The 2018 Emmy race has begun, and Vulture will take a close look at the contenders until voting closes on June 25.
One thing that’s important to know about Noah Schnapp, the 13-year-old actor who plays Will Byers on Stranger Things, is that he’s afraid of the dark. So when he has to act afraid, which is often, he closes his eyes and waits for the fear to seep into him.
Another thing to note about Schnapp is that he loves his job — it doesn’t matter if he’s working all night, or screaming so loud that he loses his voice, or freezing on a cold set because a scene calls for him to wear only a hospital gown. When fans approach Schnapp, they usually say, “I found Will!” which makes him laugh. He spent the majority of the first season lost in the Upside Down, but in Stranger Things 2, Schnapp emerged as the show’s most valuable player.
In season two, Schnapp comes into his own going up against the Mind Flayer — a giant shadow monster that’s haunting the Upside Down — which meant a lot of working alone against green screens. “Yeah, it was fake,” he says with a laugh. “I always wish I could just see the Stranger Things from an audience standpoint and not from mine. ’Cause when I watch it, I remember someone was behind there and behind there. I just can’t watch it like a viewer. But I love seeing something on paper come to TV.”
Schnapp spoke to Vulture about the challenges he faced and the fun he had filming the second season. But before we got to that, he offered a few clues regarding the third season, which is in production in Atlanta: “It’s set in 1985. There’s gonna be eight episodes. It has the scary aspect, but a lot from season one in terms of the friendships. Okay, I’m gonna shut up now.”
“Chapter One: Madmax”
That scene had a lot of really crazy little tricks. It was really fun to film. First, when I had to turn around, there was this guy with a string attached to the door and he would swing it open and then I walked outside. And this was all on a set — there was no outside. Three people had these massive, big propeller backpacks that made wind. It was so loud. And then, they had these guys with strobe lights to form the monster. So there was a lot going on. It was the first time Will saw the monster, but at that point, I had no clue what the monster looked like. I just had to just get this image of something really big and scary in my head. I just had to make it up.
“Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak”
That was really outside. And it was like 4:30 in the morning when were filming that scene. That was the scene where they first showed me what the shadow monster would look like. They showed me a sketch of how they thought it would look, and I just remember being like, Wow, I didn’t expect it at all. It was really scary and weird. I remember after we went back into a green room in this house. The owner of the house, her son was a big fan of the show. So she went upstairs to wake up her son at like four in the morning and brought him downstairs in his pajamas, and he was so confused. I remember taking a picture and it was so funny.
[Creating the Mind Flayer] was just such an important part about the show. Before the [filming] even started, I was exploring the studio and I ran into the guy who draws the blueprint of what it would look like. He had all these different sketches of spiders and there were guys with like ten arms. It was just all these different things. Up until I saw it, I just thought of something really big. Like a plastic monster that was really big. Like a giant person.
“Chapter Three: The Pollywog”
That was on a green screen and it was outside. That scene was super hard, ’cause I was just yelling at absolutely nothing. I had to film when it was coming inside my nose and my mouth. They had this really cool setup with the camera where it was attached to this green screen behind it, so when it spun, it would stay behind. Like, the green screen would always be in front of the camera. They’d spin around me. It was really fun. The part where the monster had to come inside me, I remember imagining being choked by something and just being taken over. I loved that night, so fun. I love filming at night. I’m like a night owl. I don’t remember how many times we did it, but we did it many times.
“Chapter Nine: The Gate”
There were so many different things I had to prepare for. During the table read, reading the script, I was just like, Wow. I’m gonna have to do all this. I was a bit nervous, ’cause I didn’t know if I could pull it off or not. There was a part where I am possessed and that was a little hard. I’d watch movies like The Exorcist. And it was really scary. When I had to have a little seizure, I looked up videos of people having seizures. I remember looking up symptoms and what happens to your body. You kind of just lock up and I had to prepare for that. A lot.
There was just so much going on. The heaters didn’t actually heat up. It wasn’t really hot. It was actually really cold, ’cause it was winter. I had to wear these contacts when I was possessed — they put these black contacts in my eyes to make my eyes really black. I was screaming the whole night, and the next morning I woke up and my voice had disappeared. I couldn’t speak. But I was really excited to get to do the choking part ’cause I always see that in action movies and I’m always like, Oh, I wanna do that.
There’s a part at the end of the scene where the veins crawl up my neck and the monster escapes. For the CGI, they had to put these dots all over my neck. They just got a Sharpie and drew all over my neck and I looked like a leopard or something. But it was really fun. I loved getting to work with Winona [Ryder] and Charlie [Heaton]. We filmed ’til like seven in the morning. It was also our very last night of filming, so everyone was kind of happy and sad. It was a hard scene, but it kept everyone awake ’cause we were all sad that we had to leave each other.