If you’d strenuously avoided hearing anything about the second season of Netflix’s runaway genre hit, Stranger Things, it would have been a surprise to turn up to the set of the show’s second season, in Atlanta, GA, and see Millie Bobby Brown at crafty. After all, her character, Eleven, seemed to… depart in the finale of the first season, or at least move on, sacrificing herself to save her friends. But when you’re dealing with a world of upside-down monsters, throw out the rule book. And so, at the facility used as the location of the creepy Hawkins Lab, I found Brown earlier in the year, coming to the end of production on Season 2 and teasing at the darkness that’s ahead for a sleepy Indiana town. She’s since been Emmy nominated for Stranger Things; another accolade for a young actress who is already making a big impact.
What has the last year been like for you, witnessing the stratospheric rise of Stranger Things?
Honestly, it’s been unreal—it’s been magical. I’m so grateful for the response that the show has gotten. We really didn’t intend for it to blow up but we thought that this show was different, unique and had something to it that no other show really had. I didn’t think Eleven would be that popular. I thought she would just be the sidekick, which I was OK with because I believed in the show. We met the President of the United States, [Barack] Obama. Nothing else could really get better than that.
Why do you think your character, Eleven, has so resonated with people?
We really have such powerful roles in this show—everybody loves Hopper and Dustin and Mike. They all have got some really incredible traits to them, but Eleven I think resonates because she is different. She’s an outcast, she’s a freak, and that is why people relate to her. People love her for being a freak and for being different, and Mike loves her for being a unique character. That’s, I think, why people related to her so much.
How did Stranger Things come to you, and what were your first thoughts about the project?
I was living in London at that time. I was at my house, just watching TV, and my parents were like, “There’s this show called Montauk. It’s supposed to be really great. They haven’t even written the first episode yet, but they want you to audition for it. It’s going to be a good show.”
I was doing the tape for it, and I just loved it. They called me back, and I was doing another tape for them. They called me back again. They took that tape and then they were like, “Alright, we want to do a Skype meeting with you now.”
We didn’t talk about the show once. We actually spoke about ’80s movies and were talking about what my favorite things to do are, and what music I listen to. Then they were like, “Alright, we want you to fly to LA,” and I was like, “Wow, okay. They must be serious about this now.”
I went into the office and I saw one boy, one girl, Finn [Wolfhard], and then there was me. I went in with this other boy, and then the other boy left and Finn came in, and I was like, “Wow, Finn is way better than the other boy. Finn has to get this job.” Then, we all got to experiment, and they just thought Finn and I were the perfect match to work with each other.
The next day, on a Monday, they called me up and said, “Can you be our Eleven?” and I was like, “Yes, I can.”
From the beginning, Eleven is a character shrouded in mystery. At what point did you learn the path your character would take?
When I auditioned for the role, I never knew I had powers. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know who she was, honestly, until I was like, “Wow, she has power.” That was pretty cool. It took two episodes for me to figure out who Eleven was, and now it’s like she’s a part of me. I can become Millie, and then I’m Eleven—that’s it. Eleven is not someone I try to be. I can’t be like, “Okay guys, I’m going to be Eleven now.” I just turn into her [when they call] action.
What has it been like working with the cast and creators of this series?
All of us kids are like brothers and sisters—we argue like crazy, but we love each other, and we’re always going to be there for each other. Gaten [Matarazzo] is like my big brother, and Caleb [McLaughlin] is more like my therapist. I vent to him, and he’s so forgiving and thankful and gracious.
Finn is like my bud. Finn is just someone you hang out with; he’s so cool, and so down to earth. And then Noah [Schnapp] is my best friend. Noah and I are the same age. We’ve known each other for a long time now—as much as I’ve known all the other boys—but we spend more time together. We make time to see each other. We’re like, “This weekend we’re going to go and fix lights, we’re going to do this.” Noah is just one of the nicest boys I’ve ever known.
We all know what it’s been like to not be famous or to not be in a role that’s made your career blow up, and we’ve grown up together. If Gaten goes, “Do you know when this happens?” I’m like, “I do know when that happens because it’s happened to me.” It’s so nice to have someone who’s gone through the same exact thing at the same exact age, and that’s what brings us so close on camera.
Has it been a different experience being back in Atlanta now that the show has become so well known?
Yeah, I’ve got a little show shooting down the road—well, now it’s obviously big. We’re really tight on security and we film in some crazy locations, but we are still that little show in Atlanta that’s filming.
We all come back here and this crew is like family. We all know each other, and we all remember the first day on set of Season 1, so we never think, “This show is good.” We should have all been extremely bigheaded, but we’re not. We’re all just really happy that we’re together, and we’re doing it all over again.
The Duffer brothers seem to be the heart of this show. Have they helped to create that kind of atmosphere?
They are the masterminds to this crazy fun. Obviously, [Carmen Cuba] is also one of the lifelines—she cast this show. She’s incredible.
Having [Winona Ryder’s] name on our list made it feel better, and her acting is so phenomenal. When you hear the name Winona Ryder, you’re like, “Oh my God! Let’s watch this show.” Her name and her reputation contributed to this. We all put in our pennies and made it a million dollars.
What has it been like to work alongside such acclaimed and exceptional actors as Matthew Modine and David Harbour?
It’s so inspirational. When we were filming the show last season, we were just like, “There are the gods.” We’re just going to be following them, letting them do what they do. They’re like our parents—we admire them and we are inspired by them, but we can also approach them and ask them really deep questions, and they will give us the honest answer. That’s what I love about them, and about working with them.
In terms of ’80s movies, had you seen any of the classics prior to coming on board?
Yeah, I saw every ’80s movie—Stand by Me, E.T. I’m an ’80s fan and so is Finn, so when we got the job we were like, “Oh my God, we know what to do.”
How did you approach your performance in this sense, having never directly experienced that era?
It was a bit different. It was a little harder than everything else because I would be like, “Why doesn’t she just call? Oh, she can’t because there was no phone.” It was harder to grab on to that idea, but once you’re on board, and understand what everything means, then you realize, “Oh, wow. This is an ‘80s show.”
Stranger Things has already generated a lot of fan theories. Have you been surprised by anything you’ve heard?
It’s crazy how deep they get into things, but I love every single fan and every single fanatic out there that has supported the show since day one. It’s very interesting to hear their theories, and sometimes I’m like, “OK.” Sometimes, they’re right, and I send it to the directors. I’m like, “Wow, you should sort this out.”
Does that mean the answers are out there somewhere, if only we knew where to look?
All the answers are out there. You just have to piece them together.
I have to say, I’m a bit surprised to see you here today, with the way that Season 1 ended.
Really? Oh, wow. No, I am back, as strong as ever. I am very excited to be back with my family again. Honestly, I’m really excited for everyone to see it. It’s so much deeper and darker than last year, but I’m very excited for you to watch it. It’s also great because it’s Netflix, so you get to do it in one go, which is my favorite thing in the world.
I recommend watching Season 1 again and then going into Season 2 so you really know what everything means, because Season 2 couldn’t be there without Season 1.
The Duffers have described the second season as a sequel—a whole new experience. Is that your take on it?
Yeah, it’s just like a movie. You guys are going to watch it, not like an episode. You just piece it together. It’s so good.