I wrote this article for the 25th anniversary of Winona Ryder’s first film, Lucas, a couple of years ago, for a magazine that never ran with it due to re-scheduling of features at the time, and rather than leave it unseen and unread, thought I would post it here for all to read. The images are the original publicity and casting pictures for the film, taken from my own personal collection.
The stylist for one of Winona’s first photo shoots just over twenty years ago knew that Winona would someday be famous. ‘She was just really focused,’ Abby Minot told me in 2002. ‘She had this vision. You could just tell she was going places.’
And of course, Abby was right. Looking back twenty-five years to the opening of Lucas and to the first time the cinema-going public first cast their eyes on Winona Ryder, most agreed that, even though she would only appear in eight scenes and her role as Rina almost seemed like an afterthought, it was enough to get Winona noticed and confirm the kind of character she would play for the next five years of her career: the alienated teenager.
If there was any doubt, one only had to take a look at the press kit for the movie, which described Winona as ‘fragile with a certain poetic justice.’ And the critics agreed. The New York Daily News credited ‘Winona for turning a small part into a memorable one’, and Variety’s Todd McCarthy remarked that Winona ‘constantly but quietly stole all Kerri Green’s scenes.’ Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun Times said it was easily ‘one of the year’s best films’ and doubted if anyone of any age could give a more sensitive and effective performance.’ In fact, there weren’t many critics that didn’t rave about her performance. According to the general consensus, it was ‘deft, remarkable, and fetching.’ So perhaps it is no wonder that Winona had the critics on her side even before the film was released twenty-five years ago.
Certainly her performance in her first moments on screen would compound the cinema-going public with general critical opinion that Winona Ryder, the girl with the alert expressive eyes that telegraphed a startling combination of intelligence, gravity and self-possession was indeed someone to watch. ‘There is something strangely magical and wistful about her, that is ultimately reflected in her performance,’ said director David Seltzer at the time, and later observed how ‘she was sympathetic playing a child who thought she would never be beautiful.’ It was, he continues ‘very poignant because she was clearly about to blossom into a beautiful young woman herself.’
I am not sure though, that Winona would agree. The first time she watched the film at a screening with the rest of the cast, she says, ‘I was just really scared to see my face that big. It was such a shock that people had just seen me act.’ In the end though, she went to see it another two times. Once in San Francisco when it opened there at the Galaxy Theater, and once in Santa Rosa, where, recalls Winona, ‘a lady sitting in front of me said to the guy she was with that I looked sad on the screen. I guess she meant the part about being hopelessly in love. I wanted to ask her what she meant, but instead I started really looking at myself on the screen. It’s hard to be objective about your own performance.’
Lucas opened on 628 screens in the United States on 28 March 1986 and during its opening weekend had taken $1,250,101 at the box office, ultimately its gross topped eight million and earned itself three Young Artist Award nominations.