The Weird World of Winona

Article Excerpt, TV Times 19-25 April 2003


When news broke that movie star Winona Ryder had been caught stealing, Hollywood was agog. But just how did an admired and respected actress like Winona find herself in the real-life role of a convicted shoplifter – and a heavy prescription drug user to boot? That’s what a C4 documentary, The Real Winona Ryder, aims to uncover.

Film-maker Russell Leven and writer Mark Kermode explore the circumstances leading up to 31-year-old Winona’s arrest in December 2001, and her subsequent conviction for grand theft and vandalism. Looking at her unusual upbringing and troubled childhood, they wonder if there was an air of inevitability about her downfall, asking if she was ‘a troubled soul’.

With interviews from people involved in Winona’s life, the programme includes footage of the shoplifting incident and the trail that followed. Special reconstructions also provide insights into the behaviour that left Winona’s public image in tatters.

Escaping a prison sentence, the actress was finally sentenced to 480 hours community service, fined £2500 and ordered to pay £4200 back to the store she stole from.

Stylist Abby Minot, who met Winona, almost 20 years ago, when the young wannabe posed for one of her first photoshoots, never dreamed Winona would end up in the mess she did. But she did know Winona would be famous.

‘She was just really focused,’ says Abby, who had 12-year-old Winona parading on a roof as Peter Pan. ‘You could just tell she was going places.’

Which, of course, she did – even against the odds. She was beaten up at high school by a group of kids who mistook her for a gay boy and, after being tutored at home by her parents for a while, she enrolled in drama lessons. Raised in borderline poverty by hippy parents, and being the goddaughter of drugs guru Timothy Leary, it’s no wonder Winona didn’t follow the mainstream. She became the teen queen of such cult classics as Beetlejuice (1988), Heathers (1989) and Edward Scissorhands (1990), while winning Oscar nominations for The Age of Innocence (1993) and Little Women (1994).

But by 1990, cracks in her success had already begun to show. Describing herself as a chronic insomniac, Winona checked herself in to a psychiatric clinic for sleep deprivation and other anxieties – some say caused by the break-up with Johnny Depp. Too much work, too little sleep and too little emotional grounding – the after effects, perhaps of a difficult childhood – took their toll … And may be what prompted such bizarre behaviour for a star in the spotlight – shoplifting, becoming dependent on painkillers and ‘making out’ with Girl, Interrupted (1999) co-star Brittany Murphy in the full view of the Hollywood paparazzi.

Mark Kermode and Russell Leven wonder if Winona had somehow stolen more than $5000 worth of frocks and accessories in a momentary lapse of judgement.

Of course, there could be a simpler explanation. Given that her fee since her conviction has risen to $13m per picture, placing her just outside the top 10 highest earners in movies, is Winona learning that, in Hollywood, there’s no such thing as bad publicity?