Winona: 'I would never want to be in my twenties or thirties again'

Our September issue interview with the Hollywood icon and star of hit Netflix show Stranger Things

Winona Ryder, star of hit Netflix show Stranger Things
(Image credit: Stranger Things / Rex.jpg)

Our September issue interview with Winona Ryder, the Hollywood icon and star of hit Netflix show Stranger Things

With its unabashed homage to classic Spielberg and a grown-up Eighties ingénue in the lead role, Netflix show Stranger Things has become this year's must-watch. Here's what happened when we talked to its star Winona Ryder.

‘Oh, I could talk to you about this for hours,’ says Winona Ryder in that familiar crackly voice. I’ve asked if she’s relieved to have come of age before the internet took wing, back when smartphones and the tentacles of social media couldn’t track your every move. ‘I’m grateful that I got to have that time, because it really was a different world,’ she sighs.

For a lot of people, Ryder is still crystallised in that world as the ultimate 90s poster girl, with black-and-white shots of her with then-boyfriend Johnny Depp, the millennial yardstick for nonchalant pre-noughties cool (see Instagram on a Thursday for more details). But it’s 28 years since she mooched on screen with black pineapple hair as teenage goth Lydia Deetz in Tim Burton’s 1988 cult hit Beetlejuice and the now 44-year-old is enjoying being the ingénue no longer. She’s played a hardball city councillor in the acclaimed 2015 HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero (where she even chopped off those famously long lashes to look tougher) and Alexandra Milgram in psychological drama Experimenter opposite Peter Sarsgaard.

Meanwhile, off-screen, any chatter about a ‘certain incident’ in 2000 has been cleverly nixed by designer Marc Jacobs – whose jumper she was caught shoplifting – when he cast her as the face of his 2016 beauty campaign.

Now there are rumours that Burton will be bringing back his original muse for Beetlejuice 2, but before that you can watch Ryder in Netflix sci-fi drama Stranger Things. Set in a small Indiana town in the 80s, the show follows events after a boy disappears suddenly in supernatural circumstances. For Ryder, who plays the missing boy’s frantic mother Joyce, it was a meeting of past and present...

So how does it feel to be going back in time to the 80s for your latest role? ‘Well, the directors of Stranger Things [Matt and Ross Duffer] are just [whispers] 32. But it’s very much a love letter to that era, which is funny because, having lived through and started working in the 80s, it does have a nostalgic feel. It’s nice to remind people of my generation what it was like before all the technology, before you could access everything.’

Back when every house just had one old rotary-dial phone... ‘Yes, the rotary phone! I miss those. When I was young they were a huge part of character-building, because if you were going to call a boy, the time it took to actually dial the number would give you courage and the time to figure out what to say. Now, of course, people can probably spend hours figuring out the perfect text to write to somebody. People don’t even really call each other any more.’

What attracted you to the role of Joyce? ‘Well, you know, it’s interesting. I’m 44 and there’s that old saying that when you’re an actress you hit a certain age, then it’s so hard to get parts. Growing up, I was incredibly lucky and kind of spoilt that I got good parts for a very long time, but I’d hear great actresses warning me about it. But actually, not to knock anything anyone said, I feel like the older I get, the more interesting I can make the roles. I would never want to be in my thirties or twenties again, though I had a great run, especially in my twenties. But to play a struggling mum now is really interesting to me, I felt like there was a lot that I could do with the part.’

Joyce's 12-year-old son goes missing so it's a pretty intense storyline... 'I have to say I wouldn't have done Stranger Things if it had anything to do with serial killers or paedophilia. Although I love shows like The Fall - it was incredibly well done - when it involves missing children... I did a lot of work for the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children when I was younger, and it's not entertainment; it's very real. My mum helped me a great deal with Joyce's storyline for Stranger Things. I'm one of four kids, I don't have children myself, but she was like, "I totally get the way you're playing it, even if it's not logical. That's totally what you would do as a mother, as crazy as it looks and sounds to others."'

You’ve been acting for 30 years. How have things changed? ‘I know, 30 years. Jeez, it’s so crazy! I think you go through stages. We’re at a time in this business where the choices are you either do a big superhero movie – which, you know, no one’s really banging my door down to do [laughs] – or the other kind of movies that I used to make like Girl, Interrupted, the $10 million-budget movies, but they’ve kind of stopped [making those] because that type of thing is on TV now.’

Younger stars now have to put up with digital intrusion on a huge level. Are you glad you became famous before all that? ‘I feel sad that this generation isn’t able to experience things the way we used to. Everything is recorded, so if you want to know what you were doing on a certain day, you could probably find out. I know there are a lot of positives to [the internet] and it connects people, but I am a very private person, so it’s not really for me. [Before] people could just reflect on things that they had done and it felt more significant because it was a memory. It’s a very special thing when it’s just in your thoughts and the head of the person that you shared it with.’ Whereas now everything is out there... ‘There’s no way to really monitor it. It really has changed society; it’s changed how we have relationships. This whole cyberbullying stuff is also horrible. I was bullied, but it was not a thing. So, in a way, I guess it’s good that we’re bringing light to that now.’

More from Marie Claire: 10 reasons we'll always love Winona Can you tell us anything about Beetlejuice 2? ‘I wish I could, but I can’t! Everyone’s asking me – my friends, even my dad – and I just don’t know. It could only really be done if it was a perfect script, and only with Tim [Burton] and Michael [Keaton]. I got into trouble because I was asked on TV point-blank, and it was right after Tim had said he was doing it, so I said, “Yeah, I think it is happening.” Suddenly it was like, “RYDER CONFIRMED!”’ Is there anything you’re still itching to do? ‘When I hit a certain age, I wanted to do stuff I hadn’t done before, even if it’s something that isn’t my [usual genre], like Stranger Things – I mean I’m not a supernatural fanatic! The past few years, that’s what I’ve been drawn to – new stuff. It’s that simple.’

Stranger Things is available on Netflix now

Lucy Pavia