Ugly period in Winona Ryder's life turns into beautiful 'Swan'
NEW YORK — In person, she's all jagged locks and wide brown eyes, her voice soft and dreamy.
But on-screen, as a former "little princess" of a prima ballerina put out to pasture in Black Swan, Winona Ryder is all thunderous, seething fury.
The two-time Oscar nominee, who has been mostly under the radar for the last decade, makes the most of her time on-screen as Beth Macintyre, the former wunderkind of a Manhattan ballet company now relegated to toasting her replacement (Natalie Portman).
The similarities to her own career trajectory aren't lost on Ryder. The actress broke out as a wispy, idiosyncratic child actress who starred in Beetlejuice, followed by Heathers, The Age of Innocence,Reality Bites, Little Women and Girl, Interrupted before hitting a prolonged professional dry spell.
"I had this great run when I was a teen and in my 20s, and then things got harder. That's why I kind of love the parallel in Black Swan. It's absurd that these girls have to retire so young. I just turned 39 the other day. And it's like, 'Wow, in a year I'll be 40,' " Ryder says with a sigh and a smile.
Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky can't quite grasp that the perennially young Ryder is hitting middle age.
"She's so youthful-looking," he says. "I liked the idea of finding someone iconic, and Winona was the first idea to pop into our heads. Here's an actress with huge chapters ahead of her, but people remember her when she used to be very much like Natalie Portman. I liked the meta-casting idea."
He says Ryder brought professionalism and years of ingrained knowledge of moviemaking to the low-budget, no-frills shoot.
"She befriended everyone. She seemed very down to earth and aware of where her life and career was. She's easy to talk to. She has a childlike innocence and purity," says Aronofsky.
And her career appears to be on the upswing after a series of flops coupled with attention for the wrong reasons. A decade ago, Ryder was arrested on shoplifting charges; she was sentenced to probation and community service after a media circus trial.
It's not a topic she wants to rehash, preferring to focus on her renewed passion for her day job. In addition to Black Swan, Ryder co-stars in the romantic comedy The Dilemma, out in January and directed by Ron Howard.
"After these movies, which were a real gift to me, work breeds work. There were a few years where the only thing I was getting offered was (slasher movies). I wasn't offered Saw, but those kinds (of movies), or really stupid comedies," she says. "Right now, I'm trying to be kind of choosy. There's a few things on the horizon."
Ryder is firmly old-school, still reading actual books by Philip Roth.
"I still love something tactile and tangible, turning pages. I got this iPad for my birthday. I can't imagine reading a book on it. I just can't imagine looking at a screen and not turning pages. Books are so beautiful to me," she says.
Indeed, Ryder seems entrenched in the '90s, back before she could Google herself — not that she does.
"I don't have a computer. I don't go on the Internet. I keep hearing that you can find out anything, which is kind of too bad. Now everyone knows the salaries and the budgets and the troubles. It does take the mystery out," says Ryder.
She's content to spend her non-working time in her part-time home base of San Francisco, where she hangs out with artists and musicians. "There's a lot of cute writers up there. I gotta bag me a husband!" quips Ryder.