Netflix’s Stranger Things Serves Up Thrills and Chills in Season Two
Identical twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, the creators of the smash Netflix sci-fi horror series Stranger Things, grew up in North Carolina on a steady diet of pop culture—especially the stuff that was supposed to be off-limits.
Like scary movies.
“My babysitter in preschool told me the story of Freddy Krueger,” says Matt. “I was 4 years old! From then on, I just knew I had to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street. When we were young, we knew we weren’t supposed to be watching horror movies. That made the appeal of them so strong.
“It’s like forbidden fruit. You just want to taste it. I remember wandering into the horror section of the video store and just staring at the covers of these movies, feeling desperate to know what it was.”
“We fell in love,” says Ross.
The Duffers, now 33, have funneled much of their adolescent fascination with horror into their hit TV series. The spooky Stranger Things—which is less A Nightmare on Elm Street and more It—will stream all nine episodes of its second season on Netflix beginning October 27. (You can catch up on season one anytime on Netflix.) The first season was set in 1983—a year before the Duffers were born—and centered around a group of kids, the search for their vanished friend and the appearance of a psychokinetic girl. There was a monster, interdimensional paranormal forces and twisted laboratory experiments.
Part of the fun of the first season was meeting the young cast. Noah Schnapp, 13, plays Will Byers, whose disappearance spurred his friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard, 14), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin, 16) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo, 15) into action. They aligned with a mysterious girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown, 13) and confronted an alternative dimension, a dark, cold, forbidding place called the “Upside Down.”
Winona Ryder (Will’s mom), Matthew Modine (a research scientist) and David Harbour (their small town’s chief of police) received raves for their performances as the adults alongside the young actors. The entire cast won Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In season two, the ensemble is joined by Paul Reiser and Sean Astin. Sadie Sink, 15 (who played Annie on Broadway and appeared as one of the siblings in the movie The Glass Castle), will come aboard as Max, a tomboy, and Dacre Montgomery, 22 (from the movie Power Rangers), will portray her older stepbrother.
Shades of Spielberg
Sharp-eyed fans have enjoyed finding nods in the show to many of the Duffers’ movie idols and influences—Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and Stephen King’s It, bits of DNA from The Goonies and Stand by Me, even shades of Ridley Scott’s Alien. The tone of the show, often pitch-black but laced with wicked humor, echoes director Wes Craven’s Scream, while the retro look of the show (and the music) recalls John Carpenter’s Halloween or The Thing.
“We had this idea of a kid getting pulled into a different dimension,” Matt says.
“There were a lot of real-life experiments going on at the tail-end of the ’70s and early ’80s. We thought if we set the show in that era, it would allow us to pay homage to those movies.”
Stranger Things is also a throwback to movies like Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Joe Dante’s Gremlins, which were something of a rite of passage for braver kids—never going too far over the edge, but still offering plenty of thrills and chills.
“That’s what we really wanted,” says Ross. “Some of our most memorable experiences were those films. Those movies really affected us as kids, and not in a bad way. We really loved how dark they would get.”
And the Duffers—like many folks—have always loved to be scared.
“Fear is one of the strongest emotions,” says Matt. “It’s an incredible adrenaline rush.” Movies and TV shows, he says, are especially safe ways to experience fright without any serious consequences. “Part of your brain knows, ‘This is completely fine and safe.’ But when you’re in it, you get lost in it, completely immersed in it.”
The show’s young cast members agree—sort of.
“People love the thrill of something dangerous if they know they’re safe,” says Schnapp.
McLaughlin disagrees, at least about movies. “I don’t watch scary movies,” he says. “I don’t like putting that in my head.”
“I love The Conjuring,” says Matarazzo. “I love Insidious. Those movies don’t scare me, though. What scares me are movies like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, where the human mind takes over in its most evil form and causes tragedy that could happen any day.”
“I think it’s all about the moment you get scared,” says Sink. “Then you laugh about it. It’s fun!”
Why do we laugh after we get scared, anyway?
“It’s a release of tension,” says Ross. “It’s a realization that you got terrified of make-believe; your brain is trying to tell you that. I think it’s a defense mechanism, a mask: You make fun of the thing that scared you. It’s a shield.”
The fact that the show’s young cast are the central players in the thick of all sorts of horrific goings-on is somewhat unique. The Duffers make sure the kid actors are treated as professionals even during the darker, creepier and scarier elements of the episodes they’re shooting, and they’re determined to make the kids authentic on the screen. “When I was little and watching movies like The Goonies and Stand by Me, I felt like I was watching myself on the screen. It never felt like adults writing kids; it felt like kids writing kids,” Ross says.“That’s our goal. We want it to feel like a bunch of 12-year-olds sat down at the keyboard, and we just organized it.”
The show is unusual in that the young cast is on set almost all of the time, Matt says. “We spend a lot of time with these kids. If I’m around them for 20 minutes, I forget I’m 33,” he says. “I think they think we’re kids too, which is great. Sometimes you have to remind them that it’s a serious job we’re doing, but for the most part I treat them like everybody else. I think reconnecting me to what it was like to be that age has done nothing but improve the show.”
This new season, promises Brown, will be “exceptional.”
Will Byers, who was trapped in the Upside Down through most of the first season, will take center stage. “We’re really excited for people to see what this kid [Schnapp] can do. He blew us away the way Millie [Eleven] did in season one,” says Ross.
And season two will get darker. “We want to push that line, and for these kids to feel like they’re really in danger,” Ross says. “We wanted to treat this like a movie sequel, and up the ante in the way that our favorite movie sequels did so well.”
“Last year, we were more like normal kids. But now that these things have happened, we’re a little different,” Wolfhard, who also starred in the recent remake of It, hints. “We’re always sort of on edge.”
And so are we—counting the days until Stranger Things can scare us all over again.
I’ve added photos of Millie from her TV appearance El Hormi Guero as well as recent photo session additions. Enjoy.
I’ve added photos of Millie from the second season of Stranger Things from Entertainment Weekly. Enjoy.
I’ve added new scans of Millie from the Stranger Things spread in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. Big thanks to my friend Claudia for these. I’ve also added a bunch of missing scans (full spreads) as well as replaced smaller scans with larger ones to the gallery including: Interview, Variety, and Teen Vogue.
A new video was released from the cover shoot. You can check it out below and screencaps in the gallery. Enjoy.
Stranger Things’ telekinetic teen Eleven (breakout star Millie Bobby Brown) may be able to lift government kidnapper vans but series creators Ross and Matt Duffer can rattle off the biggest movies of the summer of 1984 without blinking. Their passion for pop culture fueled the creation of Netflix’s Things, a tribute to the movies they loved as kids in North Carolina (think E.T., The Goonies, Stand by Me). “Obviously they’re nerdy, but that’s what makes them so cool,” says Brown. “It makes [Stranger Things] so authentic because it comes from their hearts.” The Duffers’ canny but old-fashioned combination of emotion and thrills drove the series — about four small-town Indiana friends who find themselves dealing with a portal to a different dimension — to monster-level success after its 2016 premiere. “I don’t think Netflix thought it was going to be as huge as it became, but neither did we,” admits Matt.
On Oct. 27, fans will finally get to see Things’ bigger, badder second installment (To celebrate the return, EW has three different covers featuring the cast). “It’s Stranger Things but just sorta hopped up a little,” says Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike Wheeler. “It’s almost like season 1 was drinking a Coke and season 2 they drank a Red Bull.” The Duffers have envisioned the return as not so much a second season but a movie sequel. To that end, when the show comes back it will have the cinematic moniker Stranger Things 2. “When we started describing it as a sequel, Netflix was like, ‘Don’t do that, because sequels are known to be bad,’ ” says Matt. “I was like, ‘Yes, but what about T2 and Aliens and Toy Story 2 and Godfather II?’ ” Before the official greenlight came for Things 2, the Duffers had been quietly plotting the next round of interdimensional adventure. Says Matt, “The good news is that a lot of what we wanted to see or what we responded to, that seems to be what the audience responded to. Like we fell in love with Gaten, and there were aspects, like Barb, we were already planning to deal with. It felt like there was a nice alignment between what we wanted to see and what other people wanted to see.”
While season one was focused mainly on finding Will (Noah Schnapp) and defeating the demogorgon, Things 2 features several disparate stories that intertwine but all roads eventually lead to the “shadow monster,” a nickname given to a giant creature Will first meets in PTSD-like visions of the Upside Down. “It’s all connected to this singular threat, which is tied into this shape that Will sees in the sky,” says Ross. By the end of the nine-hour season, fans can also expect new characters, like Bob (Sean Astin), a love interest for Joyce (Winona Ryder), and some pretty wow-worthy action sequences. Says Matt, “Each episode is building on the last one. It gets much crazier than it ever got in season 1.”
Netflix is preparing to relaunch the series with a full-throttle blitz worthy of a James Cameron extravaganza. “Everything the way Netflix is approaching the marketing, the publicity, the licensing, the merchandising, those are all closer to a feature film tentpole franchise model than a second season of a television series,” says Levy, who directed the huge Night at the Museum trilogy. Now the Things team just needs to live up to those giant expectations. “It’s definitely daunting,” says Levy. “The love for this show is so rabid.” But the Duffers are confident that viewers will be more than satisfied with their return to the Upside Down. Says Matt, “We want people to argue about what season is better. I want the debate. I want the Toy Story debate!”
I’ve added a bunch of scans of Millie from recent magazine publications. Thanks to my friend Angie for some of these. Enjoy!
I’ve added photos of Millie from her recent appearances as well as some new photos for Stranger Things. Check back for photos of Millie at the Emmy awards later tonight. Enjoy!
I’ve added a new poster of Millie promoting Stranger Things. I can’t wait for the new season!
For the Child Stars of Stranger Things, Fame Hasn’t Changed a Thing. Almost.
Since Stranger Things debuted in 2016, the core tween-and-teen members of the cast have handed out peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches during a live Emmys telecast; celebrated ecstatically on national television when they won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best TV drama ensemble; met President Obama, who, according to actress Millie Bobby Brown, told them they were “cool”; appeared before thousands of screaming fans at Comic-Con; been celebrated on social media every time one or more of them does virtually anything semi-adorable; and seen their series get nominated this year for a slew of Emmys, including one for Brown’s performance as the telekinetically powerful Eleven. (The Stranger Things kids will not be on Emmy PB&J duty this year, America.)
Ask the members of this gang of six — that would be Brown, 13; Finn Wolfhard, 14; Gaten Matarazzo, 14; Caleb McLaughlin, 15; Noah Schnapp, 12; and now Sadie Sink, 15, who joins the cast in the forthcoming second season as a skater girl named Max — what feels most different about their lives now versus a year ago, and they’ll mention how often they get recognized in public or how many new followers they’ve gained on Instagram. But otherwise, they insist their day-to-day is mostly the same.
“It’s definitely been affected by the show a big bunch, but it’s not different,” says Brown. “I’m still the same person.” (For the record, during this interview, Brown requested a can of Coke to drink. She did not, however, crush it using her mind.)
“A lot of people consider us famous, but I think we all hate the F-word,” says Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, the one with the infectious grin. “All we are is people doing our job, and our job happens to be in the public eye a lot.”
As improbable as it sounds, given the toxicity that often results from mixing youth with sudden celebrity, the members of the Stranger Things cast come across exactly like their characters on the show: as good, grounded kids who genuinely like and support one another.
During production of the second season of Stranger Things — which took place over eight months in Atlanta starting last fall, under what the cast admits was a lot of pressure to replicate season one’s success — the six actors regularly messaged one another in a group chat they named “Stranger Texts.” They rarely brought their phones to set, though, opting to spend their downtime engaging in more old-fashioned pursuits. “We play cards, we play Monopoly, we play games in the school trailer,” Brown says. “As soon as we’re working, we’re kind of like those ’80s kids again.” They often hung out together off-set, too, taking day trips to Six Flags and trick-or-treating as a unit, which, since they were in costume, mostly enabled them to go unrecognized. “This one kid was like, ‘Are you the cast from Stranger Things?’ ” Brown recalls. “And I was all like, ‘No, I’m Harley Quinn.’ ”
Even outside of filming and their various publicity commitments, the kids stay in touch — though, as is typical in any group dynamic, some one-on-one relationships are closer than others. Brown and Sink, for example, immediately connected as the only two girls of the group and planned a late-summer vacation together with their families. If there’s any latent jealousy between any of them, it’s not apparent. Schnapp — whose character, Will, is absent from much of season one after getting sucked into the Upside Down, the show’s disturbing parallel universe — was sometimes sidelined from the onslaught of media attention in the first season. When asked if that was hard for him, he simply says it’s been nicer in season two, now that Will has a more front-and-center role in the story. Then his castmates immediately jump to his defense.
“Noah wasn’t a part of a lot of the press stuff” last season, says Wolfhard, who plays Mike. “I remember we were super-bummed when we heard that he wasn’t coming to The Tonight Show. But now it’s all cool.”
“And now we have Sadie,” Schnapp says, careful to make sure no one feels left out.
“We really are best friends, I feel like,” says Matarazzo, and Sink jumps in to say: “It’s not an act.”
At least one thing has changed for these kids, Wolfhard concedes. Back home in Vancouver, Canada, he says, “The bullies at my school are kind of afraid of me now. Which is great.”
*This article appears in the August 21, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.
Millie recently did a video promoting Converse for back to school. Check out the video and screencaps below.