Noah Schnapp on 'Waiting for Anya' and His Early 'Stranger Things 4' Reaction

Noah Schnapp - Getty - H 2020
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
The actor learned to herd sheep for his new project and is gearing up to return to his hit Netflix show: "I read the first four scripts, and they are amazing."

When casting Noah Schnapp for the role of Will Byers in the summer of 2015, Stranger Things showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer knew they needed a talented actor who could play an integral role in a potential season two and beyond. Cut to October 2017, once Schnapp’s “MVP” performance on Stranger Things 2 debuted on Netflix, the Duffer Brothers proudly admitted that they did not realize just how good their young actor could be. Producer-director Shawn Levy even compared Schnapp to a “Ferrari” that sat in the garage throughout season one.

Due to his breakout performance on Stranger Things 2, Schnapp receives no shortage of opportunities — including a starring role in the World War II drama Waiting for Anya — which took him all the way to the Pyrenees Mountains. Once there, he learned to herd sheep and fine-tune his French accent for the lead role of Jo, a 15-year-old shepherd boy who helps smuggle Jewish children to safety during World War II.

“I’ve never worked with a hundred sheep before, and so much of the movie was me herding sheep,” Schnapp tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They actually had a real shepherd on set, and he would tell me the specific words to yell out. I would even hit their butts with a stick to get them to move. It was definitely complicated because half the time the sheep wouldn’t listen… It took double the time because of the sheep, but it was authentic and really fun.”

Schnapp is also preparing for his imminent return to the 1980s, as Stranger Things 4 recently started production and revealed its first teaser last week.

“I look forward to this so much. It’s my favorite thing in the world, and I love working with these people. It’s like a family,” Schnapp explains. “I read the first four scripts, and they are amazing. I can’t wait to see where they go with the rest of the season.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Schnapp also discusses having to wait for his role to expand on Stranger Things 2, shooting an Adam Sandler movie and not knowing who Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were on Bridge of Spies.

Was there anything unusual about your Waiting for Anya casting?

It was a quicker process than most. I FaceTimed the director (Ben Cookson), and he told me who was going to be in the cast. They talked about Anjelica Huston and all these amazing actors. So, that got me really excited. Then, they sent me the script, and I ordered the book on Amazon. I read it all and was super interested, especially because I’m Jewish. So, it was very important for me to do as a Jewish kid.

Once you got the role, what were the initial steps you took to prepare for the character?

It’s heavily based around World War II, so I did a lot of research around that time period — even just the clothes people wore. I’m actually learning about that now in history class, so it helped me prepare for the movie. For Jo, the character, he’s a courageous hero who doesn’t care what people think and stands up for what he believes in. So, I just had to get myself in that mindset. I talked to my parents about the Holocaust as well. So, I learned a lot filming this movie.

I also read the book before I read the script, and even though it’s a children’s novel, the topic is so heavy to read. It’s just a great book, and I was excited about how they would turn it into a movie. Once I read the script, I knew they did a great job.

While it’s not a kids’ movie, per se, it’s definitely a movie that would play well in grade school history classes. So, it walks a fine line.

Yeah, for sure. I remember the producers telling me that they cast me for a reason: to reach out to a younger audience. I have a lot of young fans, and they said, “Hopefully, this will help it reach all audiences.” I think it hits on all points.

Where did you shoot since everything looked period accurate?

Oh my God, we filmed it in the Pyrenees Mountains of France. It was literally the middle of nowhere. I lived in a house with a farm next to me, and every Sunday, a farmer would let out all the sheep and feed them. It was a very different lifestyle. Living there, I learned so much French, and you get to know everyone in the town since it’s such a small town. So, it was definitely an amazing experience getting to live in the middle-of-nowhere France.

Did enjoy being disconnected from the rest of the world?

Yeah, I loved it! I had no Wi-Fi there; I couldn’t order off of Amazon. The movie is about crossing over the border of Spain, and since we filmed right on the border of Spain, I would take a trip to Spain every weekend, have dinner and come right back to France. It was a great spot.

Your character, Jo, encountered a bear within the first five minutes. Was that bear actually on set?

So, they did bring a real bear, and while I did ask to see it, they wouldn’t let me. They kept him in a separate area, and even though they said he wasn’t vicious or anything, they didn’t let me see him, unfortunately.

Jo also shepherded sheep within the first five minutes. Do sheep follow direction well?

(Laughs.) I’ve never worked with a hundred sheep before, and so much of the movie was me herding sheep. They actually had a real shepherd on set, and he would tell me the specific words to tell yell out. I would even hit their butts with a stick to get them to move. It was definitely complicated because half the time the sheep wouldn’t listen, and they would go the wrong way. So, we had to retake a lot. It took double the time because of the sheep, but it was authentic and really fun.

Did you do all the walking in those scenic vista shots?

Yeah! Every day we had to travel to a different mountain in the middle of nowhere, set up base and film all day. Sometimes, it would just be a day of scenic shots and no lines, but it was worth it in the end.

If I worked with Jean Reno or Anjelica Huston, I’d probably pepper them with questions about Leon: The Professional or The Witches. Did you play it cooler than I would?

(Laughs.) Yes, I tried to. They’re amazing actors, and I really looked up to them. Everyone always asks me, “What advice did they give you on set?” but when you work with amazing actors like Anjelica Huston, Winona Ryder and Tom Hanks, the special thing about working with these people is getting to act alongside them. You see the decisions they make and the things they do. You learn from what they do and follow their footsteps. That’s what I do with all these actors, and they help me by guiding me. So, I’ve learned a lot by just working next to them, and when you do a scene with them, it makes you look better. When you act off someone who is so good at what they do, it helps you be good at what you do. So, I’m really lucky to get to work with such amazing actors.

Did you have a dialect coach for the French accent?

Yes, I did. That was something I was a little worried about because I’d never done an accent for a movie. But, I got in touch with this dialect coach, Rebecca Gausnell, and she’d done numerous movies before, so I trusted her. She lives in London so we would FaceTime every day for two or three months. She would go over vowels, sounds and words, as well as different ways they say apple or something. It was a lot of work — a lot more than I thought. In the beginning, I felt that there was no way I could ever do this, but by the end, it was a part of me. Sometimes, I would accidentally talk in a French accent without even trying.

Since Stranger Things eats up a big part of your year, is it a challenge to find interesting roles like this that fit your off-season schedule?

It depends. There’s always so many opportunities and different movies that I can do, but it depends on what interests me and what I think is a fit for me. But, it’s not a challenge because the show takes so long with the editing. So, we have a lot of time off in between seasons, but there’s been so many great movies and opportunities that I did have to turn down because of Stranger Things. But, it’s worth it in the end.

Finn [Wolfhard] told me that you guys recently got your scripts and are gearing up to shoot very soon. Are you excited to travel back to the ‘80s?

Of course. I look forward to this so much. It’s my favorite thing in the world, and I love working with these people. It’s like a family. So, I’m definitely very excited. I read the first four scripts, and they are amazing. I can’t wait to see where they go with the rest of the season.

Even though Will only appeared a few times in season one, The Duffers have always said that they took Will’s casting quite seriously because they knew he’d be a pivotal character in a potential season two and beyond. However, they later admitted that they were blown away by your work on season two and that they didn’t realize you were this good. In fact, many critics and fans considered you the MVP of that season. Since you weren’t heavily involved in the first season, were you extra motivated to show everyone what you could bring to the table in season two?

Yeah, definitely. When they were casting me, they told me that even though I’m not around a lot for season one, I’d be a major part of a second season — if they got to do it. So, I felt good knowing that I had something to look forward to that was really big. But, definitely throughout season one, it sucked because I never got to go to any of the press or anything. I also wasn’t really close with the cast during season one just because I was never there. I would only fly in for a day and leave. So, it was definitely so much better in season two because I was there. I got really close with the cast and crew, and I got to have some amazing acting opportunities. It turned out great.

When season one became a pop culture phenomenon, you must’ve been on cloud nine since you knew what it meant for Will’s future.

Yeah, for sure. At first, I was like, “I shouldn’t even worry about this. There’s not going to be a season two,” and then all of a sudden, everything happened so quickly. My life changed in a matter of days. I’ve never been more grateful for anything.

Season three’s third episode had a powerful moment between Will and Mike, as Mike said, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls.” However, in 301, Will told Joyce, “I’m not gonna fall in love,” which might suggest that Will is asexual as a result of his trauma in season one. Does your interpretation lean toward one or the other — or is he just not ready to grow up yet?

There’s nothing set in stone. It’s kind of up to the audience, and I think the Duffers did that on purpose. Some people perceive it as Will could be gay, asexual or whatever. Or, like how I see it, he was stuck in the Upside Down, and he was away for so long that all of his friends started growing up while he was in this other world. When he came back, everyone was all grown up, and he was still a little kid who still wanted to do little kid things like play D&D. He wasn’t ready to face this maturity and get into relationships. So, I think that’s what Will is going through right now.

Can you tell me about your upcoming movie Abe?

That was also an amazing project that I got to work on. It has a lot to do with cooking, food and family. The crew was very diverse, and I learned a lot being around them.

During research, I was reminded that your first acting job was on Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Since you were cast at age nine, were you old enough to understand the significance of that set?

(Schnapp sighs.) I didn’t even really know who Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were, and my parents kept trying to tell me, “Noah, what is wrong with you!? This is the biggest actor and director in all of Hollywood!” And then I was like, “Who cares? Whatever.” I was nine; I didn’t know anything. It was my first project, and even though I didn’t know who Tom Hanks was at the time, it was so amazing to see how he worked, especially when I look back on it. That was the first experience I really had besides acting classes. So, looking back, I’m really glad that I got to do that and learn so much from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Sometimes I’ll see Tom Hanks at awards shows, and we’ll talk about it. I’m so grown-up now that everything has changed.

How did your Adam Sandler movie [Hubie Halloween] go?

I filmed that over summer. That was definitely a really fun thing to do because it was a comedy, which I’d never done before. So, it was new and kind of a challenge. Once I got used to the whole comedy thing, it kinda came natural to me. It was really fun. The vibe on the set was also very different. Everyone was always laughing and super joyful. It was kind of like no one really took it seriously — in a good way. We just had fun with it, and we would take multiple takes. Adam Sandler would always be cracking jokes; he’s really great. I had a good time on that set, and I definitely want to do another comedy.

Since Sandler insists on having a basketball hoop on/near his sets, did you play basketball with him?

No! I should’ve. He invited me over to his house one time, and I went swimming and had lunch. He’s just a really good person, and I had a great time with him. I got to know his kids and his family too. But, I should’ve played basketball with him.


Waiting for Anya is now available on digital.