1990s star Winona Ryder makes mini comeback in Netflix drama

In Stranger Things, actress Winona Ryder (above) plays a mother of a boy who mysteriously vanishes.
In Stranger Things, actress Winona Ryder (above) plays a mother of a boy who mysteriously vanishes.PHOTO: NETFLIX
Ryder won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her role in the 1993 film, The Age Of Innocence (above).
Ryder won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her role in the 1993 film, The Age Of Innocence (above).PHOTO: NETFLIX

The media's habit of branding a work as Winona Ryder's big career comeback gets on the actress' nerves

Winona Ryder wants you to know that reports of her comeback have been greatly exaggerated.

Speaking to The Straits Times in Los Angeles, the 1990s movie darling and former tabloid fixture says you are unlikely to see her much these days because she is picky about her projects and feels like she has already had her share of fame.

Ryder, 44, who withdrew from the limelight after her 2001 arrest for shoplifting, has a new project - Netflix's upcoming supernatural series, Stranger Things.

The show premieres on July 15 and sees her play the mother of a boy who mysteriously vanishes.

"It's an homage to the supernatural films of the 1980s and influenced by movies like Stand By Me, E.T. and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind," she says. "I had never done this genre or this kind of role before, so that was exciting to me, to try something different.

"It was also wonderful to be there with the younger actors," she adds, referring to the children who play her sons and their friends. "It's really great to watch younger generations getting their opportunities and be there to support them."

I'd much rather just do my work and go home, read my books, watch movies and do the other stuff. It's important to have a life and interests outside of this business and not rely on it to validate you as a human being.

WINONA RYDER on why she is not looking to being in the limelight again

Every time she has appeared on screen in recent years, headlines start popping up heralding it as her big career comeback. "Ugh, I know," she says with a grimace. "By the way, that's not coming from me."

Branding something as her grand return to Hollywood puts a lot of pressure on the project in question, she says. "I'll do something, like a little thing, and it's really not the right project to be saying that, but the press seems to like using that word, 'comeback'. It kind of almost sets you up to fail if the movie isn't some gigantic blockbuster."

There were not a lot of failures for Ryder in the 1980s and 1990s.

Star turns in mainstream and indie hits such as Beetlejuice (1988), Heathers (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Reality Bites (1994) and Girl, Interrupted (1999) made her one of the biggest names in Tinseltown. A three-year engagement to actor Johnny Depp in the early 1990s only solidified her It-girl status.

But behind the scenes, Ryder later said, she was battling clinical depression and was on painkillers that muddled her judgment when she was caught stealing US$5,500 in designer clothes from a Beverly Hills shop in 2001.

After that misdemeanour, for which she was sentenced to three years' probation and community service, it was nothing except small or forgettable parts for almost a decade, until she popped up on the radar again with a well-received supporting role in the ballet drama Black Swan (2011). However, she seemed ill at ease when she was quizzed at press events about her hiatus from Hollywood that year.

Today, she seems in good spirits as she chats with a handful of reporters at a hotel in West Hollywood, looking radiant and half her age in a leather jacket and T-shirt featuring English punk band The Clash.

She says her slender body of work in recent years is the result of her turning down roles that do not feel right for her. "I'm pretty selective and often get offered things that are so similar to things I've done.

"And I feel life's too short. When you make a film or show, as you get older, that's a lot of time to be doing something you're not absolutely invested in or in love with. So, to me, time is precious and I do love working, but I've resisted doing certain things for the wrong reasons."

Ryder - who won Oscar nominations for her performances in Little Women (1994) and The Age Of Innocence (1993), and took home a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for the latter - also points out that the mainstream film industry now rarely makes the sort of character- driven dramas she is drawn to.

"If you look at what's going on in the film business, it's like either superhero franchises or very tiny art movies."

When it comes to the former, she notes candidly that "no one's banging down my door to be a superhero... I don't know if anyone wants to put me in a cape and chuck me out a window".

"And I don't know how good I would be - I kind of have low bone density," she adds with a grin.

As an example of tiny art movies, she points to the indie drama she did last year, Experimenter, about the famous experiments conducted by social psychologist Stanley Milgram.

"It was a beautiful movie, but it took six years to get made and it was a tiny budget and a labour of love. I'd do those forever if I could. But they really don't make a lot of these movies anymore.

"I don't think they would make Girl, Interrupted today," she says of her 1999 drama about women at a mental institution, which won her co-star Angelina Jolie both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

However, there are more opportunities for that sort of storytelling on the small screen and Ryder, who had a supporting role in HBO's acclaimed public-housing drama Show Me A Hero last year, says she is more than happy to join the exodus of film stars headed that way.

"As an actress, you go where the stories are... and TV is becoming interesting because they are making really character-driven, interesting stuff that I really enjoy watching."

Besides, she believes TV is more democratic in some respects. "I'm really attached to movie theatres and nothing will ever replace that. But I do think that for people who are working two jobs and have kids and don't have the time or money to go to the theatre, it's wonderful they can have access to these great shows at the same time everyone else does."

But even if Ryder's new TV show is successful, do not expect to see her face all over the news as it once was. Not only is she a "private" person who just loves her work, but she also realises that with career success comes a certain loss of privacy.

"I'm not saying I don't want to be successful and good at what I do. But all the stuff that comes with it, the comeback - the thought of being propelled into the limelight again is not something I sit around and fantasise about.

"I'd much rather just do my work and go home, read my books, watch movies and do the other stuff. It's important to have a life and interests outside of this business and not rely on it to validate you as a human being. If you do that, you're really in a dangerous spot. There have been times in my life that I have and I found it kind of depressing.

"It's just really important to have a life outside of it and be the best person you can be."

•Stranger Things is out on Netflix on July 15.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Ryder has an axe to grind'. Print Edition | Subscribe