Ears perked expectantly when “Stranger Things” director Shawn Levy proclaimed himself and fellow panelists Millie Bobby Brown and Noah Schnapp the “trifecta of spoiler risks” at Netflix’s FYSee event at Raleigh Studios Saturday. But alas, this time the trio were on their contractual A-games, keeping as quiet as first-season Eleven when asked about the plot of Season 3, which is currently in production.
But on the red carpet and during the panel, moderated by Variety‘s Jenelle Riley, Levy, Brown, Schnapp and casting director Carmen Cuba did comment generally on their experiences so far developing the highly anticipated junior season, as well as on new additions like incoming cast member Maya Hawke.
“Season 1, I feel like, was more playful,” Schnapp said. “Season 2 was a lot darker. And then Season 3 does really well blending them together, and that’s what I love about it.”
The Season 2 finale left Brown’s character, Eleven, in a rare state of equilibrium. No longer abused as a science experiment in a lab or hunted by the officials who put her there, the powerful teen can now focus on her own identity and personal development.
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“It’s a beautiful storyline for Eleven this season,” Brown told Variety on the carpet. “It’s really a coming of age for her and understanding what being a normal teenage girl is.”
After the screening, Brown reflected on her role in the second season, which often left her isolated from her cast mates and required her to tap into extreme emotional states she had never before exercised. The individualized work on Season 2 expanded her acting repertoire, which informed her approach to Eleven in the third season.
“I found another side of my acting that I didn’t know about,” Brown said during the panel. “I found techniques on how to cry and how to get angry, and I learned so much from Eleven, from those episodes of being isolated, that when I’m back Season 3, things happen — stranger things happen. I’m just saying I use that style of acting now and my method of acting for Season 3.”
New to the cast in the latest season is Hawke, the daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, who plays an alternative girl that uncovers a dark secret in Hawkins, Ind. For Cuba, the move to cast Hawke in the role was a no-brainer — she initially suggested that creators Matt and Ross Duffer forgo the casting process for her character entirely and book her blind. The Duffers instead opted to screen several young actresses before ultimately deciding on Hawke after all.
“I enjoy that they enjoy [the casting process], so it was fun, but the whole time I was like, they better pick Maya Hawke,” Cuba said. “What’s great about her is — just like these kids and the other ones — is that she’s just an individual. There’s not another human on this earth like Maya Hawke.”
The “Stranger Things” team also spent much of the panel reminiscing about the casting process for prior seasons. Levy admitted he and the Duffer brothers were aware of the talent they would waste when they cast Schnapp as Will, who goes missing in the first episode of Season 1.
“We always knew when we cast Noah — we need a one-in-a-million kid, but then we’re going to ask him to do very little for a year, and then see if we get lucky enough to get a second season,” Levy said. “Because if those two things line up, this kid’s going to become the centerpiece, and Noah is at the center of Season 2, and it’s really just an exceptional performance from him.”
While on a tangent in which the cast speculated about the show’s widespread popularity, Levy summed up the appeal of the series in the words of former President Barack Obama, who proclaimed himself a fan when the “Stranger Things” crew visited the White House in 2016.
“President Obama said, ‘I really like how you guys all have each other’s back. I like how no matter what’s happening on that show, you’re all there for each other,'” Levy recalled.
“Stranger Things” is slated to return for a third season in 2019.