What the cast of Stranger Things looks like in real life

A Spielbergian love letter to the '80s from creators Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things caught millions of Netflix subscribers by surprise in 2016, quickly becoming one of the streaming services' most watched shows. The sibling showrunners managed to avoid the dreaded second season syndrome and returned with a satisfying sequel in 2017, which reunited most of our favorites (except Barb, sadly) and introduced a few new faces too. 

Season 2 of the nostalgia-inducing, Easter egg-laden show propelled its young stars to levels of fame they couldn't have dreamed of when they answered that first casting call. They've all formed a real bond, according to executive producer Shawn Levy, who told USA Today that they were "delightfully mischievous and giggly — sometimes distractingly so." But what are the kids of Hawkins, Indiana like away from the cameras? This is what the cast of Stranger Things looks like in real life.

Millie Bobby Brown

Born in Spain to English parents, Millie Bobby Brown spent the early part of her childhood between the UK and the US, though she doesn't recall exactly where she was when she first decided she wanted to become an actress. "I get asked when I first knew I wanted to act so often, and I genuinely can't answer it," she told Vogue. "I got the bug and that's it." Brown made a few minor TV appearances before winning the part of psychokinetic runaway Eleven (she popped up briefly in both Modern Family and Grey's Anatomy), but Stranger Things was her first major gig.

As the breakout star of the show, she quickly booked a part in Universal's Godzilla sequel, King of the Monsters, which wrapped in 2017 and is set for release in 2019. Brown plays the daughter of Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler and will reprise the role in the studio's first big crossover, Godzilla vs. Kong, in 2020. With a huge following on social media and a modeling contract to boot, the talented tween is fast becoming a superstar, but she doesn't want anyone to forget that she's still just a kid.

"I don't like showing off my skin," she told Variety when asked about all the cover shoots she'd been offered. "If I'm in a photo shoot and they're like, 'Can you wear a crop top?' I'm like, 'No. No, not yet.' When that day comes I'm going to be, like, 18."

Finn Wolfhard

Thanks to his appearance in a 2014 episode of the CW's The 100, Finn Wolfhard already had some sci-fi experience under his belt coming into Stranger Things as Mike Wheeler. He took center stage alongside his mysterious houseguest Eleven in season 1, showcasing an impressive range for such a young actor — enough to land him a lead part in the 2017 big-screen adaptation of the Stephen King horror classic It. The success of that film has upped his profile even more, something he doesn't always appreciate.

"My friends have been harassed for their numbers so people can get to me," he told Coup de Main. "I do try my best to reach out to fans on Twitter and Instagram sometimes, but unfortunately it has to be random because I just don't have time." Wolfhard was once branded "heartless" for refusing to sign autographs for Stranger Things fans, and in June 2018 he lost his temper with an audience member while performing with his band, Calpurnia. "They were like, 'I love Stranger Things!'" he recounted to Teen Vogue. "And I was like… 'You know what I like more? Music. And that's what we're here for.'"

Wolfhard is still a firm favorite among fans of the show, who will see his onscreen relationship with Millie Bobby Brown develop in season 3. "Mike and Eleven and are going strong, so that's a relationship that continues," executive producer Shawn Levy told The Hollywood Reporter.

Gaten Matarazzo

He starred in the Broadway production of Les Misérables as a child, but Gaten Matarazzo only had a single screen credit to his name when he auditioned for the part of Dustin Henderson in Stranger Things, having appeared briefly in a season 2 episode of NBC's The Blacklist. It wasn't through a lack of trying, however. The New Jersey native was born with cleidocranial dysplasia, a condition where you are born without collarbones. "It affects your facial growth, your skull growth, it affects your teeth," he told Today. "I needed a lot of surgery."

Matarazzo used his post-Stranger Things fame to raise awareness of cleidocranial dysplasia and received countless letters of support after he revealed that his disability often stopped him from getting parts. "My lisp, me being shorter, and having the teeth issue meant writers couldn't 'write in my disability,'" he revealed to the BBC. But the Duffers did just that, giving Dustin the exact same condition and even allowing bullies to use it as ammunition in the show.  

In December 2017, Matarazzo told MTV that he would love to team up with David Harbour's Jim Hopper in season 3, but he couldn't confirm any actual plot details. All we know for sure is that the third season is going to focus more on character development and less on the monsters. "What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on," Matt Duffer told IndieWire.

Caleb McLaughlin

Like Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin began his career on the stage, playing the young version of Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King from 2012 to 2014. He came into Stranger Things with TV experience similar to most of his on-show friends (he appeared in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and completed a short stint on Shades of Blue), but securing the part of Lucas Sinclair meant going through his toughest audition process to date.

"First I had an audition and I had to do a self-tape," he told Broadway World. "I got a callback a week later and I went into the city to do two more auditions, but they weren't at the same time. Then I got another callback to go to LA to do a test to see how I interacted with the main character, Mike." Like Mike, Lucas is set to go through the ups and downs of young love in season 3.

Executive producer Shawn Levy has revealed that Lucas and "Mad Max" (Sadie Sink) will also be going strong in the new season. "But again, they're like 13 or 14-year-old kids, so what does romance mean at that stage of life? It can never be simple and stable relationships and there's fun to that instability." McLaughlin will be seen in Steven Soderbergh's High Flying Bird before he returns to Hawkins in 2019.

Noah Schnapp

Noah Schnapp originally auditioned for the role of Mike Wheeler, but was equally excited to learn he'd won the part of Will Byers when he got a phone call from the Duffer Brothers during summer camp. "Honestly, when my parents called me, they were like, 'We have someone on the phone for you.' And I was like, 'Who is it?' And they were like, 'It's the Duffer Brothers, those people from Stranger Things!' I thought they were lying."

Schnapp had already made his film debut at this stage, getting off to a dream start with a part in Steven Spielberg's 2015 spy thriller Bridge of Spies. "Working with Mr. Spielberg also was just such an amazing experience and he helped me a lot," he told AOL. "He was always jumping in helping me." Schnapp went on to voice Charlie Brown in The Peanuts Movie before landing the part of Will, who came back from the Upside Down in season 1 only to end up getting possessed in season 2.

"Will, he definitely went through a lot last season," Schnapp told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was crazy to film just because of the kind of stuff that I had to do." The young star revealed that his Exorcist moment in the season 2 finale took all night to film, but he can't wait to do it all again. "Season three, honestly, it's, like, amazing," he told E! News. "I think it's better than one and two."

Natalia Dyer

Nancy Wheeler starts out as your typical '80s high school girl, but by the end of season 1 she's far from a stereotype, diving head first into the Upside Down in search of her missing friend Barb. Natalia Dyer first appeared on our screens in 2009's Hannah Montana: The Movie, playing the daughter of a jaded journalist intent on ruining the titular character's singing career. Dyer saves the day when she freaks out at the sight of Miley, forcing her dad to have a change of heart.

She went on to land the lead female role in the 2014 teen indie romance I Believe in Unicorns, which led to a smattering of similar offers. "I do see a lot of roles that are, like, the girlfriend or the love interest or the girl next door," she told Cosmopolitan. "Maybe not totally well-rounded kinds of characters — women who are more of a plot device in a way. It was really nice to see a character like Nancy. She does have that love triangle and boy drama aspect to her, but she's independent and strong."

Dyer has several projects in various stages of post-production at the moment, but she still can't stop thinking about Stranger Things, even if she doesn't know what her role will be in season 3. "I'd love to work with the kids more," she told Elle. "David Harbour is amazing. I'd love to keep working with Brett Gelman and, of course, Winona [Ryder]!"

Joe Keery

Joe Keery had already been in a hit TV show when he won the role of Nancy's creep-turned-hero boyfriend Steve Harrington, having appeared as a spoiled teen trying to launch a career as a rapper in Fox's hip-hop drama Empire in 2015. He made his feature film debut that same year in the critically acclaimed Henry Gamble's Birthday Party, but Stranger Things would end up being his breakout vehicle.

He's part of Stranger Things now, but Keery was certain he wouldn't be around for season 2 after his questionable behavior in the earliest episodes. "I remember reading the original draft and being like, 'Whoa, this guy sucks,'" he told Marie Claire. "Just super aggressive — primarily the idea of the scene in the bedroom in the first episode, but a whole lot more aggressive. I was kinda monster food."

Of course, Steve is a good guy in the end, and joins the fight against the Demogorgon. His status as a fan favorite grew even further in the second season after he became a reluctant babysitter, something executive producer Shawn Levy is well aware of. "We'll definitely get to see some more of Steve Harrington in season three, and I'll just say we won't be abandoning the Dad Steve magic," Levy teased. "I don't want to say much more, but I literally feel that we were walking along and we stumbled onto a gold mine with Dad Steve."

Charlie Heaton

When they're not busy teaming up with Nancy, Steve and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) are competing for her affections in very different ways. In season 1, Steve exuded confidence while Jonathan admired Nancy from a distance through the lens of his camera, earning himself a reputation as a bit of a creep. While Nancy was still with Steve come the end of season 1, Jonathan was originally supposed to have the last laugh.

"That relationship happens originally," Heaton told Marie Claire. "They got together, there was a kissing scene in the screen test. But the way they've done it was much more interesting, and a credit to Joe's acting." Jonathan had to wait until season 2 to finally win Nancy over, but will they end the third season as an item? Don't count on it.

For a while it was rumored that Heaton wouldn't be returning at all after he got busted at LAX for alleged drug possession, but he maintains he was never charged. Digital Spy predict that Jonathan will be the first main character to be killed off in the upcoming third season, as it makes the most "narrative sense." Many fans would be sad to see Heaton go, but he has a bright future nonetheless — he's already wrapped on the X-Men spinoff New Mutants and is likely to reprise the role of Cannonball in future films.

Winona Ryder

Although she's remembered as more of a '90s icon, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands star Winona Ryder is very much a part of the Stranger Things nostalgia effect. That being said, the part the Duffer brothers asked her to play — the disheveled and distressed single mother of Will and Jonathan — was quite different from anything she'd done before, as she explained to TIME.

"The first episodes, I'm just a wreck. And I'm sort of old school in my approach to acting. Like, if I have to cry, I have to really cry, I really have to go there mentally." Ryder said. "Usually on a film there's a couple of scenes, but this was my first time doing eight episodes of something, and let me tell you, crying all day — wow." Season 2 found Joyce Byers in more emotional turmoil than ever as she battled to save Will from a supernatural menace for a second year running. She'll be able to rest easier in season 3, as executive producer Shawn Levy has confirmed he and the Duffers are going to ease up on Will.

If she isn't busy being a nervous wreck, what will she be doing? Many fans are hoping that she'll finally hook up with Jim Hopper, now that poor Bob is out of the way. The couple have been getting shipped from day one, and David Harbour is said to be eager for it to happen.

David Harbour

David Harbour's resume stretches back to the late '90s, when he got his start on Broadway starring in the revival of The Rainmaker. His theater career has run parallel to his screen one in the nearly two decades he's been active, but he still wasn't well known until the Duffer brothers cast him as Jim Hopper, the downtrodden Hawkins Chief of Police. "The fact that they were willing to take a chance on me early was really remarkable," Harbour told GoldDerby. "They really wanted me and they really believed in me."

Harbour accepted the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble on behalf of the Stranger Things cast in 2016, delivering a memorable speech that "seized the political moment," as Variety reported. He wrapped production on the Hellboy reboot in December 2017, which took a toll on him physically. "It was hard," he said. "I'm 40 years old, and I'm running around punching giants." As soon as his shift as the titular half-demon hero was done, he started chowing down on donuts to get his "dad bod" back for Stranger Things season 3. Photos from the set reveal that Hopper also has some retro new facial hair this time out.

Shannon Purser

Shannon Purser's Barb was only a minor character in season 1, but she had a lasting impact on fans. The geeky sidekick vanishes early on after being ditched by Nancy, and shows up again towards the end of the season when her pale, lifeless body is discovered in the Upside Down. Despite minimal screen time, the relatable Barb became hugely popular among Stranger Things fans. Suddenly a showbiz career that Purser thought was a long way off launched overnight.

"I didn't even have a career before Stranger Things," she told The Guardian. "It was my first acting job, my first time on a professional set, and my character wasn't even supposed to be a big deal. It all just exploded." The #JusticeForBarb hashtag trended on Twitter after her death, which made her an instant pop-culture icon. "People have actually had my face tattooed on to their bodies." Talk about stranger things!

Purser was able to launch a career in television on the back of Barb, securing parts in Archie Comics adaptation Riverdale and NBC's Rise, in which she definitely channels her Stranger Things character. "Within the show, my character Annabelle is a theater kid," she told Teen Vogue. "She's had a really tough time, but I think she'll come out of it as a stronger person afterward." Purser is also playing the lead role in the Netflix rom-com Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.

Dacre Montgomery

Up-and-coming Australian actor Dacre Montgomery became the new human face of villainy in Stranger Things season 2, taking the reformed Steve Harrington's place as the alpha jerk in Hawkins. He won high praise for his portrayal of Billy Hargrove, an aggressive, chain-smoking bully who likes to take out his daddy issues on his stepsister. When he sat down to discuss all things Stranger Things with The Hollywood Reporter, Montgomery revealed that he drew on real-life experience when he filmed his intense video audition.

"I was bullied in high school," he said. "I always thought the bullies in school were these higher beings or these unstoppable forces of nature, but coming from their side of the lens in approaching this character? I came to realize they were probably just as insecure as I was in school."

2017 was a huge year for Montgomery. Not only did he join the cast of Stranger Things, he also got a taste of life on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster, playing the Red Ranger in the reboot of Power Rangers. A sequel is in doubt, but Montgomery is set to star alongside Russell Crowe and Nicholas Hoult in indie western True History of the Kelly Gang and he's returning as Billy in Stranger Things season 3. Expect to see a lot more of him in the coming years.

Sadie Sink

Another new character who made a big impact on season 2, Max (Billy's stepsister, played by Sadie Sink) rolled into Hawkins and stirred things up from the get-go. "If you watched the new season of Stranger Things, you'd agree she stole the show," Interview's Trey Taylor said of the redheaded teen. "She broods so expertly as Max Mayfield that she manages to dethrone last season's star Eleven as the resident cool girl." Max (a.k.a. "Mad Max") and Eleven didn't get off to a great start in season 2, with Eleven straight-up ignoring her when they first met. In real life, however, the two girls were becoming BFFs. 

"I loved having a new girl on the show, because it's nice not to be surrounded by boys," Brown told Variety, and Sink agreed. "Me and Millie automatically clicked because we were the only girls in the group," she added. According to Matt Duffer, we can expect the girls to start warming to each other in the show in the coming season. "We are excited to maybe see some more of those two together, moving forward," the co-creator told HelloGiggles. "I think the idea of their relationship evolving in some ways, definitely. [That's] something we're interested in."

Linnea Berthelsen

Eleven isn't going to be short on friends going into season 3, that's for sure. The opening sequence of season 2 introduced us to Kali (a.k.a. Eight), played by Danish newcomer Linnea Berthelsen. Like Eleven, she was experimented on at Hawkins Lab, one of several numbered test subjects. She's been seeking revenge for the pain and suffering she endured there ever since she managed to escape, and she sees Eleven as the perfect foot soldier in her superpowered posse. The character's arc split fans somewhat, but Berthelsen's chemistry with Millie Bobby Brown was undeniably strong in their scenes together.  

"It was good for me as an actor to see how she approached the work," Berthelsen told NME. "And I just learned a lot from it. We laughed a lot. We spent some time at the screen tests, and then we had a couple of days before we started shooting, but I think we had great chemistry from day one and we really got to talk about storylines. She was really excited about the storyline as well." There have been rumors that the Duffer brothers used season 2's divisive seventh episode as a kind of pilot for a Berthelsen-led spinoff, but the actress has denied this. "I honestly don't think so," she said.