Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos may have declined to announce a renewal for the buzzy series “Stranger Things” — “We want to let it breathe a little bit,” he said — but he couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the show at the annual Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.
Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer, along with stars Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin were on hand to discuss the breakout hit’s success as well as plans for any future seasons.
The series’ first season does answer most of the questions raised, said Matt. “We want it to feel like a big movie,” he said. “But there’s a bigger mythology, and there’s a lot of dangling threads at the end. We could explore it if Netflix wanted to continue.”
Added Ross, “It’s about giving enough so the audience feels satisfied.”
And they appreciate the debate that people are having online. “People can have their own theories,” said Ryder.
Matt paid homage to directors like David Lynch and Steven Spielberg in inspiring him and his brother Ross creatively. “These are the guys we grow up watching and idolizing,” he said. “Their work is part of our DNA now.” Added Ross, “What connected Lynch to Spielberg is that these very ordinary people encounter these strange things. Those were our favorite types of stories.”
Ross said casting the young stars was one of the keys to the show’s success, praising their performance. “The second Netflix greenlit us, we started looking right away, seeing kids from all around the world,” he recalled, saying they screened about 1,000 child actors. “As time consuming as it was, there are so few kids that can operate at this level. We can’t do 20 takes… We shoved them together, and we really prayed that this chemistry would work.”
The Duffers had only completed one script when filming began, and incorporated elements of the kids’ personalities into subsequent episodes, pointing to examples like McLaughlin’s bandana. “What I love about TV is it’s a little more malleable,” said Matt. “They push you to make the characters more interesting.”
The brothers joked, too, about fears about the kids’ growing up — and how that may impact any potential future seasons. (“My voice has dropped four octaves,” cracked Matarazzo.)
The series’ young stars said they enjoyed learning about the ’80s. “I had no idea what a record player was!” said Brown, getting a huge laugh from the audience. McLaughlin praised the parachute pants, while Matarazzo called holding the giant walkie-talkies “crazy.” “Nowadays you don’t see kids riding their bikes,” he said. “It was really fun to be a kid in the ’80s.”
They’ve also been amazed by the response by the show has gotten — particularly from fans in Brazil. Matarazzo said he posted a thank you message in Portuguese. “I just used Google translate.” “I love Brazil,” said McLaughlin. “I want to go there!”
Ryder talked at length about her own career, transitioning from a child actress to adult roles. “My 30s were a little bit tough,” the 44-year-old admitted. “But the last few years I did a few things I was proud of,” singling out “Show Me a Hero.”
She said she was initially scared by her first foray into the genre format. But “I adjusted my perspective and used my own confusion to try to figure what was going on for my character,” she said. “The reaction has been completely overwhelming in the best possible way. I don’t think I was expecting it.”
“When you’re talking to lamps… after a while that you’re just praying it works,” she said. “The way they brought these storylines together so beautifully. It was falling in love with it all over again.”
Ryder said she had a lot of compassion for her character Joyce. “I did see her as someone who wasn’t perfect,” she said. “She was complicated, struggling. She carried a lot of guilt that she was leaning on her older son. Like a lot of women I know she was trying the best she can to get by. I appreciated her flaws… [And] she reacts quite appropriately to these insane things that are happening.”
Ryder also had some advice for her young co-stars: “The work is the reward,” she said. “The attention and the love is so great. I want everyone to feel it and savor it and they so deserve it. But also remember the work itself.”
As for those lights, she called filming those scenes the most challenging.
“Those lights were like my rosebud,” she said. “I don’t think I knew it at the time.”