Winona Ryder says Mel Gibson once asked if she was an 'oven dodger'

The actress, 48, recalled a story when Gibson allegedly made an anti-Semitic comment in an apparent reference to Ryder's Jewish heritage.
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Winona Ryder spoke to the U.K. paper The Times about comments that people in Hollywood have made about her Jewish heritage. Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Winona Ryder has opened up about experiencing anti-Semitism in Hollywood, describing comments that executives and fellow actors have made to her about her Jewish heritage.

The 48-year-old spoke in a recent interview with U.K. paper The Times about one specific moment she says involved actor and filmmaker Mel Gibson.

Ryder recalled: "We were at a crowded party with one of my good friends, and Mel Gibson was smoking a cigar, and we’re all talking, and he said to my friend, who’s gay, ‘Oh, wait, am I gonna get AIDS?’ And then something came up about Jews, and he said, ‘You’re not an oven dodger, are you?'"

The actress, born Winona Laura Horowitz, added to the paper that Gibson tried to apologize at a later date.

Rumors of anti-Semitism have followed Gibson for years. "Passion of the Christ," the 2004 film he directed, was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for what it called a "blood-thirsty" depiction of Jews. In 2006, Gibson made headlines when he was arrested for drunk driving and shouting "f------ Jews," among other comments, per The Los Angeles Times' transcript of the arrest.

A representative for Gibson told TODAY in a statement that Ryder's comments are "100% untrue."

Referencing a 2010 interview where Ryder told the same story, the spokesperson continued: "She lied about it over a decade ago, when she talked to the press, and she's lying about it now. Also, she lied about him trying to apologize to her back then. He did reach out to her, many years ago, to confront her about her lies, and she refused to address it with him.”

Ryder responded in a statement to TODAY: “Around 1996, my friend Kevyn Aucoin and I were on the receiving end of (Gibson's) hateful words. It is a painful and vivid memory for me. Only by accepting responsibility for our behavior in this life can we make amends and truly respect each other, and I wish him well."

Ryder also told The Times that her heritage has affected her ability to secure acting roles as well.

"There are times when people have said, ‘Wait, you’re Jewish? But you’re so pretty!’" she said. "There was a movie that I was up for a long time ago — it was a period piece — and the studio head, who was Jewish, said I looked ‘too Jewish’ to be in a blue-blooded family.”

She revealed that her heritage is something she thinks about often, even if she doesn't address it publicly.

She told The Times that she is "not religious" but does "identify" with being Jewish. "It’s a hard thing for me to talk about because I had family who died in the camps, so I’ve always been fascinated with that time," she said.

This story has been updated to include statements from spokespeople for Gibson and Ryder.