Finn Wolfhard on 'Stranger Things,' 'Ghostbusters 2020' and Hanging Out With 'It' Co-Star Bill Hader
[This story contains minor spoilers for Stranger Things season three.]
Finn Wolfhard is enjoying the roll he's on right now. The 16-year-old actor is back on the small screen as Mike Wheeler in Netflix's Stranger Things season three and has five studio films on his upcoming slate, including It Chapter Two (due out in September) and Ghostbusters 2020 (currently filming).
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The latest season of Stranger Things, from showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer, includes a fiery confrontation between Mike and Hopper (David Harbour), which Wolfhard reveals was shot numerous ways to prevent the beloved police chief from coming off as too much of a bad guy. Mike also has a dust-up with his best friend Will (Noah Schnapp), in which Mike snaps, "It’s not my fault you don’t like girls." It's a scene that many fans consider to be confirmation of their long-running speculation about Will’s sexuality. According to Wolfhard, it might not be that clear.
“There were a lot of different versions of that scene,” Wolfhard tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We tried, ‘It’s not my fault you don’t like girls yet.’ I don’t even know if it had to do with Will’s sexuality; I think Mike was just mad…. It’s all up to the Duffers and what they want to do.”
After It Chapter One and Stranger Things, Wolfhard’s film career has also taken off. The latest addition to the list, Jason Reitman's Ghostbusters 2020, came as a surprise since Wolfhard assumed that the '80s-set Stranger Things — which dressed up its 13-year-old heroes as Ghostbusters for Halloween — would take him out of the running.
“For that exact reason, I thought, ‘Jason Reitman is probably not even going to look at my tape because I’ve already done it in Stranger Things,’” Wolfhard explains. “I guess he just identified a lot with my tape, and it ended up working out for the best.”
This fall, Wolfhard also returns to the role of young Richie Tozier in It Chapter Two. This time, he has company as his campaign for Bill Hader to play older Richie actually bore fruit.
While on the set of Ghostbusters 2020, Wolfhard also spoke to THR about the differences between It and Stranger Things’ scares, flashback acting on It Chapter Two and The Goldfinch, and the highlights of working with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Even though you’re off shooting Ghostbusters 2020 right now, can you still feel the massive energy that follows the release of a new Stranger Things season?
The first day or two is pretty crazy. It’s kind of like a big weight is lifted off once it’s released. We had already seen it before it came out. So, we’re already ready for the next step. I’m really happy with it.
In 301, when Hopper (David Harbour) unloads on Mike in the truck, did you guys perform that scene a bunch of different ways in case Hopper came off as too much of a bad guy?
Oh, totally. We did a rehearsal before we shot it, just in the car, and I remember it was even more over the top and intense with screaming. That played the comedy off more. It started really, really intense, and we got it down to the more understandable part.
In 303, there was a significant moment where Mike said, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls,” to Will (Noah Schnapp). What kind of conversations did you guys have with director Shawn Levy about that moment?
There were a lot of different versions of that scene. We tried, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls yet.” So, we did a bunch of different things to it, and it was up to the Duffers. I don’t even know if it had to do with Will’s sexuality; I think Mike was just mad and listing off a genuine fact that he’s not interested. So, I guess we’ll see what it really meant, but it’s all up to the Duffers and what they want to do.
In 301, Will also told Joyce, “I’m not gonna fall in love,” so there seems to be a number of different ways this character development could go.
Right! There’s definitely options. He is still suffering from PTSD, and I think a lot of that has to do with trusting people and being able to fall in love.
Will struggled with the fact that his friends were eagerly growing up around him. Do you, Finn, relate more to Will, or are you somewhat anxious to grow up à la Mike?
I would say I’m a healthy middle. I like the age that I’m at now, but I also have a lot of older friends. I’m definitely not eager to grow up, but I do like some adult stuff. I’m still a child, for sure, and I think every actor has to be a little bit of a child in good ways and bad.
When you’re shooting the scary scenes of It versus those of Stranger Things, can you feel the difference in intensity on the It set?
Oh, yeah. It is a different vibe because on It, it’s more of an intense, visceral scare. On Stranger Things, it’s always a slow-burning build kind of thing. It definitely is a different vibe. It’s similar in the same right as we’re not all taking it so seriously. When they cut, no one is still in character and screaming. No one’s actually really scared until you watch it. It just feels normal to us.
It Chapter One and It Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti utilizes more gore than Stranger Things. Does that add to the intensity you feel on set?
Totally. It feels more authentic to me. I’ve always loved gore. I also love the old Evil Dead movies, and how they use an overabundance of blood almost as a punchline. Andy somehow always gives the right amount, even if it’s obscene. Somehow, it doesn’t feel over the top when you’re doing it.
Stranger Things season four hasn’t been confirmed yet despite Shawn Levy saying it’s happening as far back as April 2018.
(Laughs.) That sounds like Shawn to me.
If you had to bet, do you think the story will resume at Thanksgiving or Christmas, in accordance with Mike’s plan to see Eleven, or do you think it’ll explore the distance between everyone at first?
The genuine answer is that I have no idea, and I’m sure if you ask Shawn, he’d have an answer. (Laughs.) Each season has been set in a new year. So, if it’s a year in the future, then I could see a bunch of different things. The first season was set at Christmas; the second season was at Halloween and the third season was summer. So, I think the Duffers are testing out different options. We’ll see.
I’m curious as to how the Duffers, as well as your castmates, reacted to your Ghostbusters 2020 casting since Mike and Co. dressed up as Ghostbusters in season two?
Everyone was so excited, and I was really excited, too. I was auditioning, and for that exact reason, I thought, “Jason Reitman is probably not even going to look at my tape because I’ve already done it in Stranger Things.” I guess he just identified a lot with my tape, and it ended up working out for the best. Everyone was super happy; there were lots of texts.
Is there a piece of nostalgia that was introduced to you on Stranger Things that you’ve since come to love?
I grew up…. I still am growing up, but when I was younger, I watched a lot of ‘80s movies and a lot of ‘80s music was in my life. So, I kind of knew everything already. Gaten [Matarazzo] was also raised on that kind of diet of ‘80s movies, and we both weren’t new to it. I remember the Duffers told us all to watch these movies, and Gaten and I were like, “We already watched them.”
On It Chapter 2, your role as young Richie Tozier is mostly done through flashbacks. Despite being flashbacks, did it still feel like you told a complete story, versus a collection of scenes?
Oh, I think so. It had a lot to do with how they scheduled it, and how they had all of our characters intersect in different ways. It felt like filming another movie, just in a shorter amount of time. I had just as much fun as filming the first one because we were all back together. There was just less of it, time wise. But, yeah, it definitely felt complete.
On It Chapter 2 and The Goldfinch, you play younger versions of Richie and Boris through aforementioned flashbacks. Did you have enough time to get together with Bill Hader and Aneurin Barnard so they could pick up on your mannerisms and basic approach?
Bill and I had a few days to just hang out. One day, we just hung out in Bill’s trailer and talked about movies. He even gave me advice about stuff. For Bill, it was easy to study my mannerisms because he could just watch the first movie. I didn’t really have to be there, but he still hung out with me which is really nice. He can handle anything on set because he was on a live show where they had to go-go-go for years.
And for Aneurin, my dialect coach, Kristina [Nazarevskaia], gave me a sound bite of a scene that Aneurin was doing. So, I just listened to that over and over again. I met him once just briefly for a half hour. I listened to his speech patterns and watched the way that he moved in Dunkirk. Both were different experiences being a younger version. On one, the groundwork was already laid, and the other wasn’t.
The Goldfinch director John Crowley praised your Russian accent. What was the process of getting it right?
I started doing self tapes for John…. So, I just looked on YouTube and did stuff from YouTube. On set, I’d do a take, and if it was perfect, I’d look over to Kristina and she’d give me a thumbs-up. If I messed something up or something sounded weird, she’d correct me with this sound or that word. I found myself slipping into it, weirdly, with random English words like ice cream. It was like putting on the character’s socks or something. I could not be Boris without the accent, and I had never done that before. It was definitely different.
Clearly, the Scoops Troop could’ve used your help during that Russian translation scene in season three.
I know, dude! (Laughs.) When I watched it, I was like, “I know that squiggly chair!”
On The Goldfinch, you worked with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins. I’ve actually heard some stories involving movie stars being starstruck around him. Did you get a sense of his reputation on set, and could you recognize that there was something special about his lighting choices?
He literally had just won his Oscar right when we started, and everyone was congratulating him. Roger is a complete professional, and he just loves shooting. That’s all he wants to do. I didn’t want to compliment him, because he had been complimented all the time. I heard that he was kind of getting embarrassed.... So, we just talked and I’d watch him work.... There’s one shot that John and Roger got, where it was literally so good that they hugged at the end of it. They were just so over the moon for it. I’d never been on a set before where the camera crew was that big of an operation. He also has an on-set colorist who colors while they shoot, which I’d never seen. On It, I think there was someone that would do that once in a while for dailies, but they’d do it as they would film. Roger’s camera crew all knew each other; they’d worked with each other for like 10 to 20 years on different things. They’re all just like a big family. He is single-handedly the best DP I’ve ever worked with. Obviously, that’s a lot to be said because of all the amazing DPs I’ve learned an insane amount from like Tim Ives and Chung-hoon Chung, who did Oldboy and It Chapter One. It was the most surreal experience of my entire life.
Carrie Coon plays your mother in Ghostbusters 2020. Did you guys spend some time together before production in order to build rapport as mother and son?
We’re spending more time now, because we just started, but I love her so much. She’s been amazing so far.
You also shot a haunted house horror film, The Turning, with Mackenzie Davis. How was that experience?
When you’re acting with Mackenzie, she’s such a great actress that she takes you out of it. There are so many moments where I just remember watching her as an audience member and being like, “Oh, it’s my line.” She’s one of those people…. Oakes [Fegley], who I worked with on The Goldfinch, consistently made my jaw drop, too. So, just watching Mackenzie work was crazy to me. She had also just gotten the Terminator: Dark Fate role, so she was bulking up and getting all buff. She was already super strong. We would quote SNL and just have fun. It was great.
When you’re doing a voice performance like The Addams Family or Carmen Sandiego, do you perform the scenes exactly as you would in live action? Or do you add more inflection or emotion to your voice since you don’t have your body or your eyes to supplement your performance?
To me, that’s why voice acting is so difficult. It’s really hard for me. The more I do it, I guess the better I get at it. It’s definitely way harder for me than regular acting because you have to just use your voice. A lot of it is you have to speak clearly, and the on-camera acting that I do, a lot of it is personality. I also slur my words a lot of the time when I act….
I’ve never noticed…
A lot of the time you’re watching my face, but in my S's and stuff, I kind of slur my words. With voice acting, you just can’t do that. So, it was definitely a learning curve that I had to deal with. I guess I was just acting with no camera. That’s kind of how I look at it.
When people look through old photographs, the experience is often quite bizarre. When you see old footage from Stranger Things season one, is there any way to articulate how that feels?
We were just talking about that: me, Gaten and Caleb [McLaughlin]. All the cast does. The entire thing is like a time capsule, especially season one. I hardly remember doing it — in a good way. It was such a different kind of thing, and I had never done it before. I don’t remember acting; I just remember living on set and learning. I only remember the parts where they cut, which is really weird.
Because you’ve grown so much since Stranger Things season one, do the Duffers try to hide your height in certain shots?
Not in Stranger Things. The Duffers like that; they like watching their characters grow. I’m sure they get some kind of thrill over the audience not wanting to see these characters grow. People want them all to be kids forever, but the Duffers want to watch them grow and I think that’s really important.
You’re having so much success at such a young age. You’re also working quite a bit, understandably, since these projects are too good to pass up. Since your band, Calpurnia, can also be a full-time gig, do you still have some time left over to just be a 16-year-old kid?
Yeah, definitely. My parents are great. On every job, my whole family and I try to get as many breaks as I can. I have a few months off at the end of the year, and there’s plans in my life to not just work. I need time to do whatever I want to do. What happens to an actor that has no life experience? They don’t know how to act as a different role. So, that’s really important to do. I have been working really hard, but I definitely build the time out. A healthy balance is important to me, but also having time to just grow normally.
Are you aware of how much the Internet adores your name? It’s certainly one of the coolest names in Hollywood.
When I was in elementary school, it was not a name that was cool. It’s nice to hear that some people like it. My grandfather would be psyched to hear that.
Lastly, THR just broke the news that Andy Muschietti is in talks to direct The Flash for Warner Bros. Have you already started your campaign to get a role in that movie?
Dude, I had no idea that was happening, but yeah, Andy, please call me. Get me in there.
by Graeme McMillan
by Graeme McMillan
by Mia Galuppo , Borys Kit