Winona Ryder Admits ’90s ‘It’ Girl Status ‘Took Its Toll’

Winona Ryder at 'The Iceman' Premiere
Winona Ryder at 'The Iceman' Premiere

Once upon a time, Winona Ryder was as recognized for her pixie haircut and her personal life as she was for her roles in seminal '90s films like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Reality Bites."

But as the actress, now 41, found herself at the epicenter of pop culture two decades ago, she also found that it didn't afford her a pass from the age-related pressures of Hollywood.

"Even in the height of everything in the '90s -- even though I was the right age, I didn't look the right age. I dealt with the age issue on the other side of not looking like I'm old enough," Ryder told Yahoo! Movies while promoting her latest film, "The Iceman," in which she appears opposite Michael Shannon as the seemingly unwitting wife of a hit man.

Winona Ryder in 1998
Winona Ryder in 1998

During the grunge era, Ryder earned two Oscar nominations and appeared in 16 films -- that's nearly two films per year, often in a leading role. "I worked very hard, and it took its toll," she confessed. "But looking back, I just feel very, very fortunate," she added, noting that she remains a big fan of many of her films -- and not just because she was in them.

Ryder, who still appears as youthful as in her "Girl, Interrupted" days, was comfortably chic in a black menswear-styled suit accented with modern, casual pink-stoned gold jewelry. She explained that while there is truth to the claim that show business gets harder for aging actresses, she is picky about her jobs. "I am very happy in my life, very interested in other things. So it takes something special," she shared. "I'm not interested in playing the girl that's just there to make the guy, you know, give him a talking to."

Ryder has managed to stay out of the glaring eye of the paparazzi for some years now, telling Yahoo! that she lives in San Francisco and keeps her private life private. She does not grant many interviews these days and admitted that she found the early promotional tour for "The Iceman" a bit daunting. "I know I was a little bit overwhelmed at those festivals," she said of 2012's Toronto Film Festival and Venice Film Festival. (She hadn't been to the famed Venice fest for 19 years, when she was promoting Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence," for which she was nominated for an Oscar in the supporting-actress category.)

Ryder as Deborah Kuklinski in 'The Iceman'
Ryder as Deborah Kuklinski in 'The Iceman'

She indicated that she had reason to be nervous. "The Iceman" is new territory for Ryder. Most of the characters she has played over the years are typically searching for something, but this one is the opposite. Ryder's character, Deborah Kuklinski, the real-life wife of contract killer Richard Kuklinski, lives in a world of lies. "She had to have known something," Ryder said. "We all know what denial feels like."

Ryder has tended to shy away from violent films in the past, but she said she was enthralled by Kuklinski and felt strongly that it was a story that needed to be told. "Taking it to such an extreme … that was fascinating to me and something that I wanted to explore, even though I knew it was going to be something very scary. It's one of those things that you don't know if you're going to succeed. I didn't know if I was going to be good at it, but that fear propelled me to want to try."

While on set with Shannon -- who does not rehearse or block his scenes -- Ryder admitted that she had to adjust. In one sequence, Shannon flies into a rage as his character's dual existence comes unhinged, and Ryder claimed that her fearful reaction was authentic. "You don't know what's going to happen. In the beginning I was [widens eyes] not used to that," she said, adding that she got a lot out of the experience. "You have to be present in order to be in a scene with him. … That is something I try to do in my work but also in my life."

Ryder also said that she found herself watching out for the girls who played her daughters, McKaley Miller and Megan Sherrill. "[They] were the age I was when I started, and so I was extra-protective. This is not exactly a kid-friendly movie and set. So I'm sensitive to a lot of stuff."

Ryder has come a long way from her "it" girl days of the '90s, although she is quick to deflect her former title. "I feel like, in retrospect, this '90s 'it' girl thing has come up, but at the time there were a lot of 'it' girls."

When it comes to the "it" girls of today, Ryder says she is impressed. "I don't know if I was very young if I could go into it today with the way that it's changed and the instant access and the Internet and everything," she said, adding, "I also feel for them."

"The Iceman," also starring Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, and David Schwimmer, with an appearance by James Franco, enters theaters in limited release on May 3.

Watch Winona Ryder in an exclusive clip from 'The Iceman':