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Before Netflix launched Stranger Things in July 2016, it was seen as little more than “that new drama with Winona Ryder.” Perception changed almost overnight when the 1980s-set sci-fi adventure, about a group of kids looking for their missing friend, became a watercooler phenomenon. As much as critics were anxious to praise Matt and Ross Duffer for their nostalgic creation, the series didn’t seem like awards bait. That changed with big prizes from the Screen Actors and Producers guilds, giving it some serious Emmy heat. The Duffers, who write and direct with such synchronicity that they rarely remember who did what, reflect on their runaway season.
The most challenging scene to write this season was …
MATT Any scene in Hawkins Lab. It’s easy for us to write for nerdy boys, but brilliant scientists … not so much. Although we have some real science nerds in the [writers] room who help us sell the theoretical science. And rewatching the original Cosmos doesn’t hurt.
I still can’t believe we got away with …
ROSS Having Eleven kill multiple adults over the course of the season. She’s technically a mass murderer. But they all deserved it.
The biggest misconception about Stranger Things is …
MATT That the storytelling is driven by nostalgic callbacks. We wanted the show to capture the feeling of our favorite ’80s movies and to take that old-fashioned storytelling into a new medium. But we purposefully didn’t want it to be kitschy or ironic or self-aware. We wanted it to feel sincere. The writing was always driven by our characters and their journey.
The person on Stranger Things who has the most difficult job is …
ROSS Our first AD, who has to schedule around limited kid hours and schooling. We only have nine and a half hours with the kids each day, and that includes three hours of schooling. Also, you have to get waivers in order for them to work late at night — but, surprisingly, their energy is much higher at 3 a.m. than it is at 8 a.m. Who knew?
The line of dialogue I am most proud of this season is …
MATT “Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?”
The actor I’ve never worked with but would love to is …
MATT So many. But let’s go with Tom Hanks. Is he available?
If I could switch gigs with any other nominee for a day, it would be …
ROSS Mike Judge — we’d just love to hang out on the Silicon Valley set!
ODDS ARE …
The closest thing to a dark horse, Stranger Things stands as much a chance at winning as it did at becoming such a big hit: slim but possibly enough. Netflix’s sci-fi darling, a bit more out there than fellow genre nominee Westworld, has genuine affection from the Hollywood community. It enjoyed an improbable string of victories at guild kudos earlier in 2017, making this TV Academy recognition not totally unexpected. But, among the freshman class, it may lack a strong camp of support — with the old guard favoring Westworld, prestige traditionalists going for The Crown, broadcast believers pushing This Is Us and those placing a high value on relevance going for Handmaid’s. But stranger things have happened.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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