Winona Ryder reveals her real-life battle with anxiety |


Winona Ryder reveals her real-life battle with anxiety

The ''Girl, Interrupted'' star says she feared for her sanity working on her new movie

Winona Ryder

'GIRL' POWER Ryder stars in ''Interrupted'' (Steve Granitz)

Playing an emotionally unstable teenager in ”Girl, Interrupted” (opening Dec. 21) was a task Winona Ryder felt a little too qualified to tackle. The 28-year-old actress backed out of ”The Godfather III” in 1990 due to overwhelming anxiety attacks and, like her character in ”Girl,” voluntarily checked herself into a mental hospital (at the time, her last-minute departure from the Coppola film was attributed to a respiratory infection). ”It was very scary, because the role [in ”Girl”] did mirror a lot of stuff I’ve been through,” she says. ”I was terrified to play a character who was full of fear and anxiety knowing that I have been full of fear and anxiety, and it’s not something that’s just past tense for me. It’s something you battle with your whole life.”

To tell the true-life story of author Susanna Kaysen, Ryder had to find a method to relive her own madness. ”You have these trunks inside yourself of fears and anxieties, and when you’re on a plane or experience a loss, they kind of open up and this fear pours through you,” she explains. ”You try to shove it back in the trunk, and you can’t. And for the movie I went back into these trunks, these dark places I didn’t want to go back to.”

That’s why the set became an emotionally dangerous place. ”To play an anxiety attack, you have to get an anxiety attack. And I didn’t know how to put a lid on that when they said ‘cut,”’ Ryder explains. ”My heart would still be going a million miles an hour, and I would be sweating and I would feel like I felt when I was 19 and felt totally alone and couldn’t describe to anyone in the world how I was feeling.”

Ryder is speaking out now in hopes that the film – and her own dark experience – will help others who are grappling with their fears. ”I’m a very lucky person and very privileged, but I also have the same pressures as any human being,” she says. ”Since I’ve talked about my anxiety, I’ve gotten a really good response. Young women were grateful to learn that it happens to everybody, even to people they consider perfect people with perfect lives.”