- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

Winona Ryder strides confidently into a New York hotel room to promote her latest film. She looks like the proverbial million bucks radiant, serene and chic in basic black. This revelation is noteworthy only because in her last few films, "Autumn in New York" and "Girl, Interrupted," she was drawn, doomed, a pasty picture of sickness. And in her new movie, "Lost Souls," she also appears pale and bedraggled.

Miss Ryder plays a formerly possessed woman engaged in a deadly race against time with the devil. Battling Beelzebub is apparently hard on the body.

Miss Ryder stars as a reluctant exorcist, working with a team of priests, to track down Satan's latest incarnation, an arrogant but unwitting New York author who will be reborn on his 33rd birthday as a full-blown anti-Christ. Ben Chaplin plays the clueless scribe. Given the grim subject matter, one would conclude the set must have been morose. But Miss Ryder had a blast with her British co-star.

"He's just the most funny, charming, warm person that I've ever worked with," she gushes. "We had so much fun, so much laughter. It's ironic that we made this moody film while having such a good time. The tone was really set by the director, Janusz Kaminski."

"Lost Souls" marks the directorial debut of Mr. Kaminski, best known for his stunning cinematography on "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan." Like those films, "Lost Souls" features a unique look, with its nervous camera work and a washed-out palette of silvery grays and smoky sepias. The effect is unsettling and otherworldly. But its star discounts all talk of the supernatural.

"I don't believe in the devil," Miss Ryder says. "I watched many tapes of exorcisms and talked to a prominent priest who thinks most cases of possession are bogus. I believe I was watching people with hard-core mental problems. I lost a friend to schizophrenia a few years ago, and those people can contort into unbelievable positions and break their own bones. But I wasn't raised with a fear of the devil. My father was an atheist, and my mom was a Buddhist."

Miss Ryder was attracted to the role partly from a desire to cover the bases of various movie genres. "Lost Souls" is officially her supernatural thriller, much in the way "Alien: Resurrection" was her science-fiction flick.

"I'd never done this type of film, and I always wanted to do it. But secretly. When you're young and growing up in the business, you want to come across as very serious, only doing dramatic stuff. But we all wish we were in films like 'Alien.' I always wanted to be able to look back and say I did this type of genre because it's always fascinated me as an audience member."

The actress, named for her hometown of Winona, Minn., ticks off her other forays into genre films with justifiable pride.

"Wasn't 'Heathers' the best teen black comedy ever? That was the teen movie to end all teen movies. I've done period pieces. I think 'The Crucible' was a really important movie that nobody ever saw. In 20 years, it'll be shown in schools, and people will consider it a classic. Next, I want to do something really campy. I get offers for really bad romantic comedies."

Her range of experience has given Miss Ryder an interesting perspective on the movie business. At age 28, she has a big-sisterly attitude toward younger actresses who are following in her footsteps.

"I've worked with these girls, and I'm so proud of them right now," she says. "Christina Ricci is doing so beautifully. Her first movie was 'Mermaids,' so I've known her since she was a kid. And Kirsten Dunst's new movie is good and funny. But I worry for them because you can't go from playing a college freshman to playing a lawyer.

"There are a couple years where you have to get by. That's why there are so many movies with rookie cops. You team up with an older, disgruntled guy that's about to quit the force, and you have to find the serial killer. I vowed never to play a rookie cop."

Asked how movies have changed since her debut in 1986's "Lucas," Miss Ryder assesses the business like any wizened veteran.

"It used to be just about the work. The emphasis is so different now. In the actor's community, it was only about how good you were in a movie. It was never about salaries or box office. Talking about that was tacky.

"Only the trades published box-office results, and it was uncool to read the trades. Now, the general public knows everything: What the budget is, what the salaries are, how the special effects were done. By the time a movie comes out, you don't even want to see it.

"It's an interesting time for film," she says. "And a sad time."

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