It’s the Upside Down, IRL.
It is hard to look anywhere in Hollywood without seeing the impact of the five teenagers who have collectively become known as “the Stranger Things kids.” They’ve taken over the Emmys stage with a killer rendition of “Uptown Funk,” and even earned a cosign from Nicolas Ghesquière, the creative director of Louis Vuitton. In short, they’ve been an instant phenomenon since the moment their show debuted on Netflix this summer. And at the core of the viral juggernaut are five kids — Millie Bobby Brown, 12; Caleb McLaughlin, 14; Gaten Matarazzo, 14; Noah Schnapp, 12; and Finn Wolfhard, 13 — who are… well, just enjoying being kids.
Teen Vogue caught up with the rising stars to talk about how they balanced the very real middle school drama of Hawkins, Indiana, with the paranormal fright of the Upside Down’s monster, how they keep connected while navigating the spotlight together, and what they hope happens in season 2 of the show.
Teen Vogue: Stranger Things is really driven by the friendship between these kids. How does it feel to be at the center of it all?
Finn Wolfhard: It feels amazing.
Caleb McLaughlin: Yeah, it feels pretty cool. I didn’t even realize [the amount of] attention that everyone has been paying [to the show], but it’s pretty cool being a kid in this amazing project.
Gaten Matarazzo: Yeah, it’s definitely a good feeling to be part of such a big project and [to be] beloved characters in a big project like this. I was really honored to be part of the project.
Noah Schnapp: I went to camp and I came back, and I saw that people from across the world were watching the show, and everyone was interacting with us on social media. I was so happy and amazed by how far the show had gone.
TV: In the beginning of the story, Eleven is very much an outsider but the boys pull her into their friendship group. How did you figure out that dynamic and build off that?
Millie Bobby Brown: We created a group chat, earlier on when we all got the job, so I kind of thought I knew them already. We also had school before we actually filmed this, [so] we knew who the prankster was, we knew who the sensible one was… It just really showed on camera.
MBB: It’s really nice to talk to each other when we need each other on this group chat.
NS: I don’t think the group chat is what made us friends, I think we just became friends, and then we created a group chat together. It really did help. When they were trying to cast us, they looked for people who had the best chemistry together. It really makes sense because if we didn’t like each other, the show wouldn’t be what it would be.
When they were doing all the callbacks, the first person I met was Caleb, in LA, and we always hung out, had breakfast together. I was really hoping to do it with him, and I was happy that he got the role for Lucas, so we could work together. Then, I met everyone else later in the show, and we just all became friends, literally on the first day. We went to school, we all sat together, and we just started laughing. Then, later we started hanging out, having sleepovers. Me and Millie would make these diary things on our phones, called Stranger Things Video Diaries, and we became really close.
TV: You really are in the public eye in a major way — people are blogging up Millie’s YouTube channel and Gaten’s Instagram. How does it feel for each of you to kind of navigate all of this instant fame?
MBB: The show is so well-received, and we’re just very grateful to the press and our fans [for staying] supportive and [being] there for us. We really couldn’t have done this without Netflix and the Duffers [Matt and Ross Duffer, the show’s creators].
GM: My Instagram is really just a regular page that I made, but it’s a great feeling to know that so many people appreciate your work. … I know it’s not about the followers, but it makes me feel good that people will go out of their way to follow me and message me.
CML: I just love the fact that our fans take the time out to say “you did great.” They come up to me and say my full name and say they love my work.
FW: For me it’s sort of surreal. … My Twitter followers went up and my Instagram followers went up, and I’m getting recognized on the street, which is also very weird for me. I did a guitar cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” and Rolling Stone was tweeting it out, and people were asking me on their radio show to come play it. I’m like, “I’m so bad at playing guitar. Why would you ever want me to be on your radio show?”
TV: Do you lean on each other to navigate all of these experiences?
FW: We all trust each other very much. We’re all part of a big family now; it’s like we’re brothers so we have to trust each other or else it’s not going —
MBB: And sister!
FW: Yeah, sorry, and sister!
MBB: It’s kind of like, forget about me.
GM: Don’t forget about Millie!
FW: We also have the Duffers, and Natalia [Dwyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler, Mike’s sister], and we have Joe [Keery, who plays Steve Harrington, Nancy’s boyfriend]. I just miss the whole crew. We [are basically all] brothers and sisters now, it’s one of those things where we have to trust each other on set.
MBB: [The Duffer Brothers] wrote [Stranger Things] four years ago, in 2012, and they must have really imagined what these characters and what they wanted. And to see us actually have a really good friendship, it must be nice for them to see.
FW: They told me that it’s surreal for them to be writing a show that’s so well-received. Tribute to them too.
TV: Did you help the Duffers in forming who these characters were? How did you navigate adding your own interpretation to each one?
MBB: Well, they only wrote one episode when we were auditioning for the show. They really wrote to us — except for me, because I didn’t come from a laboratory and I’m not a weirdo. They wrote to mostly Finn and Caleb, because Caleb can play the serious role very well. I think they wrote to him as the most sensible one out of the group — which he’s not, in real life. He’s the goofball and I think Finn’s the sensible one and I am also. The Duffer Brothers formed a relationship with us so we could talk to them about what we thought was good.
GM: I definitely feel they wrote the characters around the people who played them. I feel like it was good that they did that because the kids playing them are able to play a role — actually, I feel like that’s why we’re getting so much better. People come up to me and say “You’re such a good actor.” In my mind, I really wasn’t acting as much as I was being myself on camera.
TV: The duality of the two different story lines co-existing together — the Upside Down and then the very real issue of school bullies and friendships — is such a wonderful thing. How did it feel to have one foot in the paranormal and one foot in reality?
GM: I think that the Duffers did a really good job in keeping it a good balance between paranormal and reality. … [And] because we only filmed for six months, I think the cast did a really good job in transitioning from a missing-person police investigation [story] to monsters trying to murder us. I think the Duffers did a really good job with that and I think that the cast did a really good job with the transition.
CML: I think Millie should answer this question because she has more experience with this type of stuff, the two dimensions.
MBB: I think Gaten sums it up. He’s on the up, really.
NS: It’s really different when I’m in the normal world, and when I’m in another dimension. When I have to act as if I’m Will taken inside the other dimension, I’m like a totally different person. They put makeup all over me, I’m pale and I have to kind of make my voice raspy. It’s a totally different experience from when I’m in the real world, acting as just a normal kid, who has the group of friends. Obviously Will would prefer being in the normal world, but I think I prefer acting as Will in the Upside Down.
TV: Millie, you’ve probably gotten this question so often, but what was it like to shave your head?
MBB: It was fine. I couldn’t wait to get in the chair. I was very excited.
CML: I was at lunch and I didn’t recognize her after. She was like, “Hey Gaten, Caleb, Noah — ” I was like “Hey,” she was like “It’s me, Millie.” She looked so different.
FW: I remember walking into the Duffers’ office; [they] were talking to Millie about the character and stuff, and I walked in, [and] I was like, “Hey guys. Whoa.”
TV: Now that the show has been renewed for season 2, what do you hope is in store for each of your characters?
FW: Obviously everyone’s character is a year older now, and so I think they’ve adapted and grown. I want to see how they’ve adapted, because they’ve seen so many messed-up things. Especially Will who’s been in the Upside Down for about a week. I want to see where that takes us.
GM: I want to see Dustin stand up for himself a little more, become a little more confident in himself, and have more leadership moments.
NS: I’ve heard theories about Will, where he could be half monster, or he’s incubating eggs inside of him, or he turns evil. I think that’s so cool to play a character who is fighting his evil side, like he’s normal, but he’s trying to stay normal. I think that would be pretty cool to play.
MBB: No comment for Eleven for season 2. I have no idea.