The Stranger Things Cast on Creating Chapter 2 of a Cult Hit
Key players old and new from the acclaimed Netflix series peel back a bit of the mystery behind the show’s next installment.
by Emil Hofileña
There isn’t much to be said about the second season of Netflix’s sci fi-horror series Stranger Things. Several weeks before the show’s next nine episodes are scheduled to drop, the streaming company has released precious little information about them, choosing instead to gear its marketing toward the series’ 80s vibe and the films that have influenced it. And deservedly so—the show has proven to be successful in replicating how the cinema of that era found a balance between the thrill of horror and the sense of discovery of coming of age films such as The Goonies and Stand by Me.
But among the things we do know about Stranger Things season two, perhaps the most interesting tidbit—and the one that might best explain Netflix’s secrecy—is that this next chapter seems to be less concerned with becoming a bigger adventure, and more concerned with seeking normalcy for its principal characters. After battling the Demogorgon from the Upside Down, the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana just want things to be normal again. They’re struggling to get their lives back, mourning the loss of their loved ones, and dealing with the aftereffects of trauma—even as the Upside Down threatens to leak back into our world.
But as is the case with 80s-inspired sci fi-horror-coming of age things, normalcy is impossible to return to. Two returning characters, Steve Harrington and Will Byers (played by now-regular cast members Joe Keery and Noah Schnapp, respectively) illustrate how there’s no going back: Steve, by the end of the first season, is finally made aware of the Upside Down’s existence; while Will, despite surviving the Demogorgon, continues to suffer from his time in the parallel dimension. Meanwhile, two new characters, Max and Billy (played by Sadie Sink and Dacre Montgomery, respectively) arrive at Hawkins and disrupt the other characters’ ways of life even more.
Below, all four aforementioned cast members talk memories of the show, preparing for the second season, and what the audience can expect from this return trip to a decade past.
Where do we find your characters in season two?
Joe Keery: I play Steve Harrington. I think my character’s going through a lot of changes, as he did in season one, and we pick him up at a place where he’s just been let in on this secret. He’s still with Nancy, and we kind of see him grow from there.
Noah Schnapp: I play Will Byers. And I think Will, in the second season—he’s changed, he’s dealing with how the Upside Down affected him and how it was to be in there in the first season, and to be around people again. It’s kinda scary for him but it’s about him trying to cope with it.
How was filming season two different from filming season one?
NS: The first season was a lot more relaxed. We thought we were making a one-season show and that was gonna be it, and no one was gonna watch it. Filming this season, there’s more security.
JK: Going into the second season, we kinda had a better idea of the tone and stuff to bring to the show. So I think it’s gonna feel a bit more focused and concentrated, and everybody really brought their A-game for this next one.
Joe, how do you respond to fans that see Steve mainly as just a bully?
JK: I think that the fact that people are having the conversation on whether or not he’s a good guy or a bad guy—I think that’s interesting because that’s kind of how people are. Everybody has people that really like them or don’t really like them, and I think that was kind of my main goal going in, to try to make a character who, on paper, just seems one-dimensional, to try to bring a couple layers to him. So if people are talking about that, I guess that means I did my job.
Noah, how did working on a film like Bridge of Spies help you prep for Stranger Things?
NS: Bridge of Spies was my first learning-how-everything-works movie, and my first movie with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, which was pretty cool! I didn’t even know who they were at the time. So I was just going along with it, and my mom told me later, “I don’t think you know who you were working with.”
JK: Those are the guys.
NS: And I had my tenth birthday with them. But [Tom Hanks] would teach me the basics, like where to stand, what a blocking rehearsal is, how to be in front of the camera right. And then I just learned more and more being around everyone. It’s kind of the best way to learn, when you’re around all the costumes, and the DP, and the director, and the actors.
And [Tom Hanks] taught me to improvise. I remember we did this scene where we were eating. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought they ended the scene, but he just made it into this whole thing, and he started talking and everyone joined in, and it became this ten-minute scene. And after, everyone was clapping. They were like, “That’s the cut!” and they put it in. That’s where I learned that that was okay. That taught me how to be a part of this and how that works.
What other cinematic influences will we see in season two?
JK: I feel like it’s Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.
NS: For sure, those are the two.
JK: But then a little more John Carpenter and maybe a little James Cameron.
Can you give us any more vague clues or words associated with season two?
JK: Not really. My favorite word to describe it is “murky.”
NS: I’d say “eerie.”
JK: If a band comes out with a first album that’s really, really cool, on the second album, you don’t wanna repeat yourself. Keep the traces of the first one, but do something new and grow. I think that’s what the [Duffer] Brothers have done.
Could you tell us about the characters you play in season two?
Dacre Montgomery: I guess Billy’s a bit of a villain. He’s a bit of an antagonist, which was lots of fun to play around with. Nothing like myself. He’s very unpredictable, I think extremely insecure, and he has a very complicated relationship with his younger stepsister.
Sadie Sink: Billy’s my stepbrother, and I play Max. And they move to Hawkins in season two, and she becomes friends with the boys. She’s a little bit mysterious at first and closed off, and she’s a skater, she’s a tomboy, she’s different from the other girls at Hawkins.
Were you fans of the show before getting cast?
DM: Yeah, huge fans. I grew up watching other sci-fi TV shows, Supernatural and Smallville, and I feel like it was one progression to another. As one finished its tenth season, another great show seemed to appear out of nowhere. And Netflix became this big platform, and I was like, [Stranger Things] is Netflix’s sci-fi thing that I’m gonna become addicted to. And I did.
SS: Yeah, for me, all of my friends were saying, “Sadie, you need to watch this show! It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen!” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” Usually I don’t wanna watch what everyone else is telling me to watch. But I did it because I knew Caleb [McLaughlin] and Gaten [Matarazzo] were on the show, and I knew them ‘cause we were all on Broadway at the same time. And I ended up really liking it. And yeah, like Dacre said, next thing you know, I’m cast in the show.
Sadie, since Max is an outsider among outsiders, what was that dynamic like for you?
SS: Well, yeah, she moves to Hawkins. She doesn’t know anybody when she moves there. So it’s kind of like me and my character are in similar situations ‘cause we’re both the new kid, both in the show and in real life.
Dacre, is there any pressure when joining big cult projects like this and Power Rangers?
DM: Yeah, it’s interesting. Power Rangers had a whole legacy, Stranger Things—even if it was just one season—had this legacy already built-in. One could seem nervous, but to me it was more like, what can I bring that’s new or different and challenging? I really want the fans who already love [the show] to connect with me, and for me to offer them something that they don’t already have. So in Power Rangers, it was, what can I bring to the role of Jason, and we had great response from the fans saying that it was a really nice incorporation of the old and bringing in the new. And the same in Stranger Things—my character is specifically brought in in this season to stir things up. That’s my role, and I can’t escape that. And I’m hoping that the fans will like that element that I bring in.
Do you have any favorite characters from season one?
SS: Benny! The character in the very beginning [played by Chris Sullivan]. I was like, this guy’s the man, I love him. And then they just shot him!
DM: You know who I love? The dad [played by Joe Chrest], Ted Wheeler! That guy is hilarious. And in the second season, you wait. The guy is hilarious. I really like that guy.
How did you have to prepare for shooting?
SS: I got the job a few weeks before I had to fly to Atlanta. And within those few weeks, they were like, “Okay, you have to learn how to skateboard.” So they sent over a skateboard instructor and he taught me for two or three weeks, then I flew to Atlanta to start filming, and I started doing schoolwork. I would do five hours of school, then three hours of skateboard lessons afterwards. I guess the hardest part was making it look like I had been skateboarding my whole life, when in reality I had been skateboarding for a month.
DM: My preparation was I watched a lot of Jack Nicholson movies. That was what the Duffers had given me to work with—sort of incorporate his unpredictable nature into my character. So for me, it was a lot of movie watching. I was like, “IMDb, best movies, 80s.” And then literally just went through them and watched a lot of stuff. So it was lots of fun and I’m such a movie buff anyway. So I loved the whole process.
Season two of Stranger Things will be available on Netflix starting October 27.
Screenshots of Stranger Things taken from the Season 2 trailer.