In sci-fi drama Stranger Things, Winona Ryder plays a frazzled single mom in small-town Indiana. It’s 1983 and her 12-year-old son has vanished, and getting him back means unravelling a mystery including secret government experiments and supernatural forces (all, quaintly, without cellphones or Google).
The Netflix series is pure, glorious ’80s—think families gathered in sepia-toned rooms, kids’ bicycle lights glowing on dark suburban streets, meaningful looks exchanged in front of high-school lockers— so the casting of Ryder seems apt; the Heathers and Beetlejuice star is a walking ’80s throwback herself. “I totally didn’t think of that until I was on set one day and somebody said it, and I was like, Oh,” she says, as though her icon status is a revelation.
Perhaps it’s because Ryder, 44, is adorably social-media-unsavvy (the kind of person who says “pound sign” instead of hashtag); she seems equally mystified when I mention her enduring Tumblr fashion cred. She was attracted to the project because she hadn’t done anything like it before: sci-fi; a TV series; wearing mom jeans, and not in a cool way with a Tom Waits tee and a leather jacket à la Back in the Day Winona. Plus, she says, “it was an opportunity to play my own age, which was nice. I had a hard time [finding good roles] in my 30s. I was either too young or too old.”
Does she twinge for the years of ingenue roles piling up at her feet? “I get nostalgic how any person would,” she says, but that doesn’t mean she’d go back to the ’80s for real. “When I was a kid, getting older wasn’t something I feared—it was something I desired,” she says. “You have more to draw on.”