Created by the writing and directing team of brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer, and executive produced by Shawn Levy, who also directed two episodes, the eight-episode Netflix horror thriller Stranger Things takes place in 1983 in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana and follows the mysterious disappearance of a 12-year-old boy and the strange things that happen there. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into a mystery involving top secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange and possibly very dangerous little girl.
Collider (along with a couple other press outlets) was recently invited to participate in a roundtable at a press day for the nostalgic new series. During the interview, actress Winona Ryder (who plays Joyce Byers, the desperate and distraught mother of the missing boy) talked about what attracted her to Stranger Things, her desire to find roles that she’s never done before, why she doesn’t work more often, going where the best stories are, her secret desire to live in an old movie theater, and that it would be great if a sequel for Beetlejuice did someday happen, under the right circumstances.
Question: As the writers, directors and co-showrunners, what did Matt and Ross Duffer bring to Stranger Things that really impressed you and made you want to be a part of bringing their vision to life?
WINONA RYDER: They were very clear about having been heavily influenced by these movies from the ‘80s that made them want to become directors, like Stand By Me, E.T. and Close Encounters, and they were very clear that they wanted to do an homage to that. Obviously, there’s always the fear of it being less of an homage and more ripping off, but I do think that they succeeded in really making it an homage, which is really impressive. As someone who lived through that time, they created this town, these characters and this world that really does feel both authentic and cinematic, and I mean that in a good way. As an actress, you want to try new things. You don’t want to repeat yourself. That becomes more important to you, as you get older. I had never done this genre before, and I had never done this kind of role before, so it was exciting to me to try something different.
It didn’t always make a lot of sense. I’ll admit, there were times when I was confused, but that was sort of the point. She really does start to unravel and seemingly lose her mind, even though it ends up that she’s not losing her mind. She’s actually right. And that was something that was interesting to me. The idea that the stuff that you’re going through is just the worst nightmare of any parent, and then you’re presented with this logical explanation of him being gone or dead, but you find yourself believing in stuff that’s so crazy and illogical, and that’s what you do, as a parent, because you have to. I talked to my mom about this, for a long time. I’m one of four kids. She said, “Yeah, it absolutely makes sense that he’s talking to you through the lights. As a parent, you just have to believe that.” She just doesn’t give up. She’s not a perfect person. She’s very flawed and she’s struggling, even before everything happens. I liked that she wasn’t this perfect mom. She has a lot of guilt that she doesn’t spend enough time with her kids. It all felt very much like something I had never done before.
Every time you’ve done a project, in recent years, people talk about wanting to see you more.
RYDER: That doesn’t come from me. I’ll do something like The Iceman or Experimenter, and the press likes to use that word “comeback,” which almost sets you up to fail, if the movie is not some gigantic blockbuster. I’m a really private person. I just love my work. I feel like celebrity has changed so much, in this culture. Ever since they started with those reality shows and people that aren’t actors but they’re really famous, it’s gotten very different from when I started out. So, the idea of ever becoming more than what I had is not really what I want. I’m not saying that I don’t want to be successful and good at what I do. That’s what’s important to me. I want to be a good person, and a person that people enjoy working with, ‘cause I certainly enjoy working with other people.
I love my job. But all the stuff that comes with it, the thought of being propelled into the limelight again is not something I sit around and fantasize about, certainly. I’d much rather just do my work, and then go home and read my books and watch movies. I think it’s really important to have a life and have interests outside of this business, and not rely on this business to validate you as a human being. If you do that, you’re really in a dangerous spot. You’re lucky if you’re in three great movies, or even one great movie. I’ve been so lucky. But if you rely on the business to dictate whether you’re happy, it gets really complicated. You just can’t do that. There have been times in my life that I’ve done that, and I’ve found it depressing. So, I think it’s just really important to have a life outside of this business and just be the best person you can be.
Why aren’t you working more, these days? Are you just really selective about the projects that you are a part of?
RYDER: It’s probably a bunch of different reasons. Yeah, I am pretty selective. I often get offered things that are so similar to things that I have done, and life is too short. When you make a film or a show, as you get older, that’s a lot of time to be doing something that you’re not absolutely invested in or in love with. Time is precious. I do love working, but I’ve resisted doing certain things for the wrong reasons. If you look at what’s going on in the film business, there are superhero franchises, or very tiny little art movies, like Experimenter, which I loved and am incredibly proud of. I think it’s a beautiful movie, but it took six years to get it made and it was a tiny budget. It was a labor of love, and I don’t think a lot of people saw it, but I’d do those forever, if I could. I’d work with (filmmakers) Michael Almereyda and Jim Jarmusch. But, they really don’t make a lot of those movies anymore. I don’t think they’d make a movie like Girl, Interrupted today. That’s why TV is now becoming really interesting. They are making really character-driven, interesting stuff that I really enjoy watching. I’m very attached to movie theaters and I love going to them. Nothing will ever replace that. It’s very romantic and beautiful. I used to want to live inside of one, with a bathtub, a bike and a bed, and just watch movies. But I do think there’s also something for people who are working two jobs and have kids, and who don’t have the time or money to go to the theater. They can have access to these great shows, at the same time everyone else does, and that’s wonderful. It’s certainly better than them not getting exposed to that stuff. It’s great that it’s available to everyone.
Which movie theater did you want to live in?
RYDER: The one that I had the fantasy about was this theater called The Plaza, and it was in this town that I lived in when I was 12 to 16. It was an old movie theater, and it was where I saw a lot of the big movies that had a big impact on me. It was just beautiful. I had this fantasy of taking out the seats and having a bed, and having a bicycle, so that I could get some exercise, and having a bathtub, and just never leaving. And maybe I’d put a kitchen somewhere in there. I was very young. It was a pipe dream. A lot of the old movie theaters are closing down now, which is really sad. It’s still in the back of my mind.
As someone who’s a bonafide movie star, are you surprised to find yourself working on TV?
RYDER: As an actress, you go where the stories are. I don’t really care where it’s seen, at this point. I just want to tell good stories and do good roles that I haven’t done before. No one is banging my door down to be a superhero. I don’t know how good I would be. I have low bone density, so I don’t know if anyone really wants to put me in a cape and chuck me out a window. But a lot of my friends, who are great actors and who come from film, are doing TV because that’s where the opportunities are. For us, it does feel like it’s similar to making the movies that we used to make. It’s just that now they’re on a different format because they aren’t making those kinds of films anymore. Well, they are, but they’re real exceptions when they do. If you’re not lucky enough to get cast in one of those, you go where the storytelling is. [Stranger Things] is a genre that I’ve never tried before. It’s fun, and there’s a lot of different stuff going on. It’s an ensemble, and I’ve always loved working with other actors. The younger actors have been really wonderful to be there with. It’s their turn now. I had my turn, and it was amazing. I’ve had such amazing opportunities. I’m 44 years old. So, it’s really great to watch younger generations getting their opportunities, and being there to support them in that.
You’ve been in a lot of movies that people love, and Beetlejuice is one of the most popular among them. It seems as though people have been talking about a Beetlejuice sequel for years now, but it hasn’t happened yet. Are you surprised that, out of all the films you’ve made, the sequel for Beetlejuice is the one that people just won’t let go, or are you most surprised that it hasn’t actually been made yet? And is there an official status update?
RYDER: I don’t really know what’s going on with that. Obviously, it was an iconic film. The only way it could really ever be done is with Tim [Burton] and Michael [Keaton]. I don’t know. There’s something that really resonates with all ages, with that film. It’s interesting. I think it would be great if it happened, if it was the right circumstances. Gosh, you know you’re getting older when they’re making TV shows, sequels or plays for things that you did. It’s very flattering and very humbling, indeed. I heard they were making another Little Women. Mine was the fifth one, so that’s kudos to Louisa May Alcott. It’s just very flattering.
Stranger Things is available at Netflix on July 15th.