In the busy industry of popular culture in the late 20th century, there were many influential cult icons for young people to turn to, from the meteoric impact of the violence of Quentin Tarantino to the influential image of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Though whilst Tarantino’s impact was merely in its infancy and Culkin’s time in the spotlight was only short-lived, it was the career of the young subcultural rebel, Winona Ryder that dominated headlines in the 1990s.
Rising to fame after appearing in Beetlejuice alongside Alec Baldwin, Michael Keaton and Geena Davis in the gothic 1988 comedy, Ryder captivated audiences with her impressionable rebellious personality. Her fame was consolidated later that same year when she also appeared in the sharp coming-of-age drama Heathers where she would become a flourishing cult actor alongside the 1980s sex symbol Christian Slater.
A cult classic with themes and attitudes years ahead of its time, Heathers is today recognised as one of the finest films to ever discuss the farce of the high school experience. Speaking to Interview Magazine about her time on the film, Winona Ryder stated: “When I read the script I understood that it was showing what society does to teenagers, and how it patronises them”. Highlighting the script of screenwriter Daniel Waters as one of her favourite aspects of the film, she adds: “It’s still a script I read a lot, and it’s still a movie I watch a lot. My character, Veronica—she’s my idol”.
Having established her image and personality in the mainstream of Hollywood, Ryder looked towards bigger and more prestigious projects, notably the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands in 1990 and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. Arguably, however, neither of these films compared to the status of being cast in The Age of Innocence, the latest film from Martin Scorsese who had only recently completed cult favourites, Goodfellas and Cape Fear.
Released in 1993, Winona was cast in a supporting role alongside Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer in the costume drama that followed a young lawyer who falls in love with a woman separated from her husband. Helmed by Scorsese, the film was adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name and was co-written by Jay Cocks and the esteemed director himself.
With fond memories of her time in the film, Winona recalled her great love for Martin Scorsese in a revealing speech at the director’s award for lifetime achievement from the American Film Institute (AFI). Among many other speakers at the event, Ryder took to the floor to state, “There’s no other filmmaker in the world that talks so extensively about other filmmakers than you…you always leave out one person and it’s really starting to aggravate me, because I think he is the best director in the world and I think that if you weren’t Martin Scorsese you’d really love Martin Scorsese”.
Joking that she would lend some LaserDiscs of the director’s own work to Scorsese, Ryder reiterates her view, adding: “I really think you’re the best director in the world, you gave me the most incredible experience of my life and I will cherish it forever and you’ve inspired us all so much”.
Despite the success of Heathers, Beetlejuice and even the Netflix series Stranger Things, Winona Ryder still clings to her “incredible” life experience of working with one of the greatest directors of all time. Who could blame her?