Winona Ryder on ‘Stranger Things’ and Aging in Hollywood

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“I went from weirdo teenager to pixie waif to them not knowing what the hell to do with me.” – Winona Ryder

Stranger Things is the latest talked-about Netflix hit series, and one of the most praised aspects of the supernatural drama is the performance of Winona Ryder. The former 1990s “it” girl stars on the series as a mother who is searching for her missing son and discovers she can communicate with him through unbelievable means. Ryder spoke to the New York Times about her role on Stranger Things, being an actress over 40 in Hollywood and “mom” roles, and what good came out of her 2001 shoplifting conviction.

Though Ryder is of the age where she is playing mothers of young children, because she does not have children herself she turns to an obvious place for guidance — her own mother. She explains, “I don’t have kids, so my mom helped me a lot on this. I’d call her sometimes and say: ‘Mom, what would you do if every indication is that your child is dead, but you believe that lights are telling you that he isn’t?’ And she’d say: ‘Honey, I’d totally believe that. It’s primal.'”

Though Ryder has been offered other scripts to play mothers before, she has turned them down because the mother characters appeared so one-dimensional. She says, “I get sent a lot of scripts where you’re just the mom… And you think, could I do something with this? Is there a way to make this interesting? But in the end you think, no.”

Of course, one of the most infamous things about Ryder is her 2001 conviction for shoplifting, which led her to scale back her acting appearances for several years. Despite the circumstances, she sees her time away from the spotlight as rewarding, revealing, “I think for me, personally, it was good for my soul and stuff to be M.I.A. In the big picture, I see it as something that opened the door for me to get away. All I’d ever done was act.”

In fact, the incident came when Ryder was 30 years old, which unfortunately for many actresses is an age barrier in Hollywood. She explains, “I went from weirdo teenager to pixie waif to them not knowing what the hell to do with me.” For much of the 2000s she felt misused until she was cast in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. She says, “I felt like for the first time in a long time people really responded to me. That was a very liberating thing, because I was playing my age. In my mind, and I think in a lot of people’s minds, that really helped. I sort of graduated.”

Still, her 1990s persona has stuck with her. Last year, David Simon cast Ryder in the HBO mini-series Show Me a Hero. She discovered that Simon had to convince HBO she was right for the part. She reveals, “He said it, like, three times: ‘Don’t show us the Winona eyes.’ After I wrapped, he said something to me to the effect of ‘We really showed them.’ And it actually hadn’t occurred to me that he’d actually had to fight for me, that HBO was hesitant, that I just wasn’t the obvious choice for the role.”

On top of that, while Ryder is determined to stay relevant, she points out that Hollywood’s age problem with actresses is a deeply-rooted issue. She says, “I love watching old movies, and I read a lot of autobiographies. Apparently Bette Davis and a lot of actresses had a hard time in their 30s, too.”

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