Spoilers ahead for the entire third season of Stranger Things.
We can think of no better person than Cary Elwes to complete Stranger Things’ ’80s Male Icon (Supporting Role) trifecta, filling the honorary title proudly held by Matthew Modine and Paul Reiser in previous seasons. Only this time, dare we say, Elwes gets to have a little more fun than his predecessors: As Hawkins’ devilishly smarmy Mayor Kline, his corrupt political figure spends most of his time getting beaten up by his enemies (Russian and American) and lounging in his office with fine cigars, all while trying to plan the best fun fair in the state’s history. (The fair is a success — phew!) Earlier this week, Vulture chatted with Elwes over the phone to learn more about his experience joining the show. While he won’t say who he based Mayor Kline on, he will admit he almost threw up in one of those fair rides.
How excited were you when the show offered you such a fun part, and did that excitement wane when you realized you were being punched, thrown around, or slapped in almost every scene?
I’m very happy to report it never waned. I was thrilled from one day and I’m still thrilled today.
Did you sustain any accidental injuries with all that fighting? Being choked in a Gravitron didn’t seem too enjoyable.
There’s definitely a level of extraordinary focus and professionalism with the stunt coordinators on the show. It looks bad when you’re watching, but I never came close to being in danger. But it looks good!
I hope you and David Harbour got to share some nice moments when you weren’t fighting and attacking each other on camera.
You know, David is very much like me. He takes his work very seriously but not himself.
Fighting aside, I think you got to use some of the best props. Did you ever own a clunky car phone like that back in the day?
I did! We called that car phone “the brick.” And before that, there was even something called “the suitcase.” I owned them all. They were absurd. You’d put them on the table if you were in a meeting or something, and they looked ugly and had terrible reception. You had to have friends, too, who owned those phones to use them. You couldn’t hide it! They were heavy enough that if you wanted to do damage to someone, it would be easy. All the props on the show were real, obviously. Nothing was manufactured.
I know you based your mayor on a number of real-life politicians. Can you dissect who these inspirations were, and how they helped better inform your character?
I don’t want to name names. But if you look on the television, you could find within five minutes a politician from anywhere in the world who pretends to be someone who cares about their constituents, but is clearly an egotistical person. It wasn’t hard to get easy inspiration.
I also know the Duffers specifically had you in mind for the role. When you met them, did they explain how they visualized you as this smarmy mayor?
Not too much. They’re very detail-oriented about every aspect of the show. Nothing is left to chance. I think that’s one of the reasons the show is so successful — it looks like it could’ve been made in 1985. And the Duffers are very collaborative, too, which I loved. They allowed me to pick what I wanted to pick for the mayor’s characteristics. We just discussed the nuances of the character.
What were some of those nuances?
I wanted to this guy to pretend to care about his constituents. He’s very materialistic. He’s a guy who could easily be bought. He’s a guy who cheats on his wife and has likely done a great deal of drugs. He’s not a person someone wants to spend a lot of time with. Like, his friends pretend to like him.
In the end, Mayor Klein is very publicly arrested for corruption. What do you imagine happens to him, given that he still has all of those ties to the Russians?
The Duffers never discussed it with me, and it’s not something I’ve thought too much about. I hope we get to find out and see.
I know the post-credits scene implies Hopper is being held captive by the Russians, but I also like to think Mayor Kline could be the one, too.
That’s a good theory! I like it. I wouldn’t mind that happening.
I found it amusing that, despite your character having such close ties to the mall, you never actually had any scenes in that phenomenal set. Did you ever get mall FOMO? Were you able to explore it on your own time?
Oh gosh, I took so many photos. That mall was extraordinary. The Duffers’ attention to detail is just mind-boggling. I don’t think people realize: They took over an abandoned mall in Atlanta, created and dressed 40 stores, and made every single one of them operational. Including the food court! Every till worked; all of the props were real. Stores that you’ll never see in the show were up and running for extras to come in to buy stuff. Even the movie theater was operational. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was truly phenomenal. I do wish I had some scenes in it, but at least I got to explore it.
Did you eat at the food court?
I was very careful not to be there long enough to eat the food. [Laughs.] They kept refreshing the food to keep it as edible as possible. It was a very specific part of the set, since there are so many shots of people eating. So, I didn’t hang around there much.
Were all of those fun fair rides operational, too?
They were indeed. Here’s a memory: The Duffers encouraged me to go on one of the rides, and I felt like I was on the inside of a washing machine. I shouldn’t have done that. When I got out, I was seriously green and very unsteady and, thank God, I didn’t throw up. I was still in my costume! But they filmed me getting off the ride with their cameras, and they thought it was very funny. I should look up the name of this ride. The best way I can describe it is two giant pills on a lever, and they spin centrifugally, around and around and around in a circle. It’s kind of like a Ferris wheel, but much worse. It was a big mistake.
The show is such a love letter to ’80s pop culture, and I always love searching for all of those references and influences. So I must ask: Does The Princess Bride exist in the Stranger Things universe?
If there’s an Easter egg, I’m not aware of it. I’ll put it that way.