BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Winona Ryder claimed her five-finger discount at a posh Beverly Hills department store was really just research for an upcoming movie role, sources told The Post yesterday.
After security guards nabbed Ryder the moment she left Saks Fifth Avenue without paying on Wednesday night, the world-famous actress apparently tried to pawn off her sticky-fingered antics on work.
"She said a director (of an upcoming movie) suggested she do this for research," a source close to the investigation told The Post yesterday.
Ryder has not been reported to be working on any new films, and her defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, did not return calls from The Post. But Geragos has said the incident was a "misunderstanding" between Ryder and store managers.
Security guards and surveillance cameras spotted Ryder walking through the store's first floor, helping herself to socks, hair clips, a handbag and at least one garment, perhaps a scarf, worth a total of $4,760, police and other sources said.
The arrest ended a shopping spree for Ryder, who had been carrying several other bags of purchased merchandise. Ryder — who owns a $3 million mansion in Beverly Hills — removed anti-theft tags from the stolen Saks items and stashed some of her ill-gotten goods in a shopping bag from nearby Barneys New York, the sources said.
Security guards turned Ryder, 30, over to Beverly Hills cops, who booked her on suspicion of grand theft and possession of painkillers without a prescription. Ryder was also carrying Zoloft, a popular anti-depressant, when she was arrested, sources said.
Los Angeles County prosecutors have yet to formally charge Ryder, who is due to appear before a judge in Beverly Hills on Jan. 11. Until then, Ryder will remain free on $20,000 bail.
Ryder, whose real name is Winona Laura Horowitz, has won two Oscar nominations, for The Age of Innocence and Little Women. She's often played complex or troubled characters, such as the mentally disturbed teen in Girl, Interrupted.
Ryder joins the ranks of shoplifting celebs — a dubious list headed by tennis sensation Jennifer Capriati and former Miss America Bess Myerson. Capriati was busted for stealing a $15 silver ring from a Florida jewelry store in 1993, and Myerson was nabbed for walking off with $44 in merchandise from a Pennsylvania department store in 1988.
Therapists said Ryder's arrest could signal a desperate cry for help from an emotionally fragile and lonely woman.
"It had nothing to do with money, and everything to do with getting relief from all her troubles," said New Jersey-based psychiatrist Patricia Farrell. "She was feeding her hurt emotions. She was unable to make good judgment. She acted irrationally because she was in great pain and feeling lonely."
Additional reporting by Adam Miller.