Ryder -- who turns 41 in October (though she still looks like she's 30) -- made her official debut in the 1986 high school drama "Lucas." The small, well-recieved role helped lead to a duo of late 1980s leads -- as Lydia in "Beetlejuice" and as Veronica in "Heathers" -- that propelled her to become an icon of her generation.
"I was very lucky because Tim Burton really gave me a career," she said. "I don’t think Hollywood would’ve known what to do with me. If I hadn’t done 'Beetlejuice,' I think I would’ve just gone back to my school."
Ryder also rightfully considers "Heathers" -- released a year after "Beetlejuice" in 1989 -- a pivotal moment in her early career.
"They didn’t want me for it," she recalled. "I wasn’t pretty enough. I had to go a mall and get my makeup done, and then I just begged them and begged them. That was a kind of turning point because that was kind of the first movie where I’d played someone who was attractive. And then that led to a lot of films."
But when talking to Indiewire during the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this week (where she's promoting her latest film, Ariel Vromen's "The Iceman"), Ryder is quick to discourage young actors currently trying to follow in her footsteps.
"If I were 18 right now, I wouldn’t want to become an actress, I know that much," she said. "It's just a different business now. Instant access surveillance, it’s just crazy. Now everyone wants to know everything in such a different way... I mean, there's already so much pressure when you’re a kid. You're uprooted and move to L.A. First they like you, then you’re told they don’t like you. It’s a lot of pressure when at the same time you're going through puberty. But now these paparazzi literally follow people around. It’s really criminal stuff and it’s scary to me."
While Ryder may never have had to experience the intensity of being a teen actress in today's paparazzian landscape, she's hardly avoided it altogether. Her relationship (and breakup) with Johnny Depp's was most definitely the early 1990s pop-culture equivalent to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. And, of course, her 2001 shoplifting arrest didn't exactly go unnoticed.
But Ryder has shifted her priorities as of late, finding comfort in a quieter life outside of Hollywood.
"I'm based in San Francisco and I love my life there," she said. "I have my family and my friends. It’s equally as important to me to be a good friend, and a good sister, and a good daughter. I’m very close with my family and friends. It became all about me when I was at the height of it all in the 1990s."
Since the 1990s, Ryder's career has definitely been more muted. The decade that followed saw her work infrequently (and when she did work, the films were often rather forgettable). But recently, there have been inklings of a resurgence. Coming off a tiny but very well-received part in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," Ryder has two films on this fall's festival circuit: A reunion with Tim Burton comes this October with a voiceover role in his "Frankenweenie" (which will open Fantastic Fest before hitting theaters October 5th), while the aforementioned "Iceman" is currently screening in Toronto after a well-received debut in Venice a week earlier.