (they emigrated from Romania and Russia), and Ryder has described herself as Jewish. Many of her father’s family perished in the Holocaust. Her father’s family was originally named “Tomchin” but took the surname “Horowitz” when they immigrated to America.
Named after the nearby city of Winona, she was given her middle name, Laura, because of her parents’ friendship with Laura Huxley, writer Aldous Huxley’s wife. Her stage name derives from Mitch Ryder, a soul and rock singer. Her father was a fan of Mitch Ryder. Ryder’s father is an atheist and her mother a Buddhist; they encouraged their children to take the best part of other religions to make their own belief systems.
Ryder has one full sibling, a younger brother, Uri (named in honor of the first Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin), and two half-siblings from her mother’s prior marriage: an older half-brother, Jubal Palmer, and an older half-sister, Sunyata Palmer. Ryder’s family friends included her godfather, Timothy Leary, as well as the Beat Movement poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick.
In 1978, when Ryder was seven years old, she and her family relocated to Rainbow, a commune near Elk, Mendocino County, California, where they lived with seven other families on a 300-acre (120 ha) plot of land. As the remote property had no electricity or television sets, Ryder began to devote her time to reading and became an avid fan of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. She developed an interest in acting after her mother showed her a few movies on a screen in the family barn. At age 10, Ryder and her family moved on again, this time to Petaluma, California. During her first week at Kenilworth Junior High, she was bullied by a group of her peers who mistook her for an effeminate, scrawny boy. As a result, she ended up being homeschooled that year. In 1983, when Ryder was 12, she enrolled at the American Conservatory Theater in nearby San Francisco, where she took her first acting lessons. Ryder graduated from Petaluma High School with a 4.0 GPA in 1989. She suffers from aquaphobia because of a traumatic near-drowning at age 12. This caused problems with the underwater scenes in Alien: Resurrection (1997), some of which had to be reshot numerous times.
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Early works, 1985-1990
In 1985, Ryder sent a videotaped audition, where she recited a monologue from the novel Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger, to appear in the film Desert Bloom. Although the part went to Annabeth Gish, writer/director David Seltzer noticed her talent and cast her in his 1986 film Lucas, about a boy called Lucas (Corey Haim) and his life at high school. Shot in the summer of 1985, the film co-starred Charlie Sheen and Kerri Green with Ryder playing Rina, one of Lucas’s friends at school. When asked how she wanted her name to appear in the credits, she suggested “Ryder” as her surname because a Mitch Ryder album that belonged to her father was playing in the background.
Her next film was Square Dance (1987), where her teenage character creates a bridge between two different worlds – a traditional farm in the middle of nowhere and a large city. Ryder won acclaim for her role, and The Los Angeles Times called her performance in Square Dance “a remarkable debut.” Both films, however, were only marginally successful commercially. Director Tim Burton decided to cast Ryder in his film Beetlejuice (1988), after being impressed with her performance in Lucas. In the film, she plays goth teenager Lydia Deetz. Lydia’s family moves to a haunted house populated by ghosts played by Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Michael Keaton. Lydia quickly finds herself the only human with a strong empathy toward the ghosts and their situation. The film was a success at the box office, and Ryder’s performance and the overall film received mostly positive reviews from critics.
Ryder landed the role of Veronica Sawyer in the 1988 independent film Heathers. The film, a satirical take on teenage life, revolves around Veronica, who is ultimately forced to choose between the will of society and her own heart after her boyfriend, played by Christian Slater, begins killing off popular high school students. Ryder’s agent initially begged her to turn the role down, saying the film would “ruin her career.” Reaction to the film was largely positive, and Ryder’s performance was critically embraced, with The Washington Post stating Ryder is “Hollywood’s most impressive ingénue … Ryder … makes us love her teen-age murderess, a bright, funny girl with a little Bonnie Parker in her. She is the most likable, best-drawn young adult protagonist since the sexual innocent of Gregory’s Girl.” The film was a box office flop, yet achieved status as a predominant cult film. Later that year, she starred in Great Balls of Fire!, playing the 13-year-old bride (and cousin) of Jerry Lee Lewis. The film was a box office failure and received divided reviews from critics. In April 1989, she played the title role in the music video for Mojo Nixon’s “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child.”
In 1990, Ryder was selected for four film roles. She played the leading female role alongside her then-boyfriend Johnny Depp in the fantasy film Edward Scissorhands. The film reunited Tim Burton and Ryder, who had previously worked together on Beetlejuice in 1988. Edward Scissorhands was a significant box office success, grossing US$56 million at the United States box office and receiving much critical devotion. Later that year, she withdrew from the role of Mary Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III (after traveling to Rome for filming) due to exhaustion. Eventually, Coppola’s daughter Sofia Coppola was cast in the role. Ryder’s ninth role was in the family comedy-drama Mermaids (1990), which co-starred Cher and Christina Ricci. Mermaids was a moderate box office success and was embraced critically. Ryder’s performance was acclaimed; critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “Winona Ryder, in another of her alienated outsider roles, generates real charisma.” For her performance, Ryder received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Ryder then performed alongside Cher and Christina Ricci in the video for “The Shoop Shoop Song”, the theme from Mermaids. Following Mermaids, she had the lead role in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, a film about an adopted child Dinky Bossetti played by Ryder. The film co-starred Jeff Daniels and was deemed a flop due to its poor showing at the box office.
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In 1991, Ryder played a young taxicab driver who dreams of becoming a mechanic in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. The film was given only a limited release at the box office, but received critical praise. Ryder then starred in the dual roles of Count Dracula’s reincarnated love interest Mina Murray and Dracula’s past lover Princess Elisabeta, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), a project she brought to director Francis Ford Coppola’s attention. In 1993, she starred in the melodrama The House of the Spirits, based on Isabel Allende’s novel. Ryder played the love interest of Antonio Banderas’ character. Principal filming was done in Denmark and Portugal. The film was poorly reviewed and a box office flop, grossing just $6 million on its $40 million budget.
Ryder starred in The Age of Innocence with Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis, a film based on a novel by Edith Wharton and helmed by director Martin Scorsese, whom Ryder considers “the best director in the world.” In the film, Ryder plays May Welland the fiancée of Newland Archer (Day-Lewis). The film, set in the 1870s, was principally filmed in New York and Paris. Her role in this movie won her a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as an Academy Award nomination in the same category. Although not a commercial success, it received critical praise. Vincent Canby in the New York Times wrote; ‘Ms Ryder is wonderful as this sweet young thing who’s hard as nails, as much out of ignorance as of self-interest.’ Ryder was set to star in Broken Dreams with actor River Phoenix. The project was put on hold due to his untimely death in 1993.
Ryder’s next role was in the Generation X drama Reality Bites (1994), directed by Ben Stiller, where she played a young woman searching for direction in her life. Her performance received acclaim and the studio hoped the film would gross a substantial amount of money, yet it did not make as much money as expected. Bruce Feldman, Universal Pictures’ Vice-President of Marketing said: “The media labeled it as a Generation X picture, while we thought it was a comedy with broad appeal.” The studio placed TV ads during programs chosen for their appeal to 12- to 34-year-olds and in interviews Stiller was careful not to mention the phrase “Generation X.”
In 1994, Ryder was handpicked to play the lead role of Josephine March in Little Women, an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. The film received widespread praise; critic Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film was the greatest adaptation of the novel, and remarked on Ryder’s performance: “Ms. Ryder, whose banner year also includes a fine comic performance in ‘Reality Bites’, plays Jo with spark and confidence. Her spirited presence gives the film an appealing linchpin, and she plays the self-proclaimed ‘man of the family’ with just the right staunchness.” She received a Best Actress Oscar nomination the following year.
She made a guest appearance in The Simpsons episode “Lisa’s Rival” as Allison Taylor, whose intelligence and over-achieving personality makes her a rival of Lisa’s. Her next starring role was in How to Make an American Quilt (1995), an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Whitney Otto, co-starring Anne Bancroft. Ryder plays a college graduate who spends her summer hiatus at her grandmother’s property to ponder her boyfriend’s recent marriage proposal. The film was not a commercial success, nor was it popular with critics.
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Ryder made several film appearances in 1996, the first in Boys. The film failed to become a box office success and attracted mostly negative critical reaction. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that “Boys is a low-rent, dumbed-down version of Before Sunrise, with a rent-a-plot substituting for clever dialogue.” Her next role was in Looking for Richard, Al Pacino’s documentary on a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, which grossed only $1 million at the box office, but drew moderate critical acclaim. She starred in The Crucible with Daniel Day-Lewis and Joan Allen. The film, an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play, centered on the Salem witch trials. The film was expected to be a success, considering its budget, but became a large failure. Despite this, it received acclaim critically, and Ryder’s performance was lauded, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone saying, “Ryder offers a transfixing portrait of warped innocence.”
In December 1996, Ryder accepted a role as an android in Alien: Resurrection (1997), alongside Sigourney Weaver, who had appeared in the entire Alien trilogy. Ryder’s brother, Uri, was a major fan of the film series, and when asked, she took the role. The film became one of the least successful entries in the Alien film series, but was considered a success as it grossed $161 million worldwide. Weaver’s and Ryder’s performances drew mostly positive reviews, and Ryder won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Best Actress. Ryder then starred in Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998), after Drew Barrymore turned down Ryder’s role, in an ensemble cast. The film satirizes the lives of several celebrities. She later appeared in the music video for Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Talk About the Blues, which was on their sixth studio album ACME. Ryder also appeared on the cover artwork of its follow up album Xtra-Acme USA, which was made using a screenshot from the previously mentioned music video.
In 1999, she performed in and served as an executive producer for Girl, Interrupted, based on the 1993 autobiography of Susanna Kaysen. The film had been in project and post-production since late 1996, but it took time to surface. Ryder was deeply attached to the film, considering it her “child of the heart.” Ryder starred as Kaysen, who has borderline personality disorder and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for recovery. Ryder starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Angelina Jolie. While Ryder was expected to make her comeback with her leading role, the film instead became the “welcome-to-Hollywood coronation” for Jolie, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Jolie thanked Ryder in her acceptance speech. The same year, Ryder was parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
The following year, she starred in the melodrama Autumn in New York, alongside Richard Gere. The film revolves around a relationship between an older man (Gere) and a younger woman (Ryder). Autumn in New York received mixed reviews, but was a commercial success, grossing $90 million at the worldwide box office. Ryder then played a nun of a secret society loosely connected to the Roman Catholic Church and determined to prevent Armageddon in Lost Souls (2000), which was a commercial failure. Ryder refused to do commercial promotion for the film. Later in 2000, she was one of several celebrities who made a small cameo appearance in Zoolander (released in 2001). On October 6, 2000, Ryder received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located directly in front of the Johnny Grant building next to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. She was the 2,165th recipient of this honor.
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Ryder had a hiatus after her shoplifting incident in 2001 (see below). The book Conversations with Woody Allen reports that in 2003, film director Woody Allen wanted to cast Robert Downey, Jr. and Ryder in his film Melinda and Melinda, but was unable to do so because “I couldn’t get insurance on them … We couldn’t get bonded. The completion bonding companies would not bond the picture unless we could insure them. […] We were heartbroken because I had worked with Winona before [on Celebrity] and thought she was perfect for this and wanted to work with her again.”
In 2002, Ryder appeared in two movies, filmed before her arrest. The first was a romantic comedy titled Mr. Deeds with Adam Sandler. This was her most commercially successful movie to date, earning over $126 million in the United States alone. The film was not a critical success, however; film critic Philip French described it as a terrible film, saying that “remakes are often bad, but this one was particularly bad.” The second film was the science fiction drama S1m0ne in which she portrayed a glamorous star who is replaced by a computer simulated actress due to the clandestine machinations of a director, portrayed by her Looking for Richard costar Al Pacino. In July 2003, she was number 183 on VH1’s and People Magazine’s “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons” countdown list.
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In 2006, following her hiatus, Ryder appeared in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, a film based on Philip K. Dick’s well-received science fiction novel of the same name. Ryder starred alongside Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr. and Woody Harrelson. Live action scenes were transformed with rotoscope software and the film was entirely animated. A Scanner Darkly was screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival. Critics disagreed over the film’s merits; Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times found the film “engrossing” and wrote that “the brilliance of [the film] is how it suggests, without bombast or fanfare, the ways in which the real world has come to resemble the dark world of comic books.” Matthew Turner of View London, believing the film to be “engaging” and “beautifully animated,” praised the film for its “superb performances” and original, thought-provoking screenplay.” Ryder appeared in the comedy The Darwin Awards with Joseph Fiennes. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2006.
Ryder reunited with Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters for the surreal black comedy Sex and Death 101 (2007). The story follows the sexual odysseys of successful businessman Roderick Blank, played by Simon Baker, who receives a mysterious e-mail on the eve of his wedding, listing all of his past and future sex partners. “We will be doing a sequel to Heathers next”, Ryder stated. “There’s Heathers in the real world! We have to keep going!” In a more recent interview Ryder was quoted as saying on the speculation of a Heathers sequel: “I don’t know how much of the movie is official; it’s a ways away. But it takes place in Washington and Christian Slater agreed to come back and make an Obi-Wan-type appearance. It’s very funny.”
Ryder appeared in David Wain’s comedy The Ten. The film centers around ten stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. The film debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival on January 10, 2007, with a theatrical release on August 3, 2007. Ryder played the female lead opposite Wes Bentley and Ray Romano in Geoffrey Haley’s 2008 offbeat romantic drama The Last Word. In 2009, she starred as a newscaster in the movie version of The Informers.
Ryder appeared in a cameo role for director J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek, as Spock’s human mother Amanda Grayson, a role originally played by Jane Wyatt. Several media outlets have noted her return to the box office and upcoming roles as a remarkable comeback. She starred alongside Robin Wright and Julianne Moore in Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, released on February 9, 2009 at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival, with a limited US release scheduled for November 2009. On June 2, 2009, Entertainment Weekly reported that in an interview with Ryder in Empire magazine, she revealed that she and Christian Slater will reprise their roles in a sequel to Heathers. In 2010, Ryder played Beth McIntyre, an aging ballet star in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. She also was cast in an independent film, Stay Cool, alongside Hilary Duff, Mark Polish and Chevy Chase. The same year, she also starred as Lois Wilson in the television movie, When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story for which she has received leading female Screen Actors Guild Award and Satellite Award nominations.
Ryder appeared in a leading role in the film, The Dilemma, directed by Ron Howard and previously called Cheaters and What You Don’t Know. The film, which also starred Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, began filming in Chicago in May 2010 and was released in January 2011. In 2011, she was cast as Deborah Kuklinski, the wife of contract killer Richard Kuklinski, in the thriller The Iceman. In 2012, Tim Burton cast her as the love interest in The Killers music video, “Here with Me”. She was reunited with Tim Burton for a role in the animated 3D feature film Frankenweenie, released in October 2012, and appeared alongside James Franco in the action thriller Homefront (2013).
In 2013, Ryder starred in a segment of the Comedy Central television series Drunk History called “Boston”. She played religious protestor Mary Dyer, opposite stern Puritan magistrate John Endicott, played by Michael Cera. She has also appeared in the American miniseries Show Me a Hero, playing the president of the Yonkers City Council, and the British television film Turks & Caicos. In 2015, she starred alongside Peter Sarsgaard in the biographical drama film Experimenter, playing the wife of Stanley Milgram. Experimenter was released to positive reviews in October 2015. Aside from acting, she was also announced as the face of Marc Jacobs.
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Ryder was engaged to actor Johnny Depp for three years beginning in July 1990. She met Depp at the Great Balls of Fire! premiere in June 1989; two months later they began dating. Following her split from Depp, she dated Soul Asylum front man Dave Pirner for three years, from 1993 to 1996. She later had a two-year relationship with actor Matt Damon between 1998 and 2000.
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In 1993, Ryder offered a reward in the hope that it would lead to the return of kidnapped child Polly Klaas. Klaas lived in Petaluma, the same town where Ryder grew up. Ryder offered a $200,000 reward for the 12-year-old kidnap victim’s safe return. After the girl’s death, Ryder starred as Jo in the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and dedicated her performance to Klaas’ memory. Little Women was one of Klaas’ favorite novels.
During a sentencing hearing related to the 2001 shoplifting incident (see below), Ryder’s attorney, Mark Geragos, referred to her work with the Polly Klaas Foundation and other charitable causes. In response, Deputy District Attorney Ann Rundle said: “What’s offensive to me is to trot out the body of a dead child.” Ryder was visibly upset at the accusation and Rundle was admonished by the judge. Outside the courthouse, Polly’s father Marc Klaas defended Ryder and expressed outrage at the prosecutor’s comments.
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On December 12, 2001, Ryder was arrested on shoplifting charges in Beverly Hills, California. She was accused of stealing $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories at a Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Ryder agreed under signature to pay two Civil Demands, as permitted under California’s Statute for Civil Recovery for Shoplifting, from Saks Fifth Avenue that completely reimbursed Saks Fifth Avenue for the stolen and surrendered merchandise while detained in the Security Offices of the Saks Fifth Avenue store, and before she was read her Miranda rights and arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department. Los Angeles District Attorney Stephen Cooley produced a team of eight prosecutors. Cooley filed four felony charges against her. Ryder hired noted celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos. Negotiations for a plea bargain failed at the end of summer 2002. As noted by Joel Mowbray from National Review, the prosecution was not ready to offer the actress an open door to a no-contest plea on misdemeanor charges.
During the trial she was accused of using drugs, including oxycodone, diazepam and Vicodin (hydrocodone/APAP) without valid prescriptions. Ryder was convicted of grand theft, shoplifting and vandalism, but was acquitted on the third felony charge, burglary. In December 2002, she was sentenced to three years’ probation, 480 hours of community service, $3,700 in fines, and $6,355 in restitution to the Saks Fifth Avenue store and ordered to attend psychological and drug counseling. After reviewing Ryder’s probation report, Superior Court Judge Elden Fox noted that Ryder served 480 hours of community service and on June 18, 2004, the felonies were reduced to misdemeanors. Ryder remained on probation until December 2005.
Of the incident, Ryder explained to Interview Magazine that it occurred during a time in her career where she was depressed. She also stated that heavy painkilling medication she was prescribed at the time by a quack doctor had significantly clouded her judgment.