What Ryder doesn’t have in common with her millennial cohorts is the pressure to perform on social media. She doesn’t have a single account, but that doesn’t mean she judges those who do. “I know it can be a fantastic tool,” she says, “but do you have to have all the crazy people? Is there a way to just…?” She trails off.
No, there isn’t.
“Yeah, I’m just a very private person,” she says.
By the way, call her goth, but don’t call her grunge, her relationship with Soul Asylum’s beflanneled Dave Pirner aside. “That whole label was a little bit weird. I somehow got sucked into that. Not by choice, because I was actually listening to Judy Garland albums,” she says.
The clamor of ground-zero Hollywood leaks in from the open windows of Ryder’s hotel room. She tunes out the noise as she paces around the room, searching for a menu to order eggs and hash browns. She’s only had tea all day, and the unrepentant night owl woke up late. “We’re all nocturnal,” she says. “It runs in the family.”
After she orders, Ryder settles into the room’s monstrous leather couch. Slightly hunched in a faded black Leonard Cohen T-shirt, black jeans, and oxfords, clutching a Václav Havel book, Ryder speaks with bubbling admiration for the noted writer and former leader of the Czech Republic. “Václav Havel has always been a hero of mine,” she says. “I underline so much of what I read. It’s awful—I can’t lend my books to people because I don’t know if I’m revealing too much about myself by what I’ve underlined, or if it’s just plain distracting for them.” She launches into a story about how she just missed meeting the playwright in person, that cute creak in her voice that’s always made her sound a bit quaint or elderly or unhinged (or all three) punctuating the anecdote, which meanders from her dad’s archival work for Timothy Leary (also Ryder’s godfather) to the time Woody Harrelson, formally invited by Havel, was nearly kicked out of a Czech opera hall because of his crying newborn.
Perhaps her most distinct quality is her ability to talk, in a way that’s almost a lost art, stringing together long sentences packed with knowledge, anecdotes, and philosophical speculations, a style of communicating that she likely learned from her parents—the kind of folks who would choose a counterculturalist acid sage to be her spiritual guide. Her mind engages in the ultimate wanderlust; it’s a joy to strap in for the ride.
From the start of her career, Ryder’s been looking back in time. When she first appeared in Lucas as a teen wallflower in 1986, it wasn’t her contemporaries she looked up to but a mix of Old Hollywood and ’70s art film icons—Audrey Hepburn, Gena Rowlands (with whom she worked in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth), and mentors such as Jason Robards. “I was perhaps a little unusual,” she says, in between bites of hash browns. “I really was always drawn to other eras.” Reading Jane Eyre for the first time as a teen, she wanted to transport herself to the late 1700s, until her parents dropped some knowledge about 18th-century plumbing and dental care. But Ryder still yearned, and yearns now: “I think actors, on some weird level, feel like displaced souls,” she says. “I have had a lot of conversations about this, and part of it just may be from steeping ourselves in the history of film and the things we’re drawn to, like period pieces.” Ryder has done her fair share of those—Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Age of Innocence, Little Women—and nothing makes her brown eyes blaze more than talking about movies, be they tiny indies, blockbusters, documentaries, or Sundance winners.
Dress by Marc Jacobs, Ryder’s own earrings worn throughout.