The Upside Down notwithstanding, there are few images across two seasons of Stranger Things more intimidating than Max Mayfield wielding a baseball bat covered in nails, holding the weapon over her menacing stepbrother, dangerously close to making an unforgettable impact. If it wasn’t clear earlier in the season, her powerful last stand against the brutal Billy Hargrove in the finale makes it abundantly obvious: The arcade wizard known as MADMAX is someone worth taking very seriously indeed.
Max, played by Sadie Sink (NBC’s American Odyssey, Broadway’s Annie), emerges as one of the brand-new breakout characters in Stranger Things season two, skating into the universe of the show and the culture surrounding it with all the ease of her own character’s proficiency on a board. It’s not an easy transition to make, of course; the Hawkins party is a tight-knit group of four (five, technically, if we’re counting Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven, absent from the group for most of season two), and not all of the kids are immediately moved to count Max as one of their own.
For her part, however, stepping into the world of Stranger Things wasn’t nearly as difficult for Sink as it was for Max. Read on for what the star tells The Hollywood Reporter about how she became part of the cast, her favorite moments from filming season two, and more.
Stranger First Encounters
Like everyone else with even a passing interest in the modern television landscape, let alone as an actor working within the space, Sink heard all about Stranger Things before she signed onto the project.
“My friend had told me about Stranger Things and how I had to watch it,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘OK, I will!’ I binged it in like a day and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, mom, you need to watch this show. Everyone needs to watch this.’ A week later, I got the breakdown for Max. A month later, I got the part.”
But even if Stranger Things wasn’t already on her radar, Sink feels she would have connected deeply with Max all the same: “That was one thing, going into it. I knew the big following Stranger Things had and I really liked the show, but even if I hadn’t known what the show was, I still really related to the character and I really liked the material. I loved how she had this backstory where things are not easy for her, but she’s still super tough. I really liked that. She could be feisty and funny at times, too.”
Hitting the Leader Board
In addition to being “feisty and funny,” Max stands apart from the rest of the Hawkins kids for two special skills: her proficiency as a skateboarder, and her unmatched prowess in the arcade. Regarding the first skill, Sink admits it required some work before she was comfortable on a board.
“It was really hard in the beginning,” she says about skateboard training. “The first three lessons, I had trouble figuring out. It’s a scary feeling when you have no control over the board. I was open to trying it, and I knew it was something I had to do, and I was excited, but those first few lessons were so hard. I would wipe out and fall a lot, and getting back on was the hard part. It was frustrating at times. Now, skateboarding is a hobby of mine. I’ll skateboard now and then from time to time.”
As for Max’s abilities as a gamer? It didn’t quite sink in for Sink, even if she was impressed with the show’s arcade setup.
“When I got to the arcade, the set was incredible,” she says. “All of these ‘80s games were set up. They all worked. We could play them. I went around and started playing the games, which helped me a little bit. I’m pretty bad at it. Pac-Man was the only one I really understood, so I guess that’s my favorite! The rest of them, I was super confused.”
Step by Step
Throughout the season, Sink shared much of her screen time with Australian actor Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove, Max’s wicked stepbrother. The relationship between these two teens can be described as tenuous at best, outright violent at its worst. Speaking with THR, Montgomery expressed his view that Billy secretly cares about his step-sister, appearances to the contrary. For her part, Sink’s not so sure she agrees.
“It’s completely an antagonistic relationship,” she says. “I don’t think they really even know each other that well. Nobody makes the effort. It’s pure hatred toward each other. There’s a scene where Billy says he’s trying to protect Max, but in reality, he’s just being evil.”
With that said, Sink describes a very different relationship between herself and Montgomery as an actor: “It was fun to pretend to hate Dacre, because in reality, we get along so well and we love each other. It was funny going from best friends to hating each other.
Old Friends Become New Friends
Before Max was even a twinkle in Stranger Things‘ eye, Sadie Sink was already very familiar with two of the show’s star players: Caleb McLaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo, who play Lucas and Dustin, respectively.
“We were on Broadway at the same time,” she reveals. “Caleb was in Lion King, Gaten was in Les Mis and I was in Annie. We all knew each other from that. It’s cool. It’s interesting how three little Broadway kids all ended up on the same show.”
It’s also interesting that Sink’s story was synced directly with McLaughlin and Matarazzo’s characters, who spend the first few episodes of season two competing for Max’s affections. In the end, given that Dustin becomes embroiled with the Demogorgon drama early on, it’s Lucas and Max who are left to bond together, even sharing a kiss by the end of the season. (“Knowing each other helped,” she says on how she and McLaughlin were able to move past any awkwardness stemming from the kiss. “It was funny.”)
“Max goes to Hawkins not intending to make friends, but she meets Dustin and Lucas, which changes her mind,” says Sink. “Obviously Dustin is a little bit busy with all of the Dart stuff, so the only friend she really has is Lucas. He takes her under his wing and truly cares about Max and wants her to be in the party and wants her to be their friend, even though others disagree with that. I think she appreciates how caring he was. I think it shows when they’re on top of the bus and she opens up about what’s going on in her life. It was a great scene — but at the same time, it was freezing cold!”
A Stranger Future
By the end of season two, Max becomes fully entrenched in the party, driving them toward their most heroic moment yet thanks to hijacking Billy’s Camaro. “That and [the baseball bat], I consider my two highlights of the season,” she says about driving the car.
With her foot firmly on the gas, Sink hopes Max’s relationships within the world of Hawkins become even more developed as the series moves forward. She’s already making inroads with Finn Wolfhard’s Mike, one of Max’s earliest detractors, but she has a ways to go before she becomes friends with Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven: “I don’t know what’s going to happen [next], but me and Millie are hoping for more scenes together. We have to have somewhere to go with the storyline. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.”
There’s also Max’s home life, which was briefly glimpsed during season two, when viewers learned that Billy doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to his abusive ways. Sink hopes the spotlight will shine on the darker side of domestic life in Hawkins next season: “I want to know more about Max’s family, and I’m hoping we get to see her relationship with Billy, and even Billy’s relationship with his dad — I want to see how that plays out.”
Then there’s the future that’s impossible to predict. Season two introduced brand new players into the Hawkins mix, and season three will most assuredly follow suit. Now that she’s a veteran around these Stranger parts, what advice does Sink have for the next young actor who will inevitably find him or herself drawn into this Upside Down universe?
“There’s no way to prepare you,” she says, giving advice to that currently unknown star. “I would say that things are going to change. It’s going to be different. For me, it wasn’t overnight. It was gradual. We filmed the season and nobody knew about me; my character was a secret. And now that it’s been released, it’s like, wow, OK, things are changing! So I would say, have fun. It’s going to be great. Things are going to be different, but for the better.”
Follow THR.com/StrangerThings for more interviews, theories and deep dives about season two and beyond.