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It took Ryder six years to get this adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's mental-hospital memoir made; it took Angelina Jolie less than two minutes to walk off with it, with a fearless, braless, carnivorous performance that got her an Oscar/created a monster.But as Kaysen, in a role that requires a lot of observing and smoking and furious journaling and offers fewer opportunities to go all Randle Mc Murphy than Jolie's does, Ryder does deeper, trickier work.That's one reason she's in an odd place at the moment. There are other answers, but it'll take us a minute to get there.She was born in 1971, in a farmhouse somewhere outside Winona, Minnesota, to writer Cynthia Palmer Horowitz and writer/rare-book dealer Michael Horowitz, who tied off her umbilical cord with a sterilized shoelace.Winona Ryder has this problem, and as problems go it's pretty solidly in the first-world category, she knows, but it's a problem, still: She'll be having a conversation with somebody—an interesting conversation, the kind two regular people have when they discover a mutual admiration for, like, Philip Roth's nearly everyone she meets already has "this whole idea" of who she is, already thinks they know everything there is to know about her, more or less. I was like, ' He's anti-Semitic and he's homophobic.' No one believed me! But everything I think I know about Winona Ryder, famous actress, is sort of burning a hole in my pocket, and I'm starting to wonder if she's doing this on purpose, trying to blow past that moment where we acknowledge the room's considerable elephant population.

It's the best role Ryder has had in years, but you could imagine some actresses having second thoughts about steering straight into that subtext. To put it in merciless Hollywood-math terms, she's too old to coquette and too young to cougar.And it's interesting that we're talking about this right now, Ryder and I, because for an hour or so we've been sitting in a booth in the ground-floor restaurant of a hotel in Manhattan, one of those almost purgatorially anonymous luxury filing cabinets uptown by the park, and we've been having the Philip Roth conversation, metaphorically speaking. ) and bats a set of eyelashes as dark and lush as marabou dipped in squid ink, then moves on, and if it's a gambit it's working pretty well so far, honestly.—instead of waiting for Randy the Ram's heart to explode, we're waiting for Natalie Portman, as a ballerina driven to the edge by her boundary-defying mom (Barbara Hershey) and a preening evil-Balanchine type (Vincent Cassel), to go crazy or break a leg, and feminine signifiers like lipstick, ribbons, feathers, toe shoes, cake, tulle, blood, and orchids stand in for 'roids and staples, but the awful anticipation is the same.Ryder—tiny, in a newsboy cap and a City Lights Bookstore T-shirt and a tangle of gold necklaces—has been talking about the . Ryder's in it for maybe ten minutes, and all of them are crazy and important.Later on, she returned the favor by dating a bunch of hip musicians. But after she went out with Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum, she was linked to a vanload of indie frontdudes; a Winona rumor regarding the lead singer became one of the ways we knew a band had both arrived and sold out.Hence the quote, commonly attributed to Courtney Love: "You're no one in the rock industry unless you've feuded with me or slept with Winona Ryder."She met Johnny Depp at a premiere; they experienced what, in retrospect, seems like a gentler, bygone-age version of hyper-public tabloid-hounded courtship; they got engaged; he got a new tattoo.

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