Winona Ryder (29 October 1971 -)
In the late Eighties, Winona Ryder appeared in two iconic movies: Beetlejuice (1987) and Heathers (1988). She wouldn’t be twenty for another three/four years. Having that much success so early in her career could now be seen as a bad thing, as the Nineties increasingly showed that fame and fortune were having an adverse effect on her. Dogged by depression and anxiety, Ryder continued to make movies that were incredibly diverse, and which featured varied, challenging performances. But like many of her contemporaries, once the new century arrived she became less and less of a box office draw, and her choice of roles retained their variety but not the critical or commercial acclaim of her earlier work. Nowadays her appearances are more sporadic, though well-received. In particular, her role in Black Swan (2010) and her work on the TV series Stranger Things (2016) have reinforced the idea that she is still as talented as she was in her heyday. Here are five more reminders of just how good an actress Winona Ryder is.
The Crucible (1996) – Character: Abigail Williams
Nicholas Hytner’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s acclaimed play (and with a script by Miller himself) features a stunning performance from Ryder as the lover of Daniel Day-Lewis’s character who, out of envy, sparks a witch hunt in the town of Salem. Ryder is mesmerising as the vindictive Abigail, and she more than holds her own against the likes of Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, and Paul Scofield, imbuing her character with an angry, yet damaged vulnerability that more than justifies her vengeful actions.
A Scanner Darkly (2006) – Character: Donna Hawthorne
In Richard Linklater’s bold, inventive movie, which features the second fully integrated use of rotoscoping (basically tracing over original movie footage), Ryder is a dealer of Substance D, a drug that has gotten 20% of the American public hooked on it. Keanu Reeves’ undercover government agent becomes emotionally entangled with her, and it’s Ryder’s quietly subtle performance that helps guide the viewer through some of the more labyrinthine aspects of the narrative, and (hopefully) out the other side.
The House of the Spirits (1993) – Character: Blanca Trueba
Based on the novel by Isabel Allende, this arresting look at love and politics during the turbulent years of the military dictatorship in Chile sees Ryder recalling her character’s memories as a child and then following that same character’s adult life, and all the difficulties experienced at both times. It’s a largely supporting role, but Ryder is more than capable of providing a fully rounded character who has an increasing impact on the story the movie is telling. It’s also a testament to Ryder that this was her third costume/historical drama in a row – after Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993) – and she retains the virtues that allowed her to give such great performances in those movies as well.
The Iceman (2012) – Character: Deborah Kuklinski
As the unsuspecting wife of real life hitman Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), Ryder gives an understated, yet compelling performance that acts as a credible counterpoint to Shannon’s more expressive role. This was another reminder that Ryder is a fine, intuitive actress when given the right role, and she matches her co-star for intensity when the part requires it, leaving the viewer in no doubt that whatever troubles have plagued her in the past, she’s still more than capable of bringing a somewhat stock character to life.
Square Dance (1987) – Character: Gemma Dillard
In only her second appearance in a movie, Ryder plays a thirteen year old who, having lived in the country with her grandparents (Jason Robards and Jane Alexander) for most of her life, accepts an offer from her mother to go and live with her in the city. She gives a sweet, confident performance in a movie that deserves to be reassessed as it approaches its thirtieth anniversary, and she displays a maturity in the role that few other actresses at that age could muster.