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Growing up on the set of ‘Stranger Things’: ‘We’re handling it well, with therapy’

EL PAÍS talks to the young stars of the Netflix show about how their childhood and teenage years were impacted by the hit series

(l-r) Natalia Dyer, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Maya Hawke, Sadie Sink and Caleb McLaughlin in the fourth series of 'Stranger Things.'

When the Netflix TV show Stranger Things was released in 2016, actor Millie Bobby Brown was 12 years old. Gaten Matarazzo and Finn Wolfhard were 13, and Caleb McLaughlin had turned 14. For all the show’s young protagonists, it was their first major production. They have since all turned 18. McLaughlin is now 20 years old. The young stars came of age on the set of one of the best-known series on the planet. According to Netflix, following the release of its fourth season, it has become the most watched English-language series on the streaming platform.

When asked how they deal with fame, during a virtual visit to the show’s set in June, Finn Wolfhard tells EL PAÍS: “We’re handling it well, with therapy.” “Working has been our therapy,” adds Millie Bobby Brown. “I would not change my life for a second. I thank God every day for what I do,” continues Wolfhard. “I agree. We are extremely lucky to have this opportunity. I am focusing on being grateful for everything I have and the platform that this has given me,” Brown concurs. “Both I and the rest of the young actors in the series have our problems. We all have our things. Finn and I, for example, have had to deal with our anxiety a lot. It’s something that has always brought us together. Sure, we have our stuff, but it’s always nice to have the opportunity to talk to people who are going through the exact same thing as you. Having each other around to trust and support each other has made us closer,” continues the actor, who plays the character Eleven.

For Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, fame hasn’t had much of an impact on day-to-day life. “Especially when I go back to my house in Jersey, it’s like being in a bubble where not many people talk about it. I just go to work and that’s it. But when I get out of there and I come to work in Atlanta and you go out in public and you get recognized, it’s something I think we’re starting to get used to now,” the actor says. “It doesn’t really affect your day-to-day life, beyond the fact that people you don’t know at all know who you are and recognize you on the street. It’s actually quite cool, because you see how many people connect with the story and enjoy it, and many of them relate to you. It’s hard to get used to. I haven’t yet and I don’t know if I ever will. But it’s very interesting and a very, very cool experience.”

Millie Bobby Brown y Matthew Modine
Millie Bobby Brown and Matthew Modine, in an image from the fourth season on 'Stranger Things'.Tina Rowden

Maya Hawke, 23, who plays Robin, has a long history with fame: her parents are actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. “The wonderful thing about being on Stranger Things is that we all get along great and we all love the show so much. And being recognized for something you can stand behind is much better than the other way around, having everyone know you for, I don’t know, something very embarrassing that you did or that you’re not proud of,” she says. Priah Ferguson, who plays Erika, is now 15 years old, but when she first appeared in Stranger Things she was only 12. “I still go to school, and none of my friends talk about the series. I think it’s because they’ve known me for years and just know that this is something I do. Now I’m going to start high school, and I guess the series is more popular there than in middle school. But I still lead a very normal life. My hair is very different from what I have in the show, so people may not recognize me.”

Hawke joined the series in season three, as a character who quickly became a fan favorite. “I try to stay away from the reactions it provokes, because I’m very sensitive and it affects me a lot when they are negative. I try not to read the good or the bad. I just do my job without being influenced by whether people like it or not. But I do know that the response from viewers has been very positive. I love playing an LGBT+ character like Robin, who is not defined by her sexual identity. Her plot is not an LGBT+ story. It’s just an adventure story like the rest. Homosexuality is just another aspect of her personality,” says the actress.

For the current season, Eduardo Franco and Joseph Quinn were brought in to play Argyle, the pizza delivery boy, and Eddie Munson, the leader of the Dungeons and Dragons club, Hellfire club. Like Maya Hawke before them, they jumped on a tremendously successful train. “I don’t even know how to explain the feeling of arriving here. The road was like a trip that seemed very far away and that you dreamed of,” says Franco. “It’s like you’ve won the lottery, getting to a series of this caliber and with such a loyal fan base,” Quinn adds.

Stranger Things
(l-r) Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo on the first series of 'Stranger Things.'

The series, set in the 1980s, takes the actors back to a time that they never experienced. For the youngest actors, a Walkman or a corded telephone are relics from a century, which they hadn’t touched before Stranger Things. Some may have never even set foot in a video store, one of the key settings in the show’s fourth season. But for Finn Wolfhard, the strangest thing about the 1980s was the hairstyles. “I can’t believe they were like that. And those weird music videos,” says the actor. Millie Bobby Brown add: “In the third season, Eleven’s room was full of Polaroid photos. I loved it, and now it’s something I do too. When we shot the first season, I was 11 years old, and I was always wondering what this or that was. My dad couldn’t believe I didn’t know what a tape recorder was, so he bought me one, and of course, I loved it. It’s normal. I was born in 2004. I had no idea what those things were.”

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