Why Winona Ryder’s agent begged her not to take the lead role in Heathers

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Moya Crockett
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Winona Ryder and the cast of Heathers

Murderous high school movie Heathers is now a cult classic – but star Winona Ryder faced pressure not to appear in it.  

Heathers, the Eighties teen movie in which Winona Ryder plays a popular but conflicted high school student who gets caught up in a murderous rampage, celebrated its 30th birthday on 31 March. Despite being critically acclaimed upon its release in 1989, Heathers did poorly at the box office – but it went on to become a cult favourite for its dark, bloody and sardonic take on adolescent life, and has since been adapted into both a musical and TV show.

Ryder’s performance as Veronica Sawyer in Heathers is today considered one of the actor’s defining roles (it was also only the fourth film in which she had a leading part). But when she was first offered the part of Veronica, her then-agent allegedly begged her not to accept it.

In an interview with Variety to mark the film’s 30th anniversary, producer Denise Di Novi recalled how Ryder – who was just 15 when Heathers was cast – faced serious pressure not to take the part.

“Everybody thought we were crazy to make the movie,” Di Novi said. She added that Ryder’s agent was convinced that she shouldn’t make the film because it was so dark – to the extent that she actually got down on her knees and begged Ryder not to accept the role. 

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers
Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in a promotional shot for Heathers

Despite this, Ryder knew she wanted to appear in Heathers.

“Winona Ryder is so smart, very brave and unusual,” Di Novi said. “She was this amazing 15-year-old, if you can believe it. Winona got obsessed with the script.”

It wasn’t just Ryder’s agent who had reservations about Heathers. All of the major film studios passed on the movie, as did several parents and agents of teen actors who could have been cast in the film.

But it’s safe to say that they might regret their decision now. Heathers has proved one of the most enduring Eighties teen movies for its clever, twisty tale of murder, revenge and moral dilemmas – and makes many other high school films from the era look safe and dull by comparison.

“The movie has stayed relevant,” noted Di Novi. “I think it gives people hope. A lot of people say ‘That movie helped me get through high school.”’

Images: Getty Images 


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.