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Winona Ryder is the latest movie star to make the leap to television, starring in Netflix’s 1980s homage Stranger Things.
“It’s kind of where it’s at right now,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter of the medium, singling out the streaming service as a pioneer in the space. “They’re doing a lot of shows that I feel like they would have done as films back when I was in my 20s.”
Ryder — who made her debut in the 1986 film Lucas and went on to become a ‘90s icon after starring in movies including Beetlejuice, Heathers and Edward Scissorhands — even posits that premium cable outlets and streaming services might be the only places such projects would get made today. “I don’t know if they ever would have made Girl, Interrupted as a film now,” she says. “But they might make it on Netflix or HBO or whatever. I feel like [that kind of television] is equally as interesting as a lot of films now.”
Following her success in Hollywood at a very young age, Ryder has acknowledged she’s had a difficult time finding her place in the industry post her 20s. “The film business has changed a lot. It’s either tiny little labor-of-love movies that take forever to get made…or it’s the giant blockbusters that are a bit harder if you’re a 44- year-old woman,” she says. It’s why last year Ryder took a supporting role in HBO’s David Simon mini Show Me a Hero, and agreed to a meeting with Stranger Things executive producer and 21 Laps founder Shawn Levy.
After a three-hour-long tea, Ryder was sold. “She didn’t even know what streaming was,” laughs Levy, who pursued Ryder for the part after casting director Carmen Cuba brought up the actress’ name. “She barely knew what a TV series was — she had never done one.” Ryder, for her part, describes her decision to take on the role as a “natural” one, agreeing: “It’s just something that I had never done before.”
The eight-episode drama — an ode to Steven Spielberg’s and John Carpenter’s earlier work — was created by twins Matt and Ross Duffer, who previously wrote for Fox’s Wayward Pines. The 32-year-old brothers first dreamt up the sci-fi horror series three years ago. “We had this idea that we thought would be better for television, but then we realized we had no experience in television, no idea how it worked,” says Matt. Less than two weeks after that realization, the pair got the call to join the Wayward Pines writers room, which they used as a crash course in making a TV show.
While Stranger Things is largely inspired by iconic ‘80s films (think: E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Stand by Me), the Duffers had their sights set on creating a TV series. “A big part of it is that we didn’t want to just make it about a mom looking for her kid — we wanted to tell a story about multiple generations. And in a two-hour movie, there was no way to be able to tell that story properly,” says Ross. Adds Matt of another reason the pair chose the TV route: “It’s also getting harder and harder in Hollywood to make something that’s not IP or brand-based.”
The duo insist that Stranger Things is also extremely conducive to bingeing — which, they say, is why Netflix made the best home for the series. “We’re bingers. We’ve always binged. We binged The Wire and The Sopranos. Ever since then, we’ve been obsessed with that,” says Matt, with Ross adding: “I like it — it feels like a longform movie.” They actually intended for the show to be watched in one or two sittings, and hope that viewers have finished with episode eight by Monday. (It hit Netflix for streaming Friday, July 15.)
Adds Levy of the format: “No one will let you make an eight-hour movie, but Netflix kind of does. They just call it a TV series.”
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