The young cast of “Stranger Things” may be fast-rising stars, but it’s 1980s darling Winona Ryder who is the heart and soul of the show. So much so that her co-star David Harbor agreed in an Instagram post: “The vital beating heart behind every season of ST is the stunning performance of Joyce and Winona Ryder over the past 7 years.”
Ryder plays Joyce Byers, who in the first season was a mother on a very emotional quest to find her son. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Ryder described how he uses a fear every parent has. “For the first five of the eight episodes, I’m pretty hysterical, as I think any parent would be in the circumstances.” But it wasn’t long before Ryder’s Byers battled the supernatural. The actor brought an edgy and eccentric energy to the role — in fact, creator Matt Duffer credits Ryder with expanding the character on the show.
“Joyce wasn’t such an interesting character until we cast Winona,” Matt Duffer told Netflix. “She’s such a unique actress that we wanted to draw on her abilities.” But how did Ryder get into the now-famous role? Well, according to the Duffer brothers, that had nothing to do with Ryder’s status as an ’80s icon.
Winona Ryder has kept a low profile from Stranger Things
Prior to her starring role in Stranger Things, Winona Ryder was in a bit of a career slump. It had been years since Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice had made her a national star. Aside from a role in the Adam Sandler-directed Mr. Deeds,” the 2000s brought Ryder more controversy than starring roles. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Ryder was arrested for shoplifting in 2001. The star accused him of accidentally taking too many painkillers after a doctor prescribed him too much for a broken arm.
But according to Ryder, the damage was done. She told the outlet: “It’s slowed down. So then you hear, ‘It’s going to be impossible to come back.’ And then that changes to “You’re not even part of the conversation.” It was brutal. I’ve definitely retired. I was in San Francisco. But I didn’t get any offers either. I think it was a very mutual break.”
When the Duffer Brothers cast for the show, they realized they had to cast Ryder for the role. The duo have been fans of the star for much of her career and have missed seeing her in roles. They believed she had the acting skills to bring Joyce Byers to life. In an interview with Bustle, Matt Duffer said, “There’s all the talk about ‘meta-casting,’ but actually we missed seeing her on the big screen.”
Winona Ryder wants to protect her younger castmates
Fast forward a few years, and Winona Ryder has wrapped up her fourth season on one of Netflix’s flagship shows. Hollywood is full of success stories, but it’s not often that an icon emerges from a crisis to inspire the next generation of actors. For her part, Ryder says she’s very protective of her younger castmates. The show’s popularity and fame could prove to be a double-edged sword.
“I want the kids to understand that’s not happening,” she told Harper’s Bazaar of the show’s fame. “It’s really unusual. And I always tell them: ‘The work is the reward!’ Because at that age, it was so hard to enjoy the fruits of my labor.” According to the outlet, Ryder has notably formed a relationship with Millie Bobby Brown, who stars in the show’s lead as Eleven.
Ryder knows a little bit what it’s like to be a child star trying to make it in the industry. She got her first film role when she was just 13, about the same age as the cast in the first season of Stranger Things. Ryder then became an icon at the age of 15 with Beetlejuice. In an interview with E! Ryder said online, “I have mixed feelings about kids in the industry, but we really nailed it with these kids.” It’s clear that Stranger Things is lucky to have them!