The devilish pantomimes, the guitar-kissing, the voluminous hair masking his sweet little face. Perhaps no other Stranger Things character has made a stronger first impression than Eddie Munson, who shreds his way into the Hawkins universe as the leader of his high school’s Hellfire Club, which has less to do with satanic panic and is more aligned with Dungeons & Dragons. Throughout the season, Eddie (Joseph Quinn) goes through it: He’s a super-senior who balances manic energy with an adolescent confidence, so much so that you kind of forget he’s a drug dealer until he meets with a popular cheerleader (Grace Van Dien) for a sale. But when she’s grotesquely murdered by a certain someone from the Upside Down, Eddie becomes the prime suspect and is joined by one of his younger Hellfire Club cohorts, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), to prove his innocence.
Quinn, an English actor who credits his American breakthrough to Stranger Things, recently hopped on a video call with Vulture to discuss his fan-favorite role while crafting a few “little doodles.” (“I draw things when I talk,” he said with a laugh. “I hope you don’t think I’m rude.”) He still seems surprised by the rapturous attention Eddie has been receiving, especially since he’s paired with many of the show’s young veterans, such as Joe Keery and Natalia Dyer, in his scenes. Still, we had important matters to discuss, such as his wig inspirations and how to act “very metal” in real life.
I need to start by asking about your talented co-star the wig. How heavy was it, and who were the metalheads who inspired the look?
It was pretty hard playing second fiddle to a wig for two and a half years. But it was great fun putting something on that drastically changed the way I felt. It was modeled on all of those seminal ’80s heavy-metal bands — Eddie Van Halen was a big one and all the guys in Iron Maiden and Mötley Crüe. It’s a real unit, isn’t it?
You’re in the unique position of joining a wildly popular show well into its run. What were your expectations about how your character would be received by fans versus the reality of what you were met with?
I had no expectations because expectations get you in trouble. I had a hope that I wouldn’t be chased out of town. Clearly, something is working with this Stranger Things model. People really love the show, and when you join something with this level of devotion, you’re mindful of not trying to bring the whole thing to a crash. I’m relieved, really. That’s the main feeling. And very grateful for people’s responses and how welcoming they have been to Eddie. I’m glad I didn’t ruin the show. That’s encouraging.
My exposure to social media has been minimal. I don’t have TikTok; I have an Instagram account managed by a friend. But I have friends sending me little videos constantly. I find that sweet and funny, but I don’t know what to say about it. Clearly, Eddie has touched some people. It’s funny that people would take time out of their day to make videos like that. When I think of characters from film and television I loved growing up, it’s like people feel that way about Eddie. It’s mad.
Was your audition process cryptic, like Jamie Campbell Bower’s, or did you get a sense of who Eddie was before you got the part?
God, I remember sitting next to Jamie during our first table read. He was telling me about his process and it sounded pretty weird. But I think it was necessary for the character he played. My audition was pretty straightforward in comparison. Back home in London, I sent two tapes to the Duffer brothers. I sent one, they asked for another, and then they offered me the part. It was disarming. I had never worked in America before, and my friends and colleagues would talk about these grueling, gladiatorial auditions. Going back to expectations, I expected nothing from those tapes. I sent them off and they gave me the part. I don’t understand why but I’m very glad they did.
One of the Duffers said something interesting about your casting, which was that you leaned into making Eddie likable when others went too menacing. What did you see in his potential that hundreds of other actors failed to?
Well, anyone that presents themselves as incredibly unapproachable and distant is acting that way as a defense mechanism, right? We all have periods in our lives where we’re protecting ourselves. In your adolescence, you’re doing that constantly. I don’t know what I was clued into where others weren’t. I saw what was there on the page and I tried to bring my intuition towards it. I got away with it!
What was your intuition telling you?
He’s ostracized and nonconformist. With that comes a jealousy of other people who seem to be popular and have things happen easily for them. He’s anti-Establishment and a metalhead and doesn’t like the way the rules have been written, particularly because they don’t serve him. But there’s still something in him that wants to be accepted, like everyone during that age. In hindsight, a lot of people have brought up Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, but I just went with what made sense to me.
Your first scene, waltzing around the cafeteria and monologuing about “forced conformity” and “freaks,” is a spectacular entrance into the Stranger Things universe. Can you tell me what it was like to film that and how you commanded a presence?
I actually auditioned with that scene back in November 2019, and we filmed it in June 2021. Can you imagine that wait? It was a long time to have those words in my brain. I remember reading it and thinking it was a powerfully written entrance. I was nervous on the filming day, but I had been working on it for a long time. I had the brilliant Finn Wolfhard and Gaten Matarazzo and the Hellfire guys to bounce off. Everyone was supportive. I enjoyed that day a lot. It was daunting, though. There was a room of 200 actors watching me. I was in the acting weeds, at that point where I was trying to stay in my accent for a little while, and was totally doubting myself and getting on everyone’s tits: Do I sound good? Do I sound American? Joe Keery was like, “Dude, you’re so down the rabbit hole right now, I can’t save you.”
I got the impression that Finn and Gaten broke character at certain moments to giggle at how you read your lines in that scene.
When you flicked your snack at Finn’s face. He looked genuinely charmed.
There you go. We wanted moments of spontaneity. I wasn’t at home thinking, Okay, I’m going to throw a cracker at him. It’s preparation and allowing yourself to be open to what presents itself to you in the moment. The scary thing is that moment is then there forever. With theater, you can constantly change things every night and try to find different ways to bend them. But one impulse you have with screen acting, that’s what they’re going to go with. You have to trust that’s going to be the right choice.
What other moments of spontaneity made the cut?
Oh, quite a few, I think. It’s moments when something presents itself to you and it feels like an interesting avenue to go on. As a character, Eddie had to be compulsive. I tried to do different things in different takes so the Duffers could pick one. But afterward, I’d end up going like, “Please, don’t use that one.” There would be a postmortem with them. They would always be gracious to entertain my opinions, but I maybe got a bit annoying after a while.
You’re a 29-year-old British lad playing an American teenager. How did you prepare for such an acting challenge physically and vocally?
Yes, he’s significantly younger than me and significantly not from south London. My vocal coach is incredible and would do a lot of Zoom sessions with me throughout the filming process. Whenever I was resting on my laurels or even felt like I nailed it, I’d still go back and see her. Self-doubt can be useful sometimes. To make me look younger, I fasted and didn’t eat carbohydrates and drink black coffee and was fucking miserable about it. Eddie needed to be sinewy. You feel different when you’re ten kilograms lighter. But you don’t want to be messing with your food habits for that long. It’s good in the short term, but after doing it for ages, I started to get a little grumpy.
How has your perspective on Dungeons & Dragons changed after filming the season? I ask this as someone with limited knowledge.
We have that in common. I don’t know anything about it. I bought a book and tried to do some reading on it, but it was very clear it wasn’t going to be helpful to me. I went with the music route instead. That was my way into Eddie. I have no opinions on Dungeons & Dragons. I have nothing but a distant, loving respect for that community.
What music route did you take?
I was listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and Metallica. It felt right for me. Masters of Reality was played on rotation — loved it. It was a perfect compromise because as Joe I really love the music, and Eddie definitely would too. I banged that out a lot.
What can you tease about Eddie shredding the hell out of his guitar in the Upside Down, as seen in the season-four trailer?
We’ve come this far, so I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. It’s an extraordinary sequence, and you’ll enjoy it.
Eddie compliments Steve for biting a Demogorgon bat, calling it “very metal.” What’s the last very metal thing you’ve done?
I rented a red Ford Mustang yesterday, which feels pretty metal. I’m here with two friends from London, and we’re going to drive to Joshua Tree. I don’t know if it’s metal, but it feels ostentatious and funny. It’s beyond my means. But you’re only in Los Angeles in this kind of situation once, so we’re going to make the most of it.
You enjoy that Netflix money, my man.
I will. It’s a silly car but it’s good fun.