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The return of Stranger Things marks eight years since the hit Netflix drama first debuted on the streamer, and the kids are all grown up.
Ahead of the premiere of season four, Stranger Things stars Winona Ryder and David Harbour — two of the most veteran actors on the sci-fi series — opened up about watching their young ensemble come into their own for this season’s darker turn.
“We’ve obviously been working with them for [eight] years now — most of them — but I just marvel at them,” Ryder told The Hollywood Reporter. “They’re grounded. They’re so, so talented.”
The fourth season takes place in the spring of 1986 and follows the core group of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Will (Noah Schnapp) into their formative high school years. The new episodes — which THR‘s Daniel Fienberg called “the biggest, scariest, most ambitious” yet in his review — remain nostalgic, but the Duffer Brothers were more influenced by the horror genre this time around, and the show is darker as a result.
“I have very, very mixed feelings about children in the industry — I was one — and I am just exceedingly proud of the kids that they are, and they’ve become,” Ryder continued of watching the group dig deeper into the more grown-up Upside Down journey. “I remember saying to them, ‘The work is the reward. You’re doing it for this moment when we’re in the scene.’ And they got that right away, and they can remind me of that now sometimes when things can seem a bit overwhelming.”
Adding, “There is a purity to kids that age, and there’s a real specialness there. These kids, in particular, just floor me at how kind and thoughtful and incredible they are.”
When Stranger Things began filming, the kids were all 11 or 12 years old and have since hit their late teens and early 20s, with a few of them starting college.
In season four, most of the main cast is still living in Hawkins, aside from Ryder’s Joyce (mom to Will), Eleven, Will and Charlie Heaton’s Jonathan, who are living in California, and Harbour’s Jim Hopper, who’s being held captive in Russia.
While this season marks the first time many of the show’s ensemble characters were separated from each other, no character is more alone than Hopper.
“It was a very lonely season in a certain way, so it’s not my favorite to do, but it was an interesting change,” Harbour told THR. “We’ve done a lot of stuff together. It’s hard with television because it’s like Gilligan’s Island, right? The model is that you always want to tune in so you can watch them get off the island. Or Friends, you always want to see them in the coffee shop because they’re your friends.”
Stranger Things has that model to a certain degree, Harbour explained, but it’s different this time around, allowing the characters to “peel the onion back,” which is something he was excited to explore with Hopper in season four.
“One of the things I wanted to do this season was to show the sort of resurrection of Hopper as in the brutality of what he’s simmering with the whole time, throughout all three seasons, and I wanted to strip it bare and just really get into a place where there wasn’t much of that joie de vivre anymore,” Harbour said. “He was in a much darker place.”
Adding, “There wasn’t as much Harrison Ford. It was much more of a lonelier or brutal place, and that’s mirrored externally in his environment alone and in this wasteland, and also internally in terms of what he’s actually grappling with, too.”
Stranger Things season four is split into two parts, with the first seven episodes that make up “Volume 1” now streaming on Netflix. The final two episodes of the season, which are each feature-length, drop July 1 for “Volume 2.”
Following the devastating elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Netflix added a last-minute content warning to the premiere, which contains graphic violent content involving children in the opening scene.
The #StrangerThings cast talks about what fans can expect to see in #StrangerThings4 on Netflix now pic.twitter.com/n4rtPIlRg5
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) May 27, 2022
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