How Winona Ryder Got Her Role On Stranger Things

The young cast of "Stranger Things" may have quickly become stars, but it's darling of the 1980s Winona Ryder that provides the heart and soul of the show. So much so, that her co-star David Harbour agreed in an Instagram post, "The vital beating heart behind every season of ST is Joyce and Winona Ryder's stunning performance for the last 7 years."

Ryder stars as Joyce Byers, who in the first season was a mother on the very emotional mission of finding her son. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Ryder described tapping into a fear all parents have. "Pretty much the first five out the eight episodes I'm pretty hysterical, as I think any parent would be in those circumstances." But it wasn't long until Ryder's Byers found herself battling the supernatural. The actor brought a nervous and eccentric energy to the role — in fact, creator Matt Duffer credits Ryder with expanding the character in the series.

"Joyce wasn't that interesting of a character until we cast Winona," Matt Duffer told Netflix. "She's such a unique actress that we wanted to lean into her skill set." But how did Ryder end up in the now-famous role? Well, according to the Duffer brothers, it had nothing to do with Ryder's status as an '80s icon.

Winona Ryder laid low before Stranger Things

Before starring in "Stranger Things," Winona Ryder found herself in a bit of a career slump. It had been years since "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice" had made her a national star. Outside of a role in the Adam Sandler-led "Mr. Deeds," the 2000s brought Ryder more controversy than starring roles. According to Harpers Bazaar, Ryder was arrested for shoplifting in 2001. The star blamed being accidentally high on painkillers after a doctor overprescribed for a broken arm.

But according to Ryder, the damage was done. She told the outlet, "It did slow down. So then you're hearing, 'It's going to be impossible to come back.' And then that changes to 'You're not even part of the conversation.' Like, it was brutal. I definitely retreated. I was in San Francisco. But I also wasn't getting offers. I think it was a very mutual break."

So when the Duffer Brothers were casting for the show, they realized they had to cast Ryder in the role. The duo had been fans of the star for much of her career and missed seeing her in roles. They believed she had the acting chops to bring Joyce Byers to life. In an interview with Bustle, Matt Duffer said, "There's all this talk about 'meta-casting,' but really it was us missing seeing her on the big screen."

Winona Ryder wants to protect her younger castmates

Flash forward several years, and Winona Ryder has completed her fourth season on what has become one of Netflix's flagship shows. Hollywood is full of success stories, but it's not often an icon comes back from a slump 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 bit of a double-edged sword.

"I want the kids to understand, this does not happen," she told Harpers Bazaar of the show's fame. "This is really unusual. And I'm always telling them, 'The work is the reward!' Because when I was that age, it was so hard to enjoy the fruits of my labor." According to the outlet, Ryder has particularly formed a relationship with Millie Bobby Brown, who stars in the show's lead role as Eleven.

Ryder knows a bit what it's like to be a child star trying to make it in the industry. She starred in her first movie role when she was only 13, around the age of the cast members on "Stranger Things" Season 1. Ryder then became an icon with "Beetlejuice" at the age of 15. In an interview with E! Online, Ryder said, "I have mixed feelings about kids in the industry, but we've really scored with these kids." It's clear "Stranger Things" is lucky to have her!