Winona Ryder, from abused school kid to movie star: how the actress got back at the bullies who gave her a hard time

Winona Ryder is best known these days for her role as Joyce in Stranger Things. But before she was a ‘mum’ in the movies, she played some of the most exciting roles of the 1990s.

Perhaps even more impressively, before she was an actress, Ryder dealt with the phenomenon of bullying and was a victim of it.

Winona Ryder was only 14 when she made her debut in Lucas (1986). She began taking acting classes at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco at the age of 12, but also attended regular school. In her first week at Kenilworth High School in Petaluma, California, she became the target of bullies.

In a 2000 interview with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, Ryder recalled that incident and what happened when she met one of her bullies years later.

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Winona Ryder’s unique way of coming to terms with her past: the life-changing event

“I was wearing an old boy’s Salvation Army suit. I was in the hallway, and then I went to the girls’ bathroom. I heard the shout after me, ‘Hey, lesbian!’ Immediately, they stuck my head in a locker. I fell to the ground and they started kicking me. I should have had stitches then. The school still kicked me out, not the bullies.

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Years later, I went to a coffee shop in Petaluma and was casually met by one of the girls who kicked me and said, “Winona, Winona, can I have your autograph?” and I said, “Remember me? I was a student at Kenilworth. Do you remember how, in seventh grade, you beat up that kid? and she said, “So and so,” and I said, “That kid was me. Fuck you.”

In a 1994 interview with Life magazine, Winona Ryder claimed that her time homeschooling was “great” because it prompted her to start acting classes and, later, even have an agent. According to the actress, the bullies would help her, though, even if indirectly and unintentionally.

On the system: one kick in the ass, one step forward.

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