As a supplement to our recaps of Stranger Things 2, we asked Matt and Ross Duffer — recent subjects of a New York Magazine profile and the creators of the Netflix sci-fi drama — to get nitty-gritty about the creative decisions behind each of the season’s nine episodes. We present this information in a series that could only be called one thing: the Duffer-caps of Stranger Things 2.
In this Duffer-cap of episode four, “Will the Wise,” the Duffer brothers discuss Noah Schnapp’s performance, that big fight between Eleven and Hopper, and why the shadow monster drawings were a “nightmare” for the production team.
Ross Duffer: What really helped us break the season was slowing down Will’s being taken over, and making it much more gradual. That’s how we were able to find an interesting way, at least for us, to get into the evil-child trope. Really spreading it out, to us, made it much more interesting.
Matt Duffer: We knew if there was going to be a season two that Will was going to be very prominently featured in it — that he was going to be the centerpiece of it. When we cast Noah way back a couple years ago, we had him read some very emotional, possession-type scenes, just to see if he could do it. But he was nowhere near the level of where he is right now.
That [“It got me, mom” scene] with Winona was the first one where we got a call from [director] Shawn [Levy], and he was like, “You have no idea. Wait until you see what Noah’s doing.” Shawn describes it as, it was like we had a Ferrari, this beautiful Ferrari, just sitting in the garage all last year, doing nothing.
Some review I read today said, “I retroactively don’t like season one for sidelining Will the whole time.” I’m like, well, that’s not fair. We didn’t know. I didn’t know he was this amazing. He blew everyone away and surprised everybody. I knew he was going to be able to do it, but I didn’t know he was going to be able to take it as far as he did. In that way, he reminded me the most of Millie, because Millie was similar in season one. We knew she was good, but we didn’t know she was that good. Sometimes you don’t know until you get them on set and you put a movie camera on them, and then they come alive.
Also, the good thing about Noah is that he had a really strong relationship he’d developed with Winona over the course of season one. Winona loses herself in these roles. Like, she can’t help it. She’s most connected to Charlie [Heaton] and Noah, who play her kids, in real life. She really had bonded closely with Noah, so I think he felt very safe acting opposite her. From there, he just continued to knock it out of the park. Even all the other kids kept commenting on it, how good he was.
We then did a lot of scenes with Noah, and I know Andrew [Stanton, director of episodes five and six] did. Noah just turns it on and off like a switch. Some actors are like that. It’s really weird. Millie can do it too. It’s literally like turning a light switch on and off in terms of digging into that well of emotion. There are other actors who, when they get in a state like that, they can’t get out of it for a while. I don’t know if Noah and Millie will be able to do that for the rest of their lives. I don’t know how they access it. It’s really unique, I think. Most of our adults can’t do that.
He does these scenes later on where he’s thrashing around to the point where everybody around him is actually worried. They’re like, “Is Noah okay?” And then he’s making a fart joke 20 seconds later. It’s really unbelievable.
Matt: You have a couple of big headlines on the [writers room] board, and one of them was “Psychic Tantrum.” That was always a point we wanted to hit. It was going to be the centerpiece of the Hopper-Eleven relationship. I know it was a really intense day of shooting.
David [Harbour], he’s one of those actors where when they get into a state like that, they don’t get out of it, so it was a really intense day. That’s all I know. And he’s not easy with the kids because they’re kids. He’s hard on them. They have a really good relationship, but he likes to push them. I think it was really good for Millie to be around an actor like that, an actor who’s really going to challenge her to do stuff she’s not expecting. The takes for that scene are all over the place. They tried a lot of different levels in terms of dialing it up and down. We have everything — we have them go much further than they went, in terms of just emotions and tears and crying. I think it was about Shawn finding a really nice balance. And then in terms of the windows exploding and everything, they actually blew out all those windows. David, I don’t know, he’s crazy for being in the cabin when they did that. Luckily, he’s okay.
Matt: We had established in season one that Will could draw really well. So we knew we wanted to use that skill as a way for him to communicate his visions. That was an idea very early on. It wasn’t an intentional callback to the Christmas lights. Some critics are giving us a hard time about it, but the story just led us there.
Listen, we’re never going to have Joyce trash her house again. We’ve done it twice. We’re done. We’re never going to put anything up on the walls again, I swear to God. I actually don’t regret it, though, because I think it looks really cool. I like how it looks aesthetically, and it was as big of a nightmare as you can imagine for the production team. It was really our prop department that was in charge of it. We had an artist in charge of it — they had a little miniature of the house. They had it mapped out. You can’t just leave [the drawings] there unprotected because if you walk on them, you’re going to tear the paper. They had cardboard all over the floors. I mean, it was a nightmare. I’m not going to lie.
Matt: We read [Sadie Sink, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo] together because Max needed to have some sort of chemistry with both of them. Also, we were driving Caleb and Gaten a little crazy, kind of purposely. The whole season, they’re asking, “What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?” They knew one of them was going to wind up with Max, but they didn’t know who. But Caleb picked it up early on, because we were shooting in the arcade and he was like, “I got Princess Daphne [in Dragon’s Lair]. That means I’m going to get Max, right?” I was like, “I don’t know.” But they’re really smart, so they start to figure it out.
Matt: He’s just a terrible person.
Ross: He is racist, I think. It’s [reflective of] people that he’s viewing as different from him and an overall rage at the world. In this case, seeing his sister with someone like Lucas leads to that conversation.
Matt: But, also, any way he can find a reason to attack Max, he’ll use it. We wanted to be honest about what an [interracial] relationship like that would do, and how certain characters would react, and how a character like Billy would really react to that.
The Duffers didn’t immediately land on a favorite, but when the brief clip of Cheers on Eleven’s television was mentioned, Matt Duffer noted a detail that was ultimately cut from Stranger Things 2. “We had a whole thing where a lot of how Eleven’s learning to function in real life, she’s gleaning from pop culture,” he said. “But it didn’t really find a way into the show.”