June 27, 2016 03:00 PM

When Winona Ryder decided to retreat from the spotlight, she was known as a leading lady – the young, doe-eyed actress who starred opposite the likes of Christian Slater and Daniel Day-Lewis. Her status as the go-to girl of the ’90s made a return decades later all the more difficult, she tells Time.

Ryder, now 44, told Time that after years of success, she began to look to the film industry for validation – something she calls a mistake.

“I will admit I was guilty of that when I was younger because you get caught up in it, surrounded by people that are telling you that it’s the most important thing, and you’re young and you believe it,” she says, noting that she came to the realization that she needed a break after her highly-publicized 2001 arrest for shop lighting from Saks Fifth Avenue.

While beneficial, Ryder said the Hollywood escape was also detrimental. “I took some years off, and I didn’t realize that was very dangerous in terms of my career. I was constantly being told, ‘You have to keep working so you stay relevant,’ ” she explained. “When I was ready to come back, I was like, ‘Oh, where did everyone go?’ A lot of actors have ups and downs. I think mine were – people might see them as awful – but I learned, and I appreciated the time away.”

Ryder was ready to return to the big screen in her 30s, but she struggled to shake the film persona she was last remembered for.

“People thought of me as the ingénue,” she explained. “But I was too old for that.”

It was when directors began to see her in age-appropriate roles, that Ryder re-found success – like in Netflix’s upcoming Stranger Things, where she plays a small-town mom whose son goes missing amid supernatural circumstances.

“I know there’s a lot of conversations right now about ageism, and I know a lot of actresses who have a tough time, and I’ve gotten offered those mom parts,” she told Time. “But you can make something of it. For me, I’m finally getting to play my own age, and it’s liberating. I would not want to go back to playing the ingénue.”

Related Video: Winona Ryder’s Changing Looks!

Ryder also comes to the defense of ex Johnny Depp, whom she was engaged to in the 1990s.

“I can only speak from my own experience, which was wildly different than what is being said,” Ryder told Time. “He was never, never that way towards me. Never abusive at all towards me. I only know him as a really good, loving, caring guy who is very, very protective of the people that he loves.”

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