When Winona Ryder turned 40, she reached a landmark age that would send many Hollywood actresses into a tailspin and into the arms of a cosmetic surgeon. For Ryder, however, it was cause for celebration and optimism about what the future might hold. “I love getting older,” she says. “And I was really excited to turn 40. I feel like the older you get, the more yourself you become, and I think the roles, even if they are smaller, are more interesting.”
And it’s true. Lately, she’s been playing some meaty characters – an ageing ballerina crushed at giving way to a younger dancer in Black Swan, the wife of a hitman in her latest, The Iceman – and even though they are not the leading roles of her teen heyday, she’s not complaining.
“Being the ingénue is fun for a while, and if you are lucky you get a couple of years. I feel like I got really lucky because I had a lot longer than that. And part of me never thought that I would still be acting now, so I relish the work. There’s a lot of pressure in Hollywood on women to stay younger looking, which I don’t quite understand.”
Not that she need worry too much on that score. At 41, her face is still remarkably unlined, with porcelain pale skin framed by a mane of dark hair. Will she feel the same way about ageing when the wrinkles finally arrive? “I do look forward to the wrinkles, actually. Really, I won’t mind. I started out so young and part of me always wanted to be older to get those more interesting parts. Now I feel like I have more life experience and I embrace it.”
Although she’s nowhere near the Hollywood scrapheap, Ryder has certainly lived an eventful life. She’s enjoyed huge success but suffered very public setbacks, not least when, at the height of her career in 2001, she was accused of stealing thousands of dollars of designer clothes from a Beverly Hills store. After a headline-grabbing trial – which heard accusations that she used prescription drugs – she was convicted of shoplifting and sentenced to three years probation and 480 hours of community service.
She admits that it was her close friends and family who helped her through those tough times. “I’m very lucky because I’ve had good friends since I was very young. And I’m also very close to my family. When anybody goes though a difficult time, it’s the friends and family that reach out to you, the ones that call you, the ones who care about you.
“My parents are my closest friends. They are the best people. I don’t know how they raised four of us but they didn’t compromise. They did what they loved to do, and even though we didn’t have a lot of money there was just so much love.”
Ryder was born in Minnesota, but from the age of seven grew up near San Francisco in California where her parents, Cynthia and Michael – both writers – ran an antiquarian book store. From 12, she was acting with a local theatre group and she made her first film, Lucas, as a 15-year-old. More roles followed, including the Tim Burton-directed horror comedy Beetle Juice (Monday Sky Sci-Fi/Horror), which became a huge box-office smash and propelled her to stardom. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
“I was mid-audition,” she recalls, “when a casting director said, ‘Listen, kid, you should not be an actress. You are not pretty enough. You don’t have it.’ But it’s funny – and this is a testament to my parents and how they raised me – I wasn’t crushed. They had always instilled in me that it was way cooler to be an individual and to be unique.”
She went on to prove that casting director spectacularly wrong. By the time she was 22, she was cast as one of the leads in The Age of Innocence (Tuesday Sky Drama/Romance), Martin Scorsese’s beautifully crafted take on Edith Wharton’s novel. Her performance won her a Golden Globe and earned her an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress. Her latest film was, she admits, particularly challenging. The Iceman (released in cinemas on Friday 7 June) is based on the true story of Mob contract killer Richard Kuklinski (played superbly by Michael Shannon), a stone-cold assassin who killed more than 100 people before he was finally arrested in 1986. He received multiple life sentences and died in prison in 2006. Ryder plays his wife, who claimed that she didn’t know that her husband was a killer but clearly enjoyed the benefits – and the wealth – from his Mob lifestyle.
“And that question was interesting – how could this woman stay with this man for all those years and how much responsibility did she bear? She was flourishing from this blood money and I believe she knew it wasn’t clean and she was in denial. She just didn’t want to think about it, like we all do with things that aren’t pleasant. It’s this stuff that we don’t deal with that I found fascinating.”
Ryder herself has never married but has had high-profile relationships in the past – she was engaged to Johnny Depp in the 1990s and dated Matt Damon – and is now reported to be seeing fashion designer Scott Mackinlay Hahn.
Middle age can be difficult time for a Hollywood actress, but Ryder is still very much in demand. She’s just completed Homefront, a thriller with Jason Statham, and is about to start filming BBC drama Turks and Caicos, David Hare’s follow-up to Page Eight. “This is a good time for me,” she says. “I really do love getting older!”
FIVE WINNING PERFORMANCES
1. Beetle Juice (1988) Ryder plays a goth ghost-whisperer in Tim Burton’s fantasy
2. Edward Scissorhands (1990) With Burton again, this time as Johnny Depp’s sweetheart
3. Little Women (1994) A second Oscar nod, after The Age of Innocence (right), for her turn as Jo March
4. Alien Resurrection (1997) Makes her action-hero debut in the fourth Alien movie
5. Black Swan (2010) Almost steals the film as Natalie Portman’s bitter, twisted ballet nemesis
Edward Scissorhands is on Bank Holiday Monday, 5pm, Film4