The one thing Ryder seems not to have learned on the way to becoming a movie star is how to lie. Hence the nervous hummingbird. She thinks things through. Is she being honest? Is she being fair? Is she being defensive or tacky? If insomnia didn't exist, Ryder would have invented it. One night, she calls with a small, hard sound in her voice and blurts, apropos of her diaries, "If you're only pretending to like me, and you write a really mean article, I'm going to hate myself for giving you fuel." I stammer assurances. Ryder wants to know how I'll use the diaries. I tell her I'll just stick them in somewhere. Now she's laughing: "What, in the middle of the article?"
April 8, 1991
I wish I could write in this fucking thing without the fear of it being read or fucking published one day. Hell, I'm not that famous. Who the fuck cares anyway? I'll probably be dead by then, so it won't really matter. Unless my kids find this shit embarrassing . . . .
I wish I were in San Francisco, in the Sunset district. I remember going there once with G. I got so much sand in my shoes. He had a skateboard, and we were walking on the beach. I felt so much older than him, but part of me didn't . . . . Boy, did I blow him off. I remember he was so poor, as poor as I used to be. He was so dirty. He was so sweet. I didn't like him, though – not like that. Maybe for a minute, but it went away . . . Right now I wish I had a little apartment in San Francisco. I wish I wasn't doing what I was doing. No, that's wrong. I like doing what I'm doing – I just don't like parts of it. Classic, huh? This sounds so classic: actors bitching and moaning about wanting to be like everybody else. But if they were, they'd just want to be movie stars. I can live how I want. That's that. No one put this wall up. No one else knelt down around me and laid the bricks. I did it myself. That's why I'm so exhausted. Or is it just jet lag?
I love this line in Tom Waits' "San Diego Serenade": "Never felt my heart strings till I nearly went insane." I'm having a beer. Oh, fucking boy! Isn't that exciting? It actually is, if you think about it. For me, at least. These are things I never do because I think too much. I think ahead. I think behind. I think sideways. I think it all. If it exists, I've fucking thought of it.
Ryder wrote that three years ago on a plane from London to Los Angeles. She'd had half a beer and was already tipsy. Ryder is the product of a bohemian, countercultural childhood, although strangely so. Her parents once wrote a scholarly, feminist book called Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady, which identified them as the directors of "the only library in the world exclusively devoted to the literature of mind-altering drugs." Ryder once wrote a journal entry in which she joked about her "fear of marijuana." Her parents took the kids to splash around naked in waterfalls. Ryder now says of nudity in movies: "I just couldn't do it. I just couldn't. No matter what. I just couldn't."
Today, Ryder's father deals in '60s-related books, and her mother has a tiny production company that specializes in the filming of births. The actress frequently reminisces about Petaluma – the sentence I miss my family is murmured like a mantra through her journals. Ryder has a half sister, Sunyata, 25, and a half brother, Jubal, 24, from her mother's previous marriage, as well as a younger brother, Yuri, 17, who is named after the first Russian in space. In her stories the clan seems sweet, funny, infinitely gentle. Grapefruit clearly didn't give Ryder insomnia. More likely, it had to do with spending her adolescence on sets and in hotel rooms. It had to do with pining for Petaluma and with trying to think sideways.
"For a long time, I was almost ashamed of being an actress," Ryder says. "I felt like it was a shallow occupation. I'd go to see a band with friends from school, and people would be watching every move I made. They'd be judging me: 'Look at her shoes! I bet those cost $400!' That affected me. I grew up with no money. My parents did what they were passionate about, and they didn't make money. And there were a lot of kids, so we lived with no electricity, no running water and no heating, except for a stove. Every week my dad would get a pint of Haagen-Dazs, and that was our big, exciting reward. My parents compensated with amazing amounts of love and support, so I don't regret any of it. But my point is that when people look at me like I'm this really rich, pampered, privileged person – I am. I am right now. But it wasn't always like that. Sometimes people think I was born on the screen and that I kind of walked into the world. Sometimes I'll meet people, and they'll be like 'Oh, I'm really sorry about my car. It's really dirty.' I mean, we had moss and mushrooms growing in our car. If we had a car."
Ryder often beats me to the next question.
"Why am so I defensive? I'm defensive because it offends me so much when . . . OK, I don't want to fuck this up . . . . I know a lot of young actors who live in these dumps. They have their books scattered, and their mattress is on the floor – and they're millionaires. That's fine. That's their way of living. But the reason they're doing it is that they're ashamed. And I've talked to them about it. You just want to say, `Don't live this way to show people that you're real and that you're deep.' It offends me, because I know what it's like to be in poverty, and it's not fun, and it's not romantic, and it's not cool."
Last year, Ryder wrote in a diary: "I feel like it's OK to be who I am. It's OK to be a fucking movie star. It's OK to live in a nice house."
Ryder lives in a nice house. And she can sleep – in a bed, on a plane, anywhere. One Sunday, I'm sitting in her lobby, waiting for her to make it out of bed. Soon she comes whispering down the hall. In a striped shirt and overalls, she has the warm, disheveled look of someone who has just woken up and isn't quite sure where she is. She apologizes for running late. She says to the concierge, "Any mail?" The concierge says: "No, Miss Ryder. No mail on Sundays." And she laughs at herself: "I forgot it was Sunday."
Back in her apartment, Ryder gives me a shy, offhand tour. Hers is a spare, modern place: high white ceilings, lots of light. In the living room, there's a grand piano and an acoustic guitar leaning against a couch. And there's an ink stain in the middle of the beige carpet: Last night, Pirner was writing Christmas cards. (I've again asked to meet the singer, but I may have blown it by saying, "What's up with his hair?" To whichRyder replied: "Aww. His hair is fine. He just hasn't brushed it in 10 years.") Elsewhere: an issue of the Missing Children Report and a photo album from The Age of Innocence, in which Scorsese has written, "To Winona: You 'became' May Welland by incorporating all the delight, beauty and strength that you already possess." Ryder is just settling in to this apartment. Her first editions (Jane Austen, E.M. Forster) and original letters (Albert Einstein, Oscar Wilde) are back in Los Angeles. Separated from her worldly possessions, she seems frustrated: "I wish I had more things that reveal character."
Here's the thing about Ryder – she reveals her character in stages. It's no coincidence that she played the hell out of Welland, who begins Age of Innocence as a giddy bride-to-be and ends it as a shrewd, willful wife. After leaving her apartment, Ryder and I browse for an hour and a half in Tower Books – she agrees to leave only when I promise we'll go to another bookstore later – then settle in at a bright, clinking coffee shop. The actress is in top form: funny, feisty, unafraid of the tape recorder. I would like to discuss the foolish, oversexed Dracula, but when I broached the subject during an earlier interview, the hummingbird and I had the following exchange:
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