It is not only the people at Showest who recognize Winona Ryder’s light burning bright. For years her colleagues and compatriots have known that a unique talent emanates from the dedicated actress.
“She radiates a light,” says actress Michelle Pfeiffer, who worked with Ryder in 1993 on “The Age of Innocence,” directed by Martin Scorsese. “It captivates me,” added Pfeiffer.
Everyone who comes into contact with Ryder is impressed with her for an abundance of reasons. Like Pfeiffer, they all agree that there is something about Ryder both on and off the screen that lights up a production. Her sense of humor, her commitment and her vulnerability are all traits that help to describe her complex character in real life.
Tom Rothman, President of 20th Century Fox Film Production, has known her for several years throughout several projects. He worked with Ryder on “The Crucible” and is now involved with her on “Alien 4,” in which Ryder co-stars with Sigourney Weaver. “She’s always been mature and wise in some ways beyond her years. One thing I’ve noticed is her incredible versatility as an actress. I’m seeing that everyday in the dailies in ‘Alien.’ She is a tremen-dously gifted actress. She has a really extraordinary range.”
Christina Ricci, who worked with Ryder in 1989 on “Mermaids,” remembers it this way: “She is a really honest actress. She gives a piece of herself. Most people seem so unconnected. She really feels a lot when she’s working.
“We worked together a lot. Almost everything I was in, she was in. I had no idea how to do anything, especially when it came to crying. She’d talk to me about it. I was only nine years old and completely looked up to her.”
Convention is not something that Ryder bows to and that is extremely evident in the path she has taken for her ca-reer. Pfeiffer says that she has always been impressed with the choices Ryder has made, especially for her age.
Rothman calls her “adventurous” in terms of the parts she’s taken, and the filmmakers she’s worked with. “She’s bold. ‘Alien 4’ is a good example. Sigourney really wanted her and so did the studio. She’s smart. She’s terrific. She is a great movie star and actress,” says Rothman.
Laura Ziskin, a producer at Fox 2000, is developing a book called “Roustabout” with Ryder. “She is very brave. As a producer, she is very focused. She knows her stuff about directors. She’s very clear and knowledgeable about what’s going on. There’s no nonsense.
“And she can play more complex characters than the typical ingenue. I’m nuts about her. I think she’s great. There’s a real interesting human in there and I think that comes through.”
“Roustabout” is the story of a contemporary small traveling circus. Ryder plays a tent rigger. The story centers on the circus as a dysfunctional family, and Ryder’s role in it. Ziskin also believes that this is an interesting time for Ryder, as she makes a shift from younger roles to characters of her own age. “I’ve had the pleasure to watch her mature,” says Ziskin.
Ricci puts it simply: “She used to play the teenager angst roles. Now she’s more mature and stuff.”
Rothman also agrees that Ryder is growing up quickly. “She is demonstrating a maturity. In ‘Aliens,’ she plays a part that is tough cookie. In that regard, she’s playing more of a grown-up character. There are these fantastic scenes where she really holds her own. Abigail in ‘The Crucible’ is probably the last teenage character she will play. Think what the future holds. It’s pretty exciting certainly. I think she’s going to make the transition excep-tionally well.”
Rothman is working with her to develop a book called “The Trials of Maria Barbiella.” The movie is an epic and the character, Maria, goes through a number of ages.
Ryder’s depth and range of roles is something that certainly impressed actor/director Al Pacino and producer Mi-chael Hadge when they cast her in his documentary “Looking for Richard.” Ryder plays Lady Anne.
Says Pacino of his choice to cast her: “I really didn’t know her well at all when I did it. But I saw her in the role. It was presented to her as an experiment. I thought she was unusually trusting. She was doing Shakespeare and she’d never done it before. That took an inordinate amount of courage.
“She completely gave herself and did it for nothing. And she wasn’t paid. I was impressed with that kind of com-mitment. Everyone was surprised at her giving herself so completely to something experimental in nature.”
Hadge says that when they presented the part to Ryder, the actress was surprised.
“She said, ‘Me play Lady Anne?’,” related Hadge. Traditionally, the part of Lady Anne is played by a much older actress. “But Al was interested in youth. He thought that would lend credibility to the character, how he turns her around so fast in a period of 15 minutes. He wanted youth and vulnerability and Winona has that,” says Hadge.
Ryder thought about it, and then, according to Hadge, jumped right in without hardly any rehearsal. “A lot of time with Shakespeare, actors need a lot of time to rehearse. But we didn’t have the money to stand around and talk about it. We ran through it a couple of times and did it. She should do more Shakespeare,” he added.
He described the working conditions in which Ryder flew out from Los Angeles to do her scenes in Manhattan at the St. John’s Divine Cathedral. They only had a day to shoot, and they worked from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. “It was great. She is wonderful to work with, so giving. She is so accommodating,” says Hadge.
Despite her strength as an actress, that does not belie her ability to make people feel at ease on the set. Pacino says, “She’s very open. She has amusing things to say and she made me laugh. She’s fun to be around.” Adds Rothman: “She’s kind of a card. She is not serious on the set. It’s a treat to work with her.”