Director/co-writer Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman opens this weekend in limited release. The drama is based on the book by Anthony Bruno that chronicles the life of Richard Kuklinski (played by Michael Shannon), a professional hitman who kept his work secret from his family. The contract killer received the nickname “The Iceman” because he froze the bodies of his victims in order to disguise their time of death and throw the authorities off track. The film also stars Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, Winona Ryder, Robert Davi, and Danny Abeckaser. For more on The Iceman, watch the trailer.
At the recent Los Angeles press day, I landed an exclusive interview with Winona Ryder. We talked about making The Iceman, the way she prepares for a role, her most challenging role, if she still has to audition, her obsession with The Wire and The Big Lebowski, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what she had to say.
Click here to listen to the interview, or read the full transcript below.
WINONA RYDER: Thank you so much.
You’ve had quite a career and you’ve taken quite a few different roles. When you look back on your career and your resume, what do you remember as being the toughest role, or maybe the one you had to work the hardest for?
RYDER: Oh God. That’s a great question. It’s just hard.
Well maybe it can be plural. Tell me some of the hardest roles.
RYDER: I would have to say The Crucible stands out because it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, but, you know, Arthur Miller being present on the set – which was wonderful and incredible – but, to have him in your eye line is quite intimidating. It’s such a beautiful language he created, so that was challenging but exciting. Do you mean hard as in like-
I’ve spoken to a lot of actors. It’s so interesting because some actors relish the minute they get the script and the whole project, breaking it down, preparing as hard as they can. And, I’ve spoken to some actors that really try to wait until closer to be in the moment and fresh, and it’s such an interesting difference.
RYDER: Yeah. Well, you know what I learned though, which is so interesting, is that, you can prepare for years. You can do everything “right.” You can do every type of research and reconnaissance and if you’re not in the moment, or if the person you’re working with isn’t present with you, it all just crumbles away. So, I do feel that research and all of that is important, and to be prepared: obviously, knowing your lines and everything, but I do find that the most important thing is to be present. There’s a line from The Big Lebowski, it’s a zen thing. You have to be present, because if you’re not, then you’re waiting to say your line or you’re waiting for them to finish their line. So it’s all about being present, and you get that when you work with great actors, which is fantastic, but I try to do that as well. And I try to do that in my life too. One of the quotes that I like the most and I try to live by is John Lennon: “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” It’s happening. It’s right now, like right this minute even while we’re talking, so it’s important that I’m listening to you. You know what I mean? It’s just, to me, that is a very important way to work, and an important way to live.
RYDER: (laughs) Oh God, don’t get me started. You’re gonna enter a whole world of pain, Donnie! You’re out of your element, Donnie!
I’m just throwing that out there. Here’s another one, which hopefully you haven’t been asked for a while. When was the last time you had to audition for a role?
Or is auditioning something you enjoy?
RYDER: You know, it depends, because there’s auditions and then there’s auditions. There’s times when I think they honestly just wanna see you in the room with the person – with that other actor – and then, I just heard this for the first time. I think they call it chemistry meets or reads or whatever. I never mind. I’m very open. I don’t have any aspirations to direct or anything, but for me, it makes sense, I might wanna see that. But then again, I know it might be a hard thing to ask certain actors when they have a body of work. So, I kind of get both sides, but I’m pretty open and I understand, especially if it’s a role that’s not unusual for the person or they haven’t done it before. You know?
RYDER: But it’s from an actor’s point of view, and it’s much nicer when they pose the question or frame it as, “let’s come in and go through the script and talk.” Then you feel less pressure, you know what I mean?
In the short amount of time I get to talk to you today, I might as well talk about Iceman. Just throwing that out there. This is obviously based on real people and a real life situation. When you’re researching the role, how much is real versus “Hollywood-izing” the importance of creating a movie while also being honest to the people and story?
RYDER: That’s tough. And to be honest, I feel like that’s probably, (pauses) are you gonna be talking to the other guys?
RYDER: Okay. He’ll probably be better at answering this, because for me, with this particular movie – I totally get your question and it’s a great question – but for me, because of the nature of my role, I sort of did the opposite of what I would’ve done. I didn’t do any research and I blacked out everything I wasn’t supposed to, I think she didn’t know. I think she was in denial. If I would have really gone, then I would’ve found out things that would have affected the way I played the part in this particular telling of the story, which is fictionalized. Or, is that the word?
Well, it’s Ariel’s verson.
RYDER: Yeah, but what’s the word for it?
RYDER: Or based on, based on. So, this was a tough one because I couldn’t [research the role]. But in a way, what I did is what she did. I went into denial, and I told myself, “I’m making this little movie about this relationship,” you know? And I just didn’t think about it, which is what I think she did. I think she knew it wasn’t clean, she had to have known, but she just didn’t think about it. She went into denial, and I think that’s something that everybody does to a certain degree like, with little things, you know, we all have friends who do stuff and all. But she did it to a degree that, it almost makes you wonder how much responsibility does she bear in it? She’s living off of it. It wasn’t just that they were scraping by. They were living quite well. I tried in a few scenes – I didn’t have a lot of scenes to explore this – but I tried to infuse something a little bit more complex in her in terms of, you know, I didn’t want her to just be like the wide-eyed like, you know what I mean. I think, in particular the scene where I say that comment about God, there’s too many people in the world, you know, that line, that’s not a very nice thing to say. That says a lot about her, that she would say that. She’s certainly not the wide-eyed innocent, I think. You know what I mean? And I hope that I got that in there. But I get your question. I know I’m sort of evading it because there’s a lot more probably in the real story. It just didn’t make it into this version. I don’t know. I don’t have a director’s mind. I imagine you’d have to make, and I think it takes someone like Michael Shannon, to make him someone like him, you know? I don’t know the word but I’m trying to find it, maybe empathy. You have him making it gripping and watchable. I can’t really imagine anyone else doing it. I’m sorry if that wasn’t – (laughs)
Don’t be. I actually totally get what you’re saying, and I completely understand how you played the role because it makes sense. It totally works. I definitely wanna ask a few more things because we’re almost out of time. Right now, television is in the Golden Age.
RYDER: I know, right?
There are some amazing roles out there, and the shows really impress me. You’ve primarily been in the movie world. Have you started thinking, maybe I’d like to play a character on TV for a few years? Or is that something that doesn’t interest you?
RYDER: To be honest, it just hasn’t come up. I’m part of the crew obsessed with The Wire, like, I’m not over that yet.
That The Wire’s one of the best shows ever?
RYDER: I’ve seen it like a million [times], like, I still watch it. But I know that there’s a lot of great shows, and it just hasn’t come up yet for me. I think I’m open to it, (pretends to be crying) if I could work with Omar and Bubbles, but (laughs), no, but it just hasn’t happened.
That’s funny. Being honest about The Wire – one of my favorite shows of all time – I have not watched it again and again. How many times have you seen the five seasons? Have you seen one season more than others?
RYDER: I do really love, either the third or the fourth, where it goes into the school system in Baltimore, then the boys are becoming, and the guy becomes a teacher, and it’s being set up that that kid is going to become like Bubbles. And, Steve Earl, and just the whole thing is so good.
It’s good. It’s one of the best shows.
RYDER: I’ve seen it. I’ve watched it hundreds of times.
All the seasons? Or just some of the episodes?
RYDER: I’m like a superfan, it’s like, in the Lebowski category to me.
I have not committed that much time, and I know I gotta go soon, but I have to say, do you have any other obsession shows? Because I love Breaking Bad, obviously Dexter–
RYDER: Oh I’ve gotta see that one. I know about Breaking Bad, but I haven’t seen it yet!
Well you have to open that door before the finale this summer.
RYDER: Okay. I thought they-
No, the last eight episodes are this summer.
RYDER: What is the other one I love? Can’t remember.
RYDER: The thing is, (makes frustrated sound). Oh you’re killing me. To be honest, because I’m such a D’Onofrio and Criminal Intent type, even though that was a while ago, I loved that.
See, it’s interesting because I can see what you’re interested in and it makes sense that you would be reaching out for one of those criminal kind of things, you know?
RYDER: Yeah. I just want The Wire to happen again (laughs) and for me to, I don’t know what I could do on that, but, you know.
There’s a lot of people begging him, I know. I gotta go.
RYDER: The Dude abides (laughs).
The Iceman is now playing in theaters. If you missed our interview with Michael Shannon, click here.