With her dark eyes and delicate, quick movements, at times Winona Ryder seems like a bird in flight.
No wonder she excelled in the role of the ‘‘dying swan’’ ballet dancer Beth Macintyre, in Black Swan in 2010. Her fragility is the first thing you notice.
Michael Shannon, her co-star in The Iceman, a drama about the mob contract killer Richard Kuklinski, says, "I feel very protective of her. It’s like that King Kong vibe of ‘everyone leave her alone.’ "
Of course Ryder has never been left alone – not since the age of 17, when she got her break in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. And when, in 2001, she was charged with shoplifting in Beverly Hills, it was a guarantee of a media, if not a criminal, tag for life. Winona Ryder was the starlet who became a screwball.
The actress, 40, underwent her own personal rehabilitation years ago, and now Hollywood is rediscovering her, too. Since her supporting role in Black Swan, she’s had box-office success with Vince Vaughn in comedy The Dilemma, has just reunited with Burton for animated horror Frankenweenie, and is also receiving acclamation on the festival circuit for the part of Deborah Kuklinski, wife of Richard, in The Iceman.
No wonder she is chirruping away: she talks for minutes at a time, hardly pausing for breath, which she attributes to nerves. She barely looks 30, never mind 40, and you feel that if you cut her through, all you would find is sweetness.
Frankenweenie is the first movie Ryder has made with Burton in 21 years. His Beetlejuice and later Edward Scissorhands made her a star. She credits him with ‘‘her whole career’’. A career that is now entering a new phase.
‘‘As you get older, it becomes more about how good a role is rather than how large it is,’’ she says. ‘‘So I loved those parts in Black Swan and The Iceman. When you are younger, we all think, ‘I want to be the lead, I have to be the lead’, but no offence to anyone, the supporting parts are often better. You’re not going to find me like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, watching old movies that I have made. It’s nice not to have everything focused on you. For example, with Natalie Portman in Black Swan, I felt, ‘It’s your turn now, I had my go.’ Let’s be honest, I had a good run at lead roles, and it’s kind of nice to be out of it.’’
Ryder credits the past few years as being ‘‘the best in my life’’.
‘‘I just wanted a normal existence,’’ she says, wistfully. ‘‘And that’s what I have been concentrating on for the last five or 10 years. I stay well away from Los Angeles.’’