Let's talk about Dracula.
OK, I felt really connected to Age of Innocence because . . .
Wait. I'm not letting you off the hook that easily.
I don't know what to say about it that's . . .
Let's talk about its amazing similarity to the new Meat Loaf video. Have you seen that?
Yeah. [Extremely nervous laugh] Yeah.
Here's what I mean about Ryder revealing herself in stages. Today, I remind her of a Premiere article about the making of Dracula. The story opened with Coppola goading Ryder through a scene by shouting from off-camera, "You whore! You fucking whore!" The writer of the article described this as "just the push Ryder needs." I ask her if it was.
Ryder cranks up the sarcasm: "Oh, yeah, it was really great. I love being called a bitch and a whore. It's a completely silly technique, and it does not work." She pauses. "I would never have bad-mouthed Dracula at the time. Luckily, now I don't need to be Francis Coppola's favorite actress to have a good career. Now I know I can have my opinion and still be respected. But before, I was scared, because he was just so intimidating. I thought if I spoke out, people would think I was insane."
Two things have given Ryder the courage of her convictions and finally made her realize it's OK to be a "fucking movie star." The first, very simply, was The Age of Innocence. Heathers is Ryder's best friend, but Age is the man she wants to marry. "It was the first time I ever felt proud of myself as an actress," she says. "And it really made it hard for me because nothing compares." Says Scorsese: "I think she's reacting to being part of a labor of love. We had a very good time. Winona has a good sense of humor, and her energy is boundless. It was like having rampant youth on the set. She'd be jumping up and down, but then when you said, `Action,' she froze into position. All that energy was put behind her eyes, and I found that really fascinating."
Ryder's second rite of passage was more complicated and far darker: It was the search for Klaas. The actress holed up with Klaas' family, helped scour the fields and man the hot line. And according to Polly's father, Marc, "She single-handedly put the story back on the front pages" by offering a $200,000 reward. "To me, it really wasn't a cause," says Ryder, now on the Klaas Foundation's board of directors. "It was like 'This is an outrage, and it's outrageous that more people aren't outraged.' When something happens to a child, the world should stand still." Ryder found a noble use for something she'd previously been ashamed of: "my celebrityism, or whatever you call it." And she sorted through some of her own fears, past and present. After all, here is a woman not much bigger than a girl. A woman who has been stalked, though she has been advised not to discuss it. A woman who on New Year's Eve was grabbed by a drunk shouting, "Winona!" – an experience so unnerving that she returned to her great fortress of a home.
Ryder worries that people might dismiss her involvement in the Klaas case as a Hollywood photo op, but clearly it was no such thing. Joanne Gardner of the Klaas Foundation remembers the actress's first phone call: "She was in a hotel lobby in Los Angeles, sobbing. She said, `This is my town. This is my junior high. What can I do? Do you need money?' We talked for an hour and a half. Winona had an awful lot of experience, because she'd had some horrible experiences of her own–being stalked and all that. She had some psychologists that she knew. She had some FBI people that she knew. I mean, this woman . . . I've always been a fan, and she's a lovely little creature, but she astonished me with her grasp of the situation. This is not let's-go-open-a-shopping-mall kind of stuff. This is life-in-the-balance kind of stuff."
Just after New Year's, Ryder and I are scheduled to have dinner, and she asks if I would mind eating at her place: She doesn't feel up to going out. I ask if anyone will be joining us, and against all odds, signs point to Pirner. This is the Magic 8 Ball's bravest hour – if you can't go to a bar without a drunk screaming your name, then whatever privacy you do have triples in value. Which reminds me of what Ryder says about Johnny Depp: not a hell of a lot. She never makes an unkind remark about him, on or off the record. Perhaps to aid in her never-ending quest to be gracious, she doesn't read Depp's press and hasn't seen Benny and Joon or What's Eating Gilbert Grape. I ask her to free-associate onWinona forever.
Do you ever think about Johnny's tattoo?
When you were breaking up, did you think about the tattoo?
Well, now that you're thinking about the tattoo . . .
What do you want me to say? It's like 'It's there. Oh, well.' If I hated him, I'd probably say something mean. If I was still in love with him, I'd probably say something poignant. He's a great guy, but I really don't think about it.
That didn't yield much. I ask Ryder about the life of a celebrity couple, and she's more expansive: "I remember us desperately hating being hounded. It was horrible, and it certainly took its toll on our relationship. Every day we heard that we were either cheating on each other or that we were broken up, when we weren't. It was like this constant mosquito buzzing around us. . . . Now, I feel like I have an identity, whereas before I was so used to people telling me who I was. I was Winona! I was precocious! I was adorable! I was sexy! These labels were being slapped on me, and I didn't have any life outside of it, except when I went back to Petaluma."
Ryder would like to protect her relationship with Pirner from the media, insofar as it's possible. She's deliberately low-key about what she refers to as, simply, "a nice thing that's evolving." "Our relationship is different than any one I've ever had," she says. "It's just more casual. It's more of a friendship, really." She pauses, fishing for words. "What I'm basically saying is that it's not full of drama, which is really nice."
Ryder met Pirner at Soul Asylum's MTV Unplugged concert last spring. Janeane Garofalo remembers her waxing poetic about her new boyfriend: "I told her I couldn't take it anymore. She definitely exceeded her Pirner limit." In person, the singer, like his girlfriend, charms most everyone. Says Garofalo: "I thought he was really funny and cute and sweet. I have a crush on him." Still, the couple has inspired some cynicism. Courtney Love, who's never at a loss for words, blurted to a crowd, "Kurt is leaving me for Winona." Spin gave Ryder its I'm With the Band award. A reporter for Sassy asked some alternative rockers if they would go out with her, explaining, "It's my theory that boys start bands so they can get famous enough to attract Winona Ryder." I ask the actress if any of this upsets her. She smiles and quotes her brother Yuri, who's fond of moaning, "Aww, why can't we all just get along?"
Mhe truth about Ryder and Pirner: They share the cooking, and they take turns washing the dishes. It's 9 in the evening, and the three of us are dining on green salad, linguini in a marinara sauce and roasted chicken and potatoes. At first, Ryder and Pirner appear so different as to cancel each other out. She drinks root beer; he drinks red wine. She wants to know if the salad dressing should go on the side; he says, "Oh, just dump it in there." She wants to know if she should cut the chicken; he says, "Oh, just tear a leg off." Then, of course, there's the fact thatRyder is drug free and Pirner was recently seen in Rolling Stone scarfing down mushrooms in his tour bus so as to foil the Canadian border patrol.
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