Winona Ryder has had a very good year.
The actress — who remains best known for her work in '80s and '90s films including Heathers, Edward Scissorhands and Girl, Interrupted — had a supporting role in the Emmy-nominated mini-series, Show Me a Hero alongside Oscar Isaac, and a starring role in Netflix's recent Stranger Things. For Ryder, an icon of '80s cinema, heading to television and working on serialized programming wasn't just the next step in her career, but indicated a big change — and risk.
"I had never worked on something where I couldn't read the entire script at once," Ryder said during a panel for Stranger Things at the Television Critics Association (TCA) conference. "But I adjusted my perspective and and used my own confusion for the character."
"What I loved about it, though, was just how imperfect Joyce was"
Following Ryder's peak a couple of decades back, it was a hard road for the actor. Ryder said that during her 30s, it was hard for her to secure any type of big work because of her appearance. According to the actress, she never quite looked her age when she was in her 20s and could play teenage roles, but finding roles got more difficult as she got older. Suddenly, she was "too old" to play the teen or twentysomething in a movie, but looked too young to play the mom, aunt or any other traditional role women in their 30s and 40s in Hollywood are forced to play.
"It was a little tough," Ryder admitted. "I looked too young or people didn't buy me at the age I was going out for. Even if it was my actual age! But in the past couple of years I've done some things I'm really proud of, and Stranger Things is definitely at the top of the list."
In the series, created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, Ryder plays Joyce Byers, a relentless mother who won't give up searching for her young son after his mysterious disappearance. The show is sprinkled with hints of Steven Spielberg and David Lynch films, but above all else, remains a traditional genre show. Ryder said that while she had worked on other genre fare in her career, notably Edward Scissorhands, she had never worked on a television series of this nature. While she ended up loving it, she was a little concerned at first going in.
"It was something I had never really done," Ryder said. "It was a role I had never done in a medium I had never done. What I loved about it, though, was just how imperfect Joyce was as a character."
Ryder talked at length about Joyce and said the fact that she wasn't a cookie-cutter woman, something that she said most Hollywood productions are looking for, was intriguing to her.
"I appreciated that she was complicated"
Ryder said that Joyce reminded her of other women she knew in her own life and, despite the supernatural aspects of the show, finding a character grounded in reality was an uplifting change of pace.
"I appreciated that she was complicated, that she was struggling," Ryder said. "She carried around a lot of guilt, but like most women I know, was just trying to get by. I just appreciated all of her flaws and I felt that she was challenging and complicated. I was attracted to it."
Netflix hasn't announced if Stranger Things is coming back for a second season yet, but Ryder said she would love to play Joyce again, if the opportunity presents itself.
The first season of Stranger Things is available to stream on Netflix now.