There’s no argument that Henry/One/Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) is the villain of the “Stranger Things” Season 4 (and likely 5). But the actor doesn’t really look at it that way. In fact, Bower sees the character as the one with the most humanity.
“He grew up in an environment where his father murdered a civilian and a civilian family on the orders of people he never knew, who were presenting themselves as these upstanding citizens,” he tells Variety in an interview. “In whose eyes are they upstanding? I’m still angry about it now.”
Bower believes “there was a lot of humanity there” — and still is, wherever Vecna is now — but when Eleven sent him into the Upside Down, all he had left was “rage and resentment.”
He adds, “She takes everything away from him — everything that he possibly could have had is now gone because of her. That is enraging. It’s more than that — it’s hate-fueling. It’s irritating. It’s actually really irritating.”
Read more from our interview with Bower below:
I want to clear up about something about Vecna’s relationship with the Upside Down. Did Eleven create it, or did she open the gate that led to it? Because he tells her, “All I needed was someone to open the door.”
Well, yes. She created it, but he created the Mind Flayer. I mean, it’s that question of, would anybody have found the Upside Down if it weren’t for Eleven? We don’t explicitly see El building this territory, but we do see her create the rift between the two worlds. Speak to Matt and Ross Duffer!
Do you know how One went from the child that Brenner was obsessed with into the staffer in that Rainbow Room?
I don’t know explicitly, but the story that I created for it was very much that Brenner had been conducting very similar experiments on One as he had been doing with all the other numbers, and that one day or over a duration of time, One continued to both behave badly and also kill people and manipulate his physical world as it were — so much so to the point that Brenner had to suppress him using this thing that he puts in his neck. We see in Vol. 1 this minor experience where Brenner is having Henry shocked, and I don’t think that’s happening for the first time, because when I was working on it, this thing that was coming up was, “Papa, please! Papa, please! Papa, please! No!” So I had always imagined that Brenner had tried for a few years to keep Henry with his powers, and try to grow him and manipulate him. He talks about this in 9. He didn’t want to study him, he wants to control him. That’s all he wants is control. That’s what I came up with.
Eleven told Vecna that it was Papa who was the monster — even though Henry was killing people before he even met Papa. Do you think that Henry ever had a chance to turn out OK? Was there humanity left in him before he became Vecna?
Yes, more humanity than perhaps any others. He grew up in an environment where his father murdered a civilian and a civilian family on the orders of people he never knew, who were presenting themselves as these upstanding citizens. In whose eyes are they upstanding? I’m still angry about it now! So, there was a lot of humanity there, and then when El sends him into the Upside Down, all he’s left with is this rage and resentment. She takes everything away from him — everything that he possibly could have had, is now gone because of her. That is enraging. It’s more than that — it’s hate-fueling. It’s irritating. It’s actually really irritating.
I think there’s still a level of humanity to him, even where he is now, but I think the humanity of him being where he is now is a fact that I can relate to. I’m sure we all can. Sometimes if we hold on to things for too long, they become consuming — really, really consuming — and I feel like that’s where he’s gotten to, he’s in this consuming state. Maybe that’s bullshit. But it feels right to me.
So, as the actor behind him, are you able to view him as a villain?
Am I able to view him as a villain? I’m certainly able to view him as as a point of conflict. But in terms of, like, is he evil or villainous? I mean, I understand him, and I love him. And I relate to him. I just got a pain in my eyes as I was saying that — maybe I should shut up! Like, I understand him, and so I’m always gonna be on his side.
We talked before about how much of an undertaking this role was. Do you feel like you want a break after this?
No, I’m loving it. I’m having the time of my life. I’ve got another film that I’m doing in October. I’m constantly reading and writing. I purposefully took some time off this summer just to kind of reset and chill and surf. I have no desire to slow down and to stop. I have a very good and healthy work-life balance at the moment, which I’m really loving. It’s something that’s taken years, but let’s be honest, I love the work. It’s just a pleasure to be working but it’s something you figure out as you grow — how to live and work together in a healthy combination.
For me, it’s become about choosing the things that fill me with a certain energy. If I get something that comes in through the door or comes into the email or I get a phone call about that really, really and truly excites me, truly gets me pumped, I’m going to do it. That’s what I’m chasing is that feeling. I have chased, and have been reminded not to chase the things that are not that feeling. And when I chase those things is often when I end up feeling very drained. But when I chase the things that feel fantastic, I’m in.
We know Vecna’s not dead — Will can feel him. Have you spoken to the Duffer Brothers about what he’ll be doing next season, and what that will look like?
I don’t know. Matt and Ross have their own thing going there. When they want to bring forward it, I’m sure they will. So we’ll see. We’ll wait and see what they’ve got planned for sure.
But you will be back, yes?
I couldn’t possibly say.
Do you know how the show ends?
I don’t think so!
This interview has been edited and condensed.