Sunday, 7 October 2012

Winona Ryder Interview Q&A Part II

This is the second part of my July 2011 post in which I talked about how I prepare answers to the questions I end up filming for an interview. Part one of this post, dealt with some of the questions I was asked to answer and talk about during my interview about Winona Ryder for The Real Winona Ryder for Channel 4 in 2003. Below are some more of the answers I prepared prior to filming. Sadly I don’t have the pre-filming transcript as it was just a casual conversation with the director, but what follows below is what we talked about, both on and off camera. Although there was a lot more footage shot than ended up in the final programme, this excerpt from my own personal shooting script, will give you an idea of what we filmed...

Comment on Winona’s early interest in movies and literature, the fact that she used to watch films being projected at home and loved Salinger and Little Women. Who were some of the movie stars who inspired her?

To books remain especially close to Winona’s heart. One, which she read when she was twelve years old was Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of a fatherless family struggling to maintain its equilibrium throughout the harsh years of the Civil War. It really made a strong impression on her, as for her; it was probably one of the only books that explored women’s adolescence. In a lot of those kind of books either you were a girl or a woman. You were never in between. The other book that is special to Winona in J D Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, a novel that assumed an almost sacramental significance to her parents generation and still resonates with readers today. Mark Chapman, the murderer of Beatle John Lennon was carrying a copy when he was arrested. Less fatefully, it was also Michael Horowitz’s own favourite book. When he was at high school he told Winona, there was a point when he would speak only in quotations from the novel. Winona read it for the first time when she was eight and didn’t get it. Four years later, she tried again, and this time it clicked. It’s her bible and still is to this day, she has read it, apparently, about fifty times.

She balanced her literary diet with movies. Or rather her mother Cindy Palmer did. In those days before video recorders liberated viewers from the tyranny of television programming schedules, Cindy, would allow her to stay home from school if there was a good one on. By the time Winona was seven, a virtual history of classic Hollywood had passed before her eyes. There’s probably isn’t a movie she hasn’t seen. One of her favourites is Greer Garson’s Random Harvest released in 1942 and was in fact one of the last American movies to be shot before World War II. Equally influential albeit for different reasons was actress June Allyson. As a child Winona was very self conscious about her front teeth which overlapped slightly. Then she saw Allyson in an old movie on TV and because they had both had the same overlapping teeth and that she though Allyson looked so beautiful, any thoughts of Winona having it corrected left her head, although I believe she has since had it fixed.

Much of Winona’s love for the movies probably came from when Cindy obtained a portable generator and gerry-rigged a movie theatre in an old barn, treating her family and neighbours to regular screenings of the films she herself loved. Admission tot he theatre was free, although guests were always encouraged to bring a donation of some sort: money, food, or whatever else they had on hand. Cindy often encouraged the children to express themselves in the same way as their idols who gazed down from the screen.

Talk about the family’s move to Petaluma and how it proved a culture shock for Winona.

Although moving to Petaluma was a favourable return to the modern day comforts of electricity, running water and heating, for Winona there were several aspects that were not so pleasing. The frequent reports of missing children and disappearances would literally haunt Winona long after their coverage had disappeared from the front pages. Probably the one that stuck in everybody’s mind, especially Winona’s, at that time, was seven year old Steven Stayner who was literally snatched off the street just a few miles form Elk in December 1972 and held captive for the remainder of his childhood. But kidnapping wasn’t her only fear. When Winona was 13 she asked her parent to construct bars on her window because a serial killer was rumoured to be on the lose in Northern California, close to Petaluma and she really did fear that she may be the next victim of the Green River Killer who had already left his imprint of terror in the Pacific Northwest. She also difficulty fitting in at school. In the second grade, for instance, she favoured baggy dresses worn over her pants, topped off with long, dirty blond hair. And for another she wore nothing but vintage boys suits. To the normal kids and even to some more rigid teachers, she was an outcast and her family were freaks. She found very little common ground on which she could relate to her schoolmates. The books she read were light years ahead of those doing the playground or being recommended in class. Even today, Winona habitually stuns passing journalists with her arcane literary references, and one can only imagine the effect those same references must have had on the kids whose idea of sophistication seldom went beyond the latest Stephen King.

Her musical tastes, too, followed her father’s and that was another no-no at school. In the early 1980s punk rock was not exactly embraced by the musical mainstream. It was wild, weird, anti-social and the people who liked it weren’t much better, so when they found out that she liked punk rock and went to punk rock concerts she was a prime candidate for outcasting. So with that in mind perhaps it wasn’t surprising that she should be picked on, but what she didn't expect was to get beaten up on the third day in the seventh grade at Kenilworth Junior High -–although what happened would alter the course of her schooling - and her career - forever.

She was in the hallway between classes when a group of her fellow students pounced. They hit her in the stomach, and banged her head into a locker for which she had six stitches. And from that she decided she wasn’t going back. She had now had enough and grown tired of being the quiet girl at the back of the class, the one who would look up from her studies and found virtually every other girl inn the classroom staring at her, quite successfully trying to unsettle her. She was tired of being the one who dreaded the hail of Cheetos that the cheerleader clique would inevitably greet her with every time she passed them in the hall. Outraged by the attack on their daughter, Winona’s parents agreed that she would continue her education at home.

Outraged by the attack, Michael and Cindy agreed. But they were equally outraged by the school itself. It seemed rather than discipline the bullies for their violent behaviour, the school chose to implicate Winona in their stead. Even more strange, as far as Winona was concerned, was the fact that ‘I'm this twelve year old, and Petaluma Kenilworth Junior High School, tells me to leave because I was a distraction. I'm sorry that gay bashing was such a distraction for them. I didn't want to go back anyway. I was too scared.'

Kenilworth itself however could not uncover any record of the incident, or indeed of Winona being asked to leave. That’s not to suggest that it didn’t occur, or that Winona’s recollection of events isn’t accurate. Far from it. What is questionable however is whether the principal at the time had simply overlooked recording the details. Whatever the reasons, today the school is disheartened to discover that Winona’s time at Kenilworth was so traumatic, and more importantly, that no explanation can be offered for the absence of school records relating to the attack on her. During an investigation into the story Winona had told Life magazine for a December 1994 feature, Dr Kim Jamieson, the deputy superintendent for the Petaluma School District, could find no evidence, nor could he persuade Michael and Cindy to talk about it. And although the school considered it no more than just colourful copy, he did however corroborate that any such abusive behaviour of students today would simply be targeted as unacceptable by Kenilworth or for that matter, any other junior high in California.

And of course, there was the story that Winona told herself of stealing a comic book turned into an equal nightmare. She was immediately put under citizen's arrest, handcuffed, and hurled into the back of a police car. Then when the police took her home, her parents tried to beat them up. To me it sounded like the perfect childhood, especially when it turns out that your parents beat up the cops when you get arrested for shoplifting!

Tell us about some of the reasons and causes that were blamed for Winona abandoning The Godfather Part III after collapsing in her hotel room in Rome.

When Winona dropped out of The Godfather III due to being physically exhausted and sick, there were of course the usual rumours of this and that on why she had left the movie, you know, she was pregnant, she had overdosed, it was drugs, it was Johnny Depp, and other such like disasters. I remember some even suggested that she was jilting the movie so she could join Johnny Depp on the set of his next movie Edward Scissorhands, despite the fact that she had already agreed to appear in the movie long before Johnny had been cast in the title role. Yes, there was a conflict in shooting schedules but that was a bridge she was going to cross when she came to it. And she probably became equally sick of having to defend herself on why she had to leave the movie. The truth was she was physically sick, and it was very disappointing her and to everyone attached to the film, and to most movie goers, because she was ideal for the role she was cast as Al Pacino’s daughter Mary. And it just seemed that the press and the media and some of the industry itself were out to make her painfully aware of what she had just left. That she had just thrown away the opportunity to star in a true American classic, that she might as well give up acting there and then, because her career to some of her critics was all but over and that she going to get sued, etc, etc, but of course, none of that happened, because the reason that she gave for quitting the movie was totally genuine, and while the cameras were rolling in Rome, she of course was at home in Petaluma in bed recovering.