Pale, unbearably slim with very short dark hair, Winona Ryder slips into the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles looking like a junior model on a day off, in an ankle-length brown leather skirt and matching top.
At 28, Winona Ryder looks like a teenager -- a fragile, waif-like teenager,
very much like the 16-year-old mental patient who is at the heart of the film, "Girl, Interrupted," described by some as an all-girls "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
Doing a film based on the true story of Susanna Kaysen's experiences while a patient at a New England mental hospital for two years in the late 1960s would seem far removed from Ryder's experiences, but, as she revealed recently, that's not the case. At age 19, a mixed-up Ryder put herself into such a place for five days.
In promoting "Girl, Interrupted," the actress best known for "Bettlejuice,"
"Mermaids," "Little Women" and "Alien Resurrection" discusses some of these painful memories, revealing the real Ryder.
In her chat with JVibe.com, she also touched upon her Jewish roots.
Ryder, born Winona Horowitz, is half Jewish on her father's side. Another aspect to her Jewish background seldom mentioned is the fact that many of her relatives died in the Holocaust. This horrific event was something that affected her as she grew up, despite her unusual upbringing, which included living on a 300-acre commune in Northern California with her parents and seven other families.
JVibe: Before we talk about your new film, I'd
heard many of your relatives died in the Holocaust.
WR: Yeah, my family is from Russia on my
father's side. My grandparents immigrated through
Ellis Island and lived in Brooklyn. My grandmother
still lives there--she's 99.
JVibe: When did you learn about your family
WR: My dad told me about it when I was the
right age to hear about something so tragic. They
waited for the right time.
JVibe: How has that history affected you
as an actress?
WR: I'd rather not get into that today. I
think it's affected me the same way it would affect
anyone who had lost so many. It's been a very big
part of my life.
JVibe: Okay, about Girl, Interrupted, why
do you say this is the most important movie you've
ever made? WR: I could have been that woman.
I strongly identified with what she went through.
I, too, have been a patient in a mental hospital
and have suffered from depression, panic and anxiety
attacks. I checked myself into a mental hospital
once for a week.
JVibe: What happened to you to get you to
WR: My heart would suddenly start thumping
at 90 miles an hour and I'd be sweating. I was 19
at the time and felt totally alone. I felt I couldn't
tell anybody in the world how I felt. It's a horrible
feeling not to be able to describe that fear and
terror. You're on a plane and you want desperately
to get off. So you turn to the stranger in the next
seat and you want to say something but you don't
know what to say. It's scary�real horrible and scary.
JVibe: What was it like being in a mental
WR: Scary. It was a lot like the hospital
wing in "Girl, Interrupted." It was a very bare
sort of stark place where they take everything away
from you. I was only there for five days, but it
was definitely something that I could use for the
movie. That feeling when you first walk into a place
� you feel very alone and frightened. But I was
a volunteer patient so I could leave at any time
so it was different.
JVibe: Did it help?
WR: I didn't really get anything from that
place. I really didn't. I went there. I was so tired,
I just wanted to sleep. They didn't help me at all.
JVibe: Susanna Kaysen was in for two years.
WR: Yeah, she saw a psychiatrist for 20 minutes
and they locked her up for two years. It's absurd.
She didn't need to be there. I mean I do consider
Susanna a rebel, in a very internal way, but she
didn't need to be locked up.
JVibe: So did you learn anything from the
WR: At l9, I learned that no matter how rich
you are, no matter how much you pay some hospital
or doctor, they can't fix you. They can't give you
a pill or a secret answer to anything that's going
to make you better. You have to figure it out for
JVibe: So did you figure out what it was
all about, why someone who should have been on top
of the world was in such trouble?
WR: I grew up in front of everybody. I got
my first pimples on film. I went through puberty
on film and even had my first period, literally,
on film. At the time, my boyfriend was an actor
(Johnny Depp) and everything we did together was
photographed and endlessly written about. My whole
life was amplified for public consumption. And every
time I complained, I was called a brat. So I learned
I wasn't supposed to complain about anything. That
was the way I was programmed. The message was we
were perfect people who led perfect lives.
JVibe: Why are you talking about it now,
apart from the obvious - to help promote the film?
WR: I didn't talk about it for a long time
because I was scared I wouldn't be able to control
it. I've now made a conscious choice to talk about
JVibe: Do you think it will have negative
repercussions on your career?
WR: As actors we have a rough time if we
mention we're going through a depression. We get
slammed and called utter brats. We're sickeningly
wellpaid, we get these amazing bonuses and lead
these very charmed lives. But along with it there's
the stuff the public doesn't see. A lot of ugly
stuff, and soul-selling stuff. When you turn on
the TV and see, 'Oh, another actor goes into rehab,
or another actor has a breakdown� or another ends
up in a car crash with a hooker, or whatever�� there's
demons the public doesn't see. I live a very privileged
life. I'm very blessed. I have money and lots of
material things. But I also have the same pressures
that any their human being has, only amplified because
of the work I've chosen to do and because our lives
are a lot more public.
JVibe: Is talking about what happened to
you part of the recovery process?
WR: I had to learn to talk to people about
it. I read Susanna's book. Over the years I heard
from other women who were like me--and they were
grateful to learn they were not alone. It's not
an isolated incident that happens to one girl---it's
something that's sweeping the country. A loneliness
we all go through.
JVibe: Is that why the book had such a profound
effect on you?
WR: When I read the book when I was 21 I
fell madly in love with it. I hadn't read something
so brutally honest without being self-indulgent
before. That's pretty rare in literature especially
for a female character. But the characters were
all so captivating, heartbreaking and funny.
JVibe: Was it easy to get the film made?
WR: It took me six years to do. Hollywood
seems to want to make softer romantic movies for
women like "Runaway Bride." I'm not out to bad mouth
those films but most of what is offered to young
woman in film today is terrible. It's really an
insult. I couldn't make this movie today because
I'm 28 and I'm already taking shots from the press
about playing a teenager again.
JVibe: So you're obviously not turned off
completely to show business.
WR: No. I still feel like a kid in a way.
I get excited when I get a job and on my first day
at work. But I live up in San Francisco---and it's
important to have a life outside of this business.
JVibe: Are you thinking of marriage and kids
WR: Not yet. At 28, I'm not ready yet to
get married and have kids.
JVibe: Let's lighten up. Tell us about your
boyfriend Matt Damon.
WR: We've really made it a long time--a lot
of that has to do with keeping it low key. I'm very,
very happy. It's nice when you get to know yourself
and your flaws and get to know someone (like Matt)
and they embrace them too.
JVibe: So what are your flaws?
WR: I'm weird looking. My ears stick out
and I sometimes look like an alien.
born writer Ivor Davis, who has been a foreign correspondent
in the United States for the Times of London and
the London Express for more than 20 years, writes
a weekly entertainment column for the New York Times