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Fame's different this time around, says Winona Ryder of 'Stranger Things'

Back from relative obscurity and rumoured disgrace, the star of hit Netflix series talks to Margaret Gardiner about her return to the spotlight

14 July 2019 - 00:05 By Margaret Gardiner
Winona Ryder's role has been substantially increased in the new season of 'Stranger Things'.
Winona Ryder's role has been substantially increased in the new season of 'Stranger Things'.
Image: Randy Holmes/Getty Images

"I'm really happy you asked that. If you don't mind, I do have an answer," says Winona Ryder, as though I am interviewing her out of politeness.

There are faces that are indelible on our consciousness. Not because we know the person, but because they have featured in so many of our seminal movie moments that they touched our lives without ever being aware of our fondness and support. Ryder has such a face.

It seemed, once, that she was in everything (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Dracula and Girl, Interrupted), and then, nothing. There was talk of shoplifting, and small roles in high-calibre films like Black Swan, but nothing high profile. So to sit in a Beverly Hills hotel with the harsh California sun bouncing off the floor and onto the face of Ryder, 47 years old now, is a shock and a pleasure.

Like many huge names on the big screen - especially women - that seemed to disappear, Ryder has come back to us on the small screen, in the worldwide hit Stranger Things. Ryder portrays a woman whose son is in danger from, well, strange things.

Each season she gets to do more, and in the third season, now available on Netflix, she steps up, raises her voice, and is listened to - a subtle nod maybe, to the #TimesUp movement, in that her role is substantially increased.

She's wearing a Bowie-emblazoned dress by Undercover. The dark hair, eyes and pallor are still there, just different. One wonders if the reflected attention of the show's success is something she welcomes. She avoids the question. "When I'm not working I'm at home," she replies, letting the silence stretch the non sequitur.

"I'd never signed onto a series before. We didn't have any idea how it was going to be received. I haven't really had this sort of …" She let's the sentence hang and one wonders how she'll complete it: fame/work/opportunity for a while? Her eyes flutter around the room. It strikes me that she could be a little nervous. She wobbles her head with an implied ending to the sentence, takes a breath and speaks on the exhale. "It's different for me than it is for the kids. They're the ones with the most focused attention from the world."

WATCH | Learn more about Winona Ryder's breakout performance in Netflix's 'Stranger Things'

Ryder, named after Winona, Minnesota, where she was born, and whose last name is Horowitz, credits the creators of the show, brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer, for being "receptive" to her suggestions for her Stranger Things character, Joyce Beyers.

"I really liked those Marsha Mason movies in the '80s, and movies like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, about single, flawed mothers. I felt she had great detective skills; this season David [Harbour, who plays police chief Hopper] and I do more together. It's always bittersweet because I miss working with Charlie [Heaton, who plays her son Jonathan] and Noah [Schnapp, who plays her other son Will]," she says.

She acknowledges that fame is a different animal now. "It's two completely different worlds. When I started out, there was no internet, no cellphones, and certainly no cameras. Now, people are on their phones so much. Not back then. I get nostalgic for that. It's also been really wonderful to get to continue working. At my age, it can be hard. I'm just incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have. I never foresaw being on a show this popular. It's been great to experience."

Then she adds, "When I was young and in the heat of it, Cher told me, 'You're going to get through this.' At the time you think you won't ." Her voice trails off as she seems to slip away to that time in her head, then she's back. "Cher really helped me, she's amazing and close to my heart."

What about Johnny Depp, who she used to date? The expression leaves her face. "I haven't spoken to him in a while, in a long time."

Winona Ryder remains very close friends with her 'Dracula' co-star Keanu Reeves.
Winona Ryder remains very close friends with her 'Dracula' co-star Keanu Reeves.
Image: Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

What about the internet rumours that she's married to Keanu Reeves (though she's in a long-term relationship with clothing designer Scott Mackinlay Hahn.)

"Poor Keanu." Her eyes disappear in a laugh. "The funny thing is, we did [media interviews] for a little movie and it came into my head as we were being interviewed that when we did Dracula, we did a very long take in a church with a real Romanian priest. I was like, 'I think we're married.' I said it and it spread like wildfire."

She's tickled. "I actually was just texting him last night," she teases. "We're very good friends. I'm like, 'You're my forever.' I won't threaten him with a divorce in case he takes it. He's one of my favourite humans."

She recalls her first love - which, incidentally, is a sub-theme in Season 3. "Man. I remember, Sheena Easton's For Your Eyes Only was playing. I liked this boy and didn't know how to ask him to dance. I decided to pretend to rush past him and ask as if it were an afterthought, 'Oh, do you want to dance the next slow song?' " She acts it out for us, looking back over her shoulder.

"The reply, 'No'. I was like, oh God. Then another boy, Mike, asked me to dance to For Your Eyes Only." She chuckles, the interview is over, and her shoulders visibly relax … a little.


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