One of the most well-known actresses of the past quarter-century, Winona Ryder pretty much just works when she wants to now. Becoming more of a character actress in top-tier projects like Black Swan, Ryder only ventures out in front of the camera when she really thinks it’s worth it.
Playing contract killer Richard Kuklinski’s masquerading wife Deborah opposite Michael Shannon in The Iceman (review here) was certainly enough reason for her to resurface.
Dread Central: So, do you think Deborah actually knew in real life, just based on the research you did?
Winona Ryder: I do. Well, there wasn’t actually much available that I was aware of, research on her. The research that was available was mainly in the interviews with him and the book so in order to find anything out, I’d have to get through hours of him talking about, like, shooting people in the face. And then get a snippet of something about her. So, I wouldn’t say so much in the research. I don’t know how you guys feel, but I don’t see how anyone could be in a relationship for that long, be married, have kids, for that amount of years in an era… ya know, this is the Seventies in New Jersey. People had offices and secretaries and he’s just got a beeper. It’s just there’s too many things ranging from stuff like that. My personal feeling is that she did know; I don’t know to what extent, but she was obviously in a deep, deep state of denial. And I think to acknowledge it or to ask the questions even means she would have had to bear some of the responsibility. She liked her life; she liked nice things and how she was living. It’s interesting how you hear a lot of actresses talking about strong roles for women, and I actually think sometimes playing weaker people can be just as interesting and challenging.
DC: I thought there was a strength you endowed her with. It was there.
WR: Thank you. I think… what I mean is that I didn’t see her as a victim. I didn’t see her as necessarily a co-conspirator. I don’t think that she knew that he was doing some of the things… so I don’t think she knew to that extent. I don’t think she was a victim. The thing she says to her kids about God. It’s a terrible thing to say. Obviously, it’s Michael’s film, so in the scenes that I had, I tried to infuse it with a little bit more complexity. I did see the movie just recently in L.A. and I do realize that it does play… you know, some people could walk away and be like, ‘She didn’t know.’ I think she did.
DC: Giving this woman the benefit of the doubt, how did you get into that mindset of being in denial about both him and domestic violence? It was like she was denying there was domestic violence.
WR: That’s really interesting. Or the film was sort of, too. That was a long conversation, or conversations, that I had with Ariel [Vromen] because, to me, that’s such a huge global issue, and I thought it should at least be addressed somewhat in the film. But I’m not the director and it wasn’t the story that he could tell, I think. He sort of, in a very weird way, had to make Michael the protagonist as crazy as that sounds. But to answer, I think, the first part of your question, I did this thing where I sort of mirrored her denial. I blocked out with a Sharpie everything in the script that she wouldn’t have, air quotes, “known”. I blocked that out, and I did that thing of covering my ears when I heard, on set, people talking about the shooting scenes. I sort of had to walk away and clam my hands over McKaley [Miller] and Megan [Sherrill], my girls, because I didn’t want them to hear that kind of stuff. In a weird way, I did the opposite of what I would normally do. I just sort of told myself that I was going to make this movie about this relationship, and I just didn’t let myself… I wasn’t going home and watching those interviews. That would have made me play the role very differently. I hope that answers some of what you meant.
DC: So if you were her in that situation, what would you do in real life?
WR: I would hope that I wouldn’t even get to a second date! I’m not perfect, but I would hope that I could have a little bit of a radar for a sociopathic killer who, like, ties people up and has rats eat them in a cave and films it. If he fooled me, as soon as I… I would think I’d just take off regardless of how hard it would be.
DC: You also had a very exceptional and interesting role in Black Swan. You seem to be very selective these days about what you want. Do you sometimes have to fight people? She’s too glamorous, she’s too young! Do you have to convince people, ‘I can do this; give me the chance to play these exceptional roles’?
Well, I’ve been so fortunate and lucky with the opportunities that I’ve had. Like with Black Swan, I’m a huge fan of Natalie [Portman]. To me, and I know this sounds like a line, but it’s not the size of the part. Oftentimes, it doesn’t matter the size. To me, that was a great way to support Natalie and I always had this sort of obsession with Margo Channing (All About Eve) and put a little bit of that into it. I would say I guess I’m selective. Honestly, I feel like I’m at an age where I just really like my life and it has to be something special to wanna make me leave my life and work. Because I think as you get older, to crank out movies, suddenly a year goes by, and it’s a whole year of your life. If you’re going to work, have them be interesting, cool experiences; and if that’s not available, then you’re better off doing the stuff you’re more interested in doing.
The Iceman is playing now in select theatres.
Synopsis: The Iceman is the true story of Richard Kuklinski: loving husband, devoted father, ruthless killer. He is believed to have killed more than 250 people between 1954 and 1985.