“Stranger Things 3” officially lands on the streaming platform on July 4, and what better timing to dive into the summer of 1985? Between new jobs at the mall, fierce new wardrobes and, of course, monsters that just won’t quit, the gang of Hawkins has a lot on their plate. In preparation for the third season, the plot of which is being heavily theorized about but otherwise kept mum, director and executive producer Shawn Levy, along with Steve Harrington himself, actor Joe Keery, stopped by a4cade in Cambridge, Mass. to chat about what makes “Stranger Things” special.
Surrounded by old-school video games and pop art, Levy’s excitement about his work was palpable; Keery, meanwhile, exuded the chill that we all thought Steve was all about in season 1. Of course, by season 2, we found that there was more to Steve than bomber jackets and high school.
“There’s no way I would have been able to come up with the exact character that we came up on,” Keery told Dailybreak, explaining that the Duffer Brothers (the show's creators)’s scripts completely drive the show. “It was truly like, the words that they give and the arc that they’ve given is the true direction of the character.”
According to Levy, the characters in “Strangers Things” are the Duffers, in a sense, though he gave his actor some credit.
“Mike and Jonathan are the most literal Duffer brother surrogates. That was them as kids and teenagers -- they were never a Steve Harrington, so Steve has been this fantastic merging of an idea for a character from the Duffers combined with what Joe naturally brings,” he said. “The Steve Harrington we know and love is a joint project, and it’s really evolved because of what Joe brings.”
Which is a good thing, since the Duffers apparently couldn’t do it themselves.
“The scripts are very, very human and emotional and real, and that’s the roadmap. [The Duffer brothers] lay their hands and put their voice on every single word in the show. In real life they’re not at all effusive, emotional guys, but through the show they’re all heart,” Levy said.
Keery, meanwhile, is getting tons of practice in the acting game. The 27-year-old has joined Levy on another project, a film called “Free Guy” starring Ryan Reynolds.
“I’ve come in and done maybe a couple weeks of work, and it’s like the big leagues. I feel like I’m playing with some real heavy hitters, and it’s a true learning experience and honor for me to just watch these other people work,” he said.
For his benefit, I’m sure, Levy, who's directing "Free Guy," only had impressive things to say about Reynolds.
“Ryan is definitely an amazing, collaborative partner, because he’s really nice, he’s very, very smart and his comedic timing is so intuitive and so unique, so that’s a joy,” he said.
What Levy said drew him to “Free Guy” is what keeps him going on “Stranger Things”: the ability to create stories from scratch.
“There’s something very empowering making a movie or a show that’s not based on anything preexisting. You get to create something completely new just because that’s how you see it in your head. So for me, as a filmmaker, that’s been a real joy,” he said.
While absolutely an original story, “Stranger Things” does pull from one specific form of source material: the ‘80s. The references abounded in the first two seasons of the show, and they’re only increasing from there, if we can glean anything from the trailers. An interesting take, considering the majority of the cast wasn’t even alive in the ‘80s.
Levy said the kids were given a “crash course of required viewing” before filming commenced.
“I think the Duffers had the kids watch ‘The Goonies,’ ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Stand by Me’...It is interesting because for these kids, the ‘80s are like a foreign idea, like a foreign place that they’ve never been, but now they’re linked to a time they never lived in, which is kind of a trippy notion,” he said.
Keery, a ‘90s baby himself, admitted he also had to do a bit of research before taking on the role of an ‘80s teenager.
The age of the cast doesn’t just create a juxtaposition for the set -- Levy said that directing a gaggle of teenagers, some of whom started the show before they could be considered teenagers, makes for a different, lighter form of directing.
“The conventional wisdom was that you can’t make a show with kids that isn’t for kids. [But] when you’re working with that many young people, there’s just an authenticity to them every day on set, and so it’s kind of like a no-bullsh*t work environment,” he said. “Everyone’s real, everybody is acting in a naturalistic, grounded way, and the set never feels like a heavy place, because we’re dealing with the energy and exuberance of actual young teens.”
Keery agreed: “There’s a general levity.”
Which, I would argue, comes through to the audience -- an audience that’s broader than most.
“It’s a much more warm-hearted, innocent story than a lot of genre sci-fi tends to be. There’s darkness, but the heart of the show is never dark,” Levy said. “The heart of the show is always light, so you have character-loving audiences who wouldn’t necessarily want to watch horror or sci-fi, and you have genre fans who wouldn’t necessarily want to watch a bunch of kids in a coming-of-age story.”
Whatever side of the spectrum you land on, I’m willing to bet you’ll be opening up Netflix as soon as the new episodes drop.