Winona Ryder Relates to Her Movie Character's Love Life

04/30/2013 at 01:35 PM EDT

Winona Ryder Relates to Her Movie Character's Love Life
Winona Ryder and Michael Shannon in The Iceman
Millennium Entertainment
In The Iceman, Winona Ryder plays a woman in denial. A woman who doesn't seem to realize her husband is really a serial-killing hit-man.

And Ryder can relate – kind of.

"I think we all have stuff [from past relationships] we'd rather not think about," Ryder, 41, told PEOPLE Monday at the special New York screening hosted by Grey Goose. "Or things we remember differently in retrospect, or have selective amnesia [about]."

Ryder's character, Barbara Kuklinski, is married to notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon. They are based on a real-life couple, and Barbara apparently lived for some time without realizing her husband's true vocation.



"I don't think she was [oblivious]," Ryder says. "I think she was in deep denial. She liked her life the way it was, and wasn't asking the questions she should have been asking."

She adds, "Following her gut also would have meant messing up her life. It's a very complex character, and very ambiguous. We'll never know the truth. Denial is a very powerful thing."

So, yes, Ryder confirmed jokingly, she's experienced denial. But "nothing that comes close to anything like that [movie]!"

Ryder – called "a legend" Monday by Shannon and "really great" by costar Ray Liotta – says early buzz about her performance and return to the big screen isn't registering much.

"I do think I speak for a lot of actors when I say we try to block that stuff out – good or bad," she says. "I think sometimes it's not healthy to be listening to all that. But of course it's always nice to hear nice things."

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