Exclusive Interview: Winona Ryder on The Iceman

Winona Ryder also reflects on Alien: Resurrection and the ending of Reality Bites.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Winona Ryder The Iceman

I don’t want to overhype this or anything, but I think my interview with Winona Ryder is the best interview I’ve ever done. It began with her complimenting my notebook, which is always a good start. Then when I got into her classic body of work, we really clicked. She responded to my interest in her less discussed work, and by the time I asked the Reality Bites question that’s plagued me since 1994, she playfully slapped my hand as we discussed it. This weekend, a new Winona Ryder movie opens. The Iceman stars Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski, a brutal contract killer who kept his underworld life a secret from his wife Deborah (Ryder) and family. She had an interesting take on Debroah Kuklinski too, but first we discussed notebooks.

Winona Ryder: Ooh, I love it. Old school.

CraveOnline: This is actually a The Notebook notebook. I’ve had it since that movie and been taping it back together when it falls apart, refilling the pages.

I love it, I love it. I write longhand, it’s true. I have many notebooks.

What do you write notes about?

Everything I write in longhand. Just notes, just letters, just everything. I prefer it. I don’t know why. It’s just something.

Is that part of your acting preparation?

Just me in life but also I think I’ve probably done it for roles too. I like to, in films, when they have an insert of something. I like to have written it myself.

Wow. I always wonder about the PA who has the job of writing all the documents for movies.

No, you have to, it has to be [me], I don’t know.

I always think about whoever had to type all the pages in The Shining of “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” because each one is different. They couldn’t have copied one. That was someone’s job.

Oh, or I could see Kubrick making Jack do that. Can’t you?

I could, but I think it’s been reported who typed them.

Oh, okay.

But when I watch the movie I always think about who did that behind the scenes. So when I watched The Iceman I was thinking you’ve played some real life people in Girl, Interrupted and Great Balls of Fire. How was playing Deborah Kuklinski similar or different to those?

Well, both of those films I had the great fortune of having those women, both their blessings and their presence on the set. Susanna Kaysen was there and Myra Gale Lewis, it was actually based on a book that she wrote and she was there as well. So it’s always nice to have that encouragement and blessing. This was very, very different in the sense that I don’t know where this woman is. She changed her name. She does not want to be found.

Normally, I think had it been a different story, I may have not wanted to play someone without their blessing really, but because I do feel that in the story, in their relationship in the story I should say, I’m of the thinking that it’s impossible for this woman to have not known anything was going on. I do believe she was living in a very deep, deep state of denial. But I do think, to the extent it makes you question or wonder what kind of responsibility she may bear because of that. Because it was essentially blood money and I think she knew that, she may not have known the extent of the violence, but I can’t imagine.

They weren’t just getting by. They were living quite well, so I think because of that, I decided to go ahead and try to take it on, because I felt that it was a story I didn’t feel the need of her approval. Also, it is “based on.” It is not the exact story. It is not a documentary.

I was going to ask: We all think we can judge someone’s character. Does this illuminate how maybe we can’t all do that as well as we think? It sounds like you have a different analysis of her position.

I do. It’s tough. That’s a really good question and I wish I had a great comeback answer but it’s a very complicated role and it’s a very complicated story. To me, personally, I’m not the girl that’s like obsessed with Richard Kuklinski. That kind of violence and that kind of stuff is not something I’d want to watch. To me, it was more their relationship. Who is this woman that could stay in this relationship for this long and live off the proceeds of this and pretend like everything’s okay to the outside world?

I think there are layers, very subtle layers in the scenes that I’m in, that I hope can come across. Certainly the different department heads, costume, all that was very crucial. This is a girl who gets dressed up to go to the grocery store. There was a lot of subtle stuff to work with, and I did also just try to infuse a little bit more complexity than being sort of the wide-eyed, innocent bystander. I think she was more than that but not totally conscious maybe of it. It’s just complicated, man. I don’t know.

It is. Does the dress up aspect of the work, whether it’s period costumes of Dracula or Age of Innocence or the wealthy attire of the ‘60s and ‘70s of this, is that part of the thrill of the job for you?

Certainly it’s incredibly helpful. It’s incredibly helpful for this in particular, the fact that everything we wore in the film was vintage Valentino and vintage designer clothes, expensive clothes. I sort of always start from the shoes up. A girl who walks in high heels is a very different kind of person than a girl who walks in sandals. This was a woman who walks in high heels all the time pretty much. That says a lot about someone so I felt that they really helped me.

They helped me become the character, and then certainly back in the day, the corsets, my God, they’re totally responsible for my performances. Being repressed, I think the layers that people may have seen may have just been lack of oxygen, so a lot of credit goes to the corsets for any good reviews I may have gotten. I’m joking of course.