Winona Ryder talks on new film 'Frankenweenie' and her long-standing friendship with Tim Burton

After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life -- with just ...

Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images and action

Length: 87 minutes

Released: October 5, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Tim Burton, John August

More info and showtimes »

HOLLYWOOD — At 13, Winona Ryder landed a plum role in Tim Burton's horror comedy "Beetlejuice." Young and relatively new to Hollywood at the time, she didn't recognize the filmmaker when they first met on the Warner Bros. lot. She simply assumed the gangly fellow she was talking to was one of the director's underlings.

Of course, once "Beetlejuice" became a success, Ryder's career took off like a rocket. She went on to star in a wide range of films, earning two Academy Award nominations (for 1993's "Age of Innocence" and 1994's "Little Women").

Ryder worked again with Burton in 1990's "Edward Scissorhands," co-starring Johnny Depp. The two subsequently dated for a while.

Like so many Hollywood starlets, Ryder has had her share of ups and downs, both personally and professionally, including an embarrassing arrest and trial over an alleged shoplifting incident in 2001. She has since gotten her life and career back on track, with a memorable supporting performance playing a fading ballet star in 2010's "Black Swan."

Nearly a quarter-century after she first met Burton, she is once again playing a schoolgirl in one of his movies. She provides the voice of Elsa, the understanding classmate of a young boy named Victor, who reanimates his beloved dead pet, in "Frankenweenie," a full-length animated redo of Burton's 1984 short live-action film.

Q: How was it working with Tim Burton again?

Ryder: It was an absolutely thrilling. It was incredibly special. This is a very special one. Everything about Tim is very special. I love him so tremendously. He's given me a career, but also, just personally, he really changed my life with "Beetlejuice," in terms of it letting me feel like it was actually okay to be kind of like (the character) Lydia. I sort of looked like that (character) anyway. I wasn't really expecting to be very successful in Hollywood, but he allowed me to do that role and kind of gave a voice to that part of me. That led to other things.

Q: Can you talk about that sort of alchemy that you share, like how Tim got you and how you got him, and how he was able to bring that to the screen?

Ryder: When I met him 25 or 26 years ago, I had done two little movies. I didn't live in L.A. To go to an audition, my parents would have to drive to L.A. from the (San Francisco) Bay area, which is a long drive. People thought somehow that I was very picky. But it was really just this drive. We couldn't do it all the time. But when I got the "Beetlejuice" script, I was like, "Please can we go?" I remember I went on the lot and I was sitting in this waiting room. This guy came up and we were talking about music and movies for, like, 25 minutes. Then I was like, "Am I in the right building? Do you know when this Tim Burton guy is coming?" He was like, "Oh, that's me." I was like, "What?" I had no idea that a director could be someone that I could sort of hang out with and talk to.

Q: Was that movie an important step in your career?

Ryder: It did lead to other things. So, I do feel a very strong bond with Tim. Then, of course, "Edward Scissorhands," which is one of my favorite films to watch, regardless that I'm in it. It's just so beautiful. Then this movie, I just feel so much gratitude but also tremendous love for him. He is someone that has changed my life in a personal way and a professional way. He has such a strong vision and I know "Beetlejuice" really was his vision. I just feel so lucky that I got to be part of it.

In "Frankenweenie," Victor loves his dog, Sparky, so much that he decides to bring the dog back to life after he dies.

Photo by Disney

In "Frankenweenie," Victor loves his dog, Sparky, so much that he decides to bring the dog back to life after he dies.

Q: "Frankenweenie" is about a boy who loves his dog so much he wants to bring him back to life after he dies. Did you have a dog while you were growing up?

Ryder: Well, I didn't; my brother did. It was a stray. It was missing a leg, so he was called Tripod. My brother named him.

Q: Your mom used to work at a movie theater, right?

Ryder: I grew up in the (San Francisco) Bay area and we lived for a while in Mendocino County on sort of a commune with seven families. My mom had been a projectionist at the University of Minnesota. At 19, she founded the film society there. She loved movies. At the commune, they had a barn and they put up a white sheet and she had a projector and showed movies on it. I remember seeing "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Gigi." I remember seeing "A Woman Under the Influence" and some very deep movies like that as well.

Q: John Cassavetes films? When you were a kid?

Ryder: Yes. (She laughs.) I didn't really understand them. Yet they were so real and I kind of loved them, so that was wonderful. Then, when we moved into the city, we got an actual television. There were days when my mom would let me stay home from school if there was a great old movie on, like "North By Northwest." I remember I got to stay home that day, and when they showed "Born Yesterday" and "Sullivan's Travels." So I felt like I actually got more of an education in a way seeing these film classics.

Q: What teacher inspired you the most?

Ryder: I had a couple of influential teachers, but one in particular, Mr. Frank, who is a history teacher, was good. He taught us about history in more of a story way. He was so engaging, and he would even play Monty Python records like "The Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian." He was, maybe, not a very religious man, but it was just a really great way to teach. We would learn about the Crusades in a weird way.

Q: Your character, Elsa, gets to sing a little song in the movie. How did you like singing?

Ryder: I loved that I didn't have to sing it really well. (She laughs.) I got to do it exactly how I would do it, very nervously and begrudgingly. I just found out I was on the soundtrack. I don't know if that's going to be downloaded so much.

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