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Stranger Things creators on Season 2’s new terror, the value of growth spurts and the endgame

Netflix’s Stranger Things was a big word of mouth hit last year, and Season 2 looks to be just as successful. We talk to the creators of the sci-fi horror series about viewers’ expectations, and how their cast members are growing fast

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 10:01am

Stranger Things 2 is almost here.

Season 2 of the retro sci-fi juggernaut arrives on Friday, more than a year after the show became a word of mouth success that spawned countless internet memes (Hey, Barb!) and made overnight stars of its precocious preteen actors.

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The action picks up in small-town Hawkins, Indiana, in 1984, a year after Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a girl with telekinetic powers, sacrificed herself to save missing middle-schooler Will (Noah Schnapp) from a mysterious parallel universe known as the Upside Down. Still shaken by the experience, Will and his nerdy group of pals face new monsters and a looming, even larger threat, all while trying to talk to girls and make it home in time for dinner.

We talk to the show’s creators, twins Matt and Ross Duffer, 33

How do you feel this week compared to July last year, when Season 1 premiered?

Ross: It’s a very different feeling. The terror of the first season came out of, “Is it just going to vanish from the site and not find its audience?” Now, we have a completely different terror: people have expectations. It’s this fine line of [wanting] to please the fans but you want it to feel different. At the same time, you want to play into what works. Even as we’re starting to work on Season 3, it’s such a tough balance to strike.

In the new season, Will suffers PTSD from the Upside Down. Did you set out to tell a darker story, or was that just inevitable given everything he’s gone through?

Ross: It definitely was inevitable, not just in terms of Will, but everyone. It’s really about them dealing with a very traumatic event in all of their lives. We wanted to see how that trauma would affect all of them, whether it’s Nancy (Natalia Dyer) having lost a friend and feeling deep guilt about that, or Joyce (Winona Ryder), who nearly lost a son. We want to see the repercussions of Season 1, and as a result there’s a darker undercurrent to the entire season.

Are you concerned about how quickly the child actors are growing up? You’ve said before that you won’t be shooting future seasons back to back.

Matt: Yeah. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about their ageing, so you just have to come to terms with it. It’s only scary in that you don’t want someone having this major growth spurt in the middle of production, because we shoot about six months out of the year. God knows, they could change radically in those six months. But I actually like that they’re getting older, because it forces the show to evolve. I like that people get to watch these kids grow up, very much in the way that you did with Harry Potter. There’s something very powerful about that. You’re going to start to see them going to high school. There’s all sorts of rich stuff for us to mine.

Fans of ’80s movies will surely appreciate Sean Astin ( The Goonies ) and Paul Reiser ( Aliens ) joining the cast. How did those conversations start?

Matt: We’re just big Paul Reiser fans. I was missing him, very much like we were missing Winona as movie fans. We were trying to figure out a new scientist character who would come into the lab and were like, “He needs to be a Paul Reiser type.” Eventually we were like, “Why don’t we just ask Paul Reiser?” Two days later, we were having breakfast with him. His kid made him watch the show and Paul was super confused by it. But he was like, “Whatever you want me to do, I’m in.”

And then Sean – we were just going through audition tapes and it was like, “Oh my god, that’s Sean Astin.” Initially I thought, “No, we can’t do that. We’re going to get flagged because it’s too cute.” But we wrote for Sean, and the character evolved in a major way and became a much more integral part of this season than intended. Also, as movie nerds we got to grill him about Lord of the Rings and Goonies.

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How much story do you have mapped out? Are you working toward a specific ending, or making it up as you go along?

Ross: A little bit of both. We have an endgame. We don’t really know how many seasons – we know it’ll be more than three. (Netflix has not yet officially announced a third). We have rough ideas of what Season 3 will be, but we like to keep it flexible. It always ends up different.

You originally envisioned Stranger Things as an anthology series, but got too attached to this group of characters. Have you discussed expanding the universe, in TV or film?

Matt: I always say, “For about 10 minutes.” There’s no pressure from [Netflix]. They have the right attitude, which is not worrying about the future of the show and just focusing on making whatever we’re working on as good as can be. You see that in Hollywood all the time, where people get ahead of themselves and end up tripping. The most important thing is to build a really solid foundation before you worry about anything else.