Winona Ryder

Active - 1986 - 2018  |   Born - Oct 29, 1971 in Winona, Minnesota, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

Following her breakthrough in 1988's Beetlejuice, Winona Ryder emerged as one of the most celebrated actresses of her generation. Adept at playing characters ranging from depressed, angst-ridden goths to Edith Wharton debutantes, the saucer-eyed, porcelain-skinned Ryder has attained critical respect in addition to widespread popularity.

Ryder was born in and named after the city of Winona, MN, on October 29, 1971. The daughter of communal hippies and the goddaughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary, she grew up on a commune in Northern California. Ryder's family moved to Petaluma when she was ten; following regular abuse from her classmates, who targeted her for her unconventional, androgynous appearance (she was once jumped by a group of boys who had mistaken her for a gay boy), she was home schooled. At the age of 11, she joined the American Conservatory Theatre, and was soon trying out for movie roles. An audition for the part of Jon Voight's daughter in Desert Bloom failed to yield a role but did land the actress an agent, and at the age of 14, Ryder -- who had changed her last name from Horowitz -- made her film debut in Lucas (1986).

Finding popularity with her turn as a suicidal teen who has more in common with the ghosts living in her attic than with her yuppie parents in Tim Burton's black comedy Beetlejuice, Ryder quickly became one of the most steadily employed actresses in Hollywood. She continued to corner the alienated and/or confused teen market with starring roles in a number of offbeat films, including the 1989 cult classic Heathers, Great Balls of Fire (in which she played Jerry Lee Lewis' 13-year-old bride), Burton's Edward Scissorhands, and Mermaids.

The early '90s saw Ryder begin to branch out from teen roles toward parts requiring greater maturity. Following a turn as a taxi driver in Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth (1991), the actress starred in Francis Ford Coppola's lavish adaptation Bram Stoker's Dracula and then went on to play Antonio Banderas' lover in the critically disembowelled The House of the Spirits. Greater success came with Martin Scorsese's 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Ryder won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Daniel Day-Lewis' picture-perfect wife, and in the process started getting taken seriously as an actress capable of playing more adult characters.

A second Oscar nomination -- this time for Best Actress -- followed the next year for Ryder's portrayal of Jo March in Gillian Armstrong's adaptation of Little Women. The same year, the actress took on an entirely different role in Reality Bites, in which she played a twentysomething suffering from post-graduation angst. Similar twentysomething angst followed in How to Make an American Quilt (1995) but was then traded for Puritanical adultery, hair extensions, and another turn with Daniel Day-Lewis in Nicholas Hytner's 1996 adaptation of The Crucible.

Following a starring role in the highly anticipated and almost as highly criticized Alien Resurrection in 1997, Ryder had a turn as the waif-ish object of Kenneth Branagh's affections in Woody Allen's Celebrity. She managed to escape much of the criticism leveled at both of these films, and in 1999 and 2000, she reappeared with lead roles in two films, Girl, Interrupted, in which she played a mental institution inmate in the female answer to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and the supernatural thriller Lost Souls.

Winona shed her skin once more in 2002, when she took the romantic lead in Mr. Deeds, a typically goofy Adam Sandler vehicle. This was a surprising move for Ryder, who, despite making a niche for herself in nearly every imaginable genre, has rarely delved into the world of madcap romantic comedies. Of course, 2001-2002 wouldn't be complete without mention of Winona's inexplicable thievery; the young millionaire was convicted for stealing $5,500 worth of merchandise from a Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue. 2003, meanwhile, meant more unfamiliar territory for Ryder -- she left fiction behind for a part in the documentary The Day My God Died. An uncredited turn as a warped child psychologist in director Asia Argento's The Heart is Decietful Above all Things showed without question that Ryder was still willing to shake things up on the silver screen, and in 2006 she would play an insurance claims investigator assigned the task of investigating a curious death in the aptly titled comedy The Darwin Awards. Later that same year, Ryder would be rotoscoped for a supporting role in director Richard Linklater's animated adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly.

The next few years found the maturing actress eschewing Hollywood for roles in smaller independent features such as Sex and Death 101 and David Wain's The Ten, and on the heels of a brief yet memorable turn as Spock's mother in 2009's Star Trek, Ryder channeled her dark energy into the role of a former ballet ingenue on the decline in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. Meanwhile, in 2012, a voice role in Tim Burton's canine creature feature Frankenweenie found Ryder reuniting with the director who helped launch her to cinema stardom in the late-1980s.

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  • Lived in a Mendocino, CA, hippie commune as a child with seven other families.
  • Parents are co-editors of the 1982 book Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady: Women's Writings on the Drug Experience.
  • Says her hair is naturally blonde, but has been dyeing it brunette since the age of 12.
  • Was signed to play Michael Corleone's daughter in 1990's The Godfather, Part III, but an illness forced her to give up the role. Director Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, Sofia, replaced her.
  • Lampooned her 2001 shoplifting arrest when she hosted Saturday Night Live in May 2002.
  • After a short break from acting, returned to big-budget films with her role as Spock's mother in 2009's Star Trek.
  • Said that she could relate to her role as an aging ballerina in 2010's Black Swan since she's no longer cast as an ingenue.