While I wouldn’t exactly say Winona Ryder has been hiding under a rock these last few years, I will point out that she’s been very selective with her roles. The actress has mainly been sticking to more independent films (The Letter), but if she does appear in a mainstream film, it’s usually for a smaller part (Star Trek). This isn’t a bad thing though, as most of her decisions have been paying off mightily, and her performance as Richard Kuklinski’s wife in The Iceman is no different.
I had the chance to catch up with Winona while she was in New York City promoting The Iceman, as I sat down with a few other journalists for a quick roundtable interview with the Hollywood starlet. It was a very interesting interview to say the least, as we discussed her thoughts on whether Kuklinski’s wife actually knew he was a killer, her strange method of blocking all script material out but her own, and what helps her select a role.
Getting things started, we went right to asking Winona if she believed Kuklinski’s wife knew about his contract killing lifestyle:
Winona Ryder: I do. There wasn’t much research available on her that I was aware of. The research that was available was mainly the interviews with [Kuklinski] and the book, so in order to find anything out I’d have to get through hours of him talking about shooting people in the face and then just get a snippet about her. I wouldn’t say so much in the research said it, but I don’t see how anyone could be in a relationship for that long and be married, have kids, for that many years, in an era where people had offices and secretaries and he’s got just a beeper – there were too many things like that. My feeling, and this is just my personal feeling, is that she did know to a certain extent, but she was just in a very obviously deep state of denial, and to acknowledge it or ask the questions would have meant she would have had to bear some of the responsibility. She would have had to leave.
I think in a way she liked her life. She liked nice things. She like how she was living.
It’s interesting because you hear a lot about actresses talking about strong roles for women, and I actually think sometimes playing weaker people can be just as interesting and challenging. I think in a way there was a little bit of denial, but also she just didn’t have the courage. I think we’ve all dealt with denial to a certain extent, it’s very human, but this is to a level that’s mind-boggling to me.
One of the other journalists noted that she thought Winona actually did bring a strength to her character, and did bring that kind of strong role to Deborah:
Winona Ryder: Well thank you! What I mean to say is I didn’t see her as a victim, and I didn’t see her as a co-conspirator either. I don’t think that she knew to the extent, I just think she knew it was not clean money. I don’t think she was a victim, I just don’t think there was anything heroic about [Kuklinski] or her.
Another woman asked Winona about her character’s denial of domestic violence, if we were to believe Deborah actually had no idea about what Richard was doing:
Winona Ryder: That was a long conversation that I had with Ariel 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 he could tell. In a very weird way he had to make Michael the protagonist, as crazy as that sounds, but to answer the first part of your question, I did this thing where I mirrored her denial. I blocked out, with a sharpie, everything in the script that she wouldn’t have “known about.” I blocked that out and covered my ears on set when I heard people talking about [violent] scenes. I had to walk away and clamp 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 do, and I told myself I was going to make this movie about this relationship, and I just didn’t go home at night and listen to those interviews – it would have made my play my role in a different way.
Someone had to ask Winona how she would handle the situation if she were married to someone like Kuklinski:
Winona Ryder: I would hope I wouldn’t even get to a second date. [Laughs] I’m not perfect, but I hope I could have a little bit of a radar for a sociopathic killer who ties people up and lets rats eat them in a cave while he films it. If he fooled me, I think I would just take off regardless of how hard it would be, but that does bring up a whole thing of [Deborah] not wanting a hard life. She didn’t want to go be a single mom, she didn’t want to work – she liked her life. There’s an element of greed on her part, and I’m not trying to bash her, but she’s not like that [stereotypical] abused woman. There was a twisted, addictive, relationship – that’s sort of what I think.
We then asked Winona about the selective nature of her roles, and if she has to fight for the few parts that she eyes up:
Winona Ryder: I’ve been so fortunate and lucky with the opportunities that I’ve had. With Black Swan, I’m a huge fan of Natalie Portman, and I know this really does sound like a line, but it’s not the size of the part [that matters]. To me that was a great way to support Natalie and work with Darren, and I’ve also always had this obsession with Margo Channing.
I guess I’m selective. Honestly I feel that I’m at an age where I really like my life and it has to be something special to make me want to leave my life for work. As you get older, you crank out movies and suddenly a year goes by. If you’re going to work, have them be new, cool, interesting experiences, and if that’s not available, then you’re better off doing the other stuff you’re interested in.
I’d like to thank Winona Ryder for sparing the time for this interview, and be sure to catch her in The Iceman when it opens May 3rd!