Why I Love: Winona Ryder Simon Fitzjohn July 22, 2021 Features 213 I have no idea where my old classmate Liz Stevens is now, or what she’s up to, but there is little doubting the fact that she had a far greater impact on my life than she probably ever realised. You see, Liz and I were part of a small group of students who elected to do Drama Studies at A-Level, and most of those lessons were spent in a pretty laid back manner where we’d read some text, but then spend time talking about what we were watching on TV, movies etc. In one class in early 1990 Liz came charging in, breathlessly telling me about a movie she’d seen that I ‘would absolutely love’… That movie was Heathers, and although Liz’s assumption that I would lap it up due to the film’s jet-black, cynical look at teenage life was absolutely spot on, she had not factored in that I would fall in love with the film for one other reason – Winona Ryder. From that moment on (followed swiftly by an eye-catching photospread that appeared in a UK newspaper discussing the upcoming production of Edward Scissorhands) I was sold, and more than 30 years on I still get a funny twinge in my stomach whenever I see Winona’s name in print or on screen. Even last night, when Winona was the answer to a question on ‘The Chase’, I started giggling and getting hot under the collar at the mere mention of her name! I know all of you reading this have probably got plenty of stars you find hot or attractive, and I myself have been enamoured with quite a few over the years (the likes of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson would probably make that cut). But with Winona it is different – deeper even – and certainly more meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, I still find Winona bloody attractive, and even just thinking about that whole ‘pixie cut’ era in the 90s will send my heart racing, but there is no other star that I have ever felt that affinity with, that connection to. Undoubtedly a lot of that was due to the ‘rebel’ roles that she played early in her career, some deliciously dark offerings that pretty much tapped right into how I was feeling at the time. Winona was ‘my’ star, representing me, pretty much the same age as me and speaking my language. There were the eyes, the quirkiness, the aura that made you want to protect her even though you knew she probably didn’t need it, and the fascinating career choices as she hopped between indie and big studio fare. Then there was the whole Gen-X thing with films like Reality Bites, the coolness she seemed to effortlessly exude in photoshoots and suddenly Winona felt almost a part of me, a pivotal and essential part of my existence that helped get me through the dark times. Yes, I hoovered up her entire back catalogue (films like Square Dance were pretty tough to locate in the UK), yes I started collecting any magazine that featured her in some form (and getting my network of friends to tip me off if they saw anything) and yes I adorned my first flat in Exeter with original one-sheet posters for the likes of Mermaids, The Age Of Innocence and The Crucible. I put on Winona viewing parties, made sure I booked the day off work for every new Winona cinematic release and even travelled across the country when a handful of her films only made it to cinemas in London (that was Looking For Richard I think). Incidentally, at this juncture, I should thank a good friend of mine, Lucy Athey. Being without a girlfriend for a fair chunk of the 90s (I’m now happily married with a daughter), turning up on your own to watch something like Little Women was not an easy task, so Lucy would often volunteer to accompany me! Having said that, I was still at a Cardiff cinema for the opening night of How To Make An American Quilt on my lonesome, which admittedly saw me getting some strange looks. I bounced around the country quite a lot in the late 90s/early 2000s with work, making sure my ‘Winona box’ (actually a tea chest) of memorabilia was an essential part of any house move. But, despite my movements and job changes, Winona remained a constant. Of course, it has not all been plain sailing (a certain court case was a tough old time) and don’t for one minute think I blindly adore everything that Winona has done – I think Autumn In New York for example is a terrible film, even though Winona’s look in that one is arguably my favourite. But I will always be there, supporting her the best I can and showing a sense of loyalty that I have never felt for any other star (incidentally, my wife feels the same way about Keanu Reeves, which is interesting when you consider how well Winona and Keanu get on). And things are different now of course – gone are the big screen days (for the most part), instead replaced by TV fare such as Stranger Things, which has arguably opened up Winona to a whole new audience for them to appreciate. I’ve never managed to meet Winona in person, although there were a couple of desperately annoying ‘close shaves’. Back in 1997 I was set to fly to LA for the premiere of Alien Resurrection, only for my work bosses to pull the plug as they could not give me the time off (I worked in retail at the time and it was near Christmas you see). Then Winona was set to attend a press conference at the London Film Festival for Frankenweenie (and I had a press pass), only to drop out days before due to filming commitments on Homefront. And don’t even get me started on a former friend of mine who, ON MY BIRTHDAY, sent me a Facebook message saying ‘guess who I met today’, accompanied by a photo of him with his arm around Winona in a London store! Whether I will ever get to meet her remains to be seen, but I would love to have the chance to simply thank her for being such an important part of my life, and for the many years of pleasure she has given me through her work. Winona Forever.