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How old the cast of Stranger Things really is

Many aspects of Stranger Things diverge from reality. The Mind Flayer, telekinesis, and that secret Russian base underneath an American mall are all straight out of sci-fi. However, there's one element of the show that's very real — the relationships between the characters, especially the kids. 

Will, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are the courageous middle schoolers taking on demonic forces in their small town of Hawkins, Indiana. They're joined by Eleven and Max, and they're backed up by older teens Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve, as well as Will and Jonathan's mom, Joyce, and the town's antiheroic police chief, Jim Hopper. And over the course of several seasons, these characters grow emotionally as they battle nefarious scientists, Soviet agents, and otherworldly monsters. 

They're also starting to get kinda old. Season one takes place in 1983 and was released in 2016, while season three is set in 1985 and hit Netflix in 2019. In other words, both the characters and the actors have seen a lot of birthdays since the show started. And if you're wondering how old the cast and characters of Stranger Things are, well, let's do a little digging into the weird world of Hawkins to find out.

David Harbour (Jim Hopper)

David Harbour and Winona Ryder are the only two main cast members who lived through the '80s, but they had very different experiences. In the show, their two characters are about the same age, having gone to high school together, but in real life, Harbour was born on April 10, 1975, making him nearly four years younger than Ryder. While she was a teen star, he was an aspiring actor waiting for his break, but he was aware of her. He admitted to the LA Times that Ryder "was [his] high school crush".

As for their ages, Harbour and Jim Hopper are pretty much peers. If you know Jim Hopper's Stranger Things backstory, you know that he was 35 in the summer of 1977, which makes him 43 in the summer of 1985. When season three came out in July 2019, Harbour was 44, so their ages are pretty close.

Waiting until your early 40s to find fame was nearly too much for Harbour. Before he became forever associated with Stranger Things' gold-hearted grouch, he'd built up a respectable resume on TV and in a couple of Oscar-worthy movies, with Brokeback Mountain and Revolutionary Road. But after his NBC show State of Affairs was canceled, Harbour was ready to quit Hollywood ... and then he received the script for Stranger Things.

Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers)

Winona Ryder was easily the most famous actor to sign up for Stranger Things before the show started. In the series, she plays Joyce Byers, an axe-wielding mom who will stop at nothing — not even dimension-jumping tentacled monsters — to rescue her son Will.

Joyce is around 43 in the third season of Stranger Things. (She and Hopper went to high school together, and Hopper is 43 in 1985.) As for Ryder, the actress was born on October 29, 1971, which means she was actually 13 in the summer of 1985 and turned 48 the year the third season came out in 2019.

Age was actually one factor that persuaded Ryder to give TV a go after a successful movie career. She told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that the TV shows being made today are more interesting to her than "giant blockbusters that are a bit harder if you're a 44-year-old woman."

Ryder first found fame in the '80s, thanks to cult classics like Beetlejuice and Heathers. As the Stranger Things timeline edges closer to her teen movie heyday, it remains to be seen whether the show will give a nod to her hits from the era.

Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler)

The end of season three of Stranger Things sees the gang about to head off to their freshman year of high school — and they thought monsters were terrifying. That makes them about 12 in the first season and 14 in the third season. In reality, Finn Wolfhard, who plays de facto group leader Mike Wheeler, was born on December 23, 2002, which means he was about 16 when season three hit Netflix in July 2019.

Wolfhard's first big credit set the tone for his future spooky roles. He had a small role in an episode of Supernatural (Lizzie Borden's home was involved, there was a suspicious murder, the usual.) Just before season two of Stranger Things was released on Netflix, he starred in Andy Muschietti's adaptation of It, followed by It: Chapter Two two years later. And in a move that would undoubtedly make Mike very proud, he's set to appear in Ghostbusters: Afterlife in 2021. 

In addition to being a successful actor before being old enough to vote, Wolfhard has formed multiple serious bands, the most recent being the Aubreys, an indie pop duo whose other half is drummer Malcolm Craig. Wolfhard and Craig have been friends since they were 11, which wasn't that long ago, after all.

Noah Schnapp (Will Byers)

In the third season of Stranger Things, Will struggles when his friends' interests start to veer from retreating to Mike's basement to play Dungeons & Dragons to spending time with their respective girlfriends. Will is also more vulnerable than the others. His time in the Upside Down not only leaves him with a psychic link to the Mind Flayer, it also understandably makes him want to return to more innocent times, even as his friends want to grow up.

If Will seems younger than his peers, it might be because Noah Schnapp is actually nearly two years younger than most of the actors playing his classmates. He was born October 3, 2004. The actor closest to his age is Millie Bobby Brown, whereas Caleb McLaughlin is three years older than him. That means that in the third season, when Will was 13 or 14, Schnapp would've been about 14, too.

Even though the age gap works to his advantage as Will, Schnapp actually auditioned for Mike. And as he told NKD magazine, he was away at summer camp — something Will would probably enjoy — when he found out he'd gotten the part. He was also at camp when the first season came out, and he came back to find out that people were, to say the least, into it.

Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven)

Stranger Things has made all of its young cast — and some of its older cast — into stars, but perhaps none more so than British actress Millie Bobby Brown. Brown's portrayal of the superpowered but troubled Eleven has made the character iconic (and relaunched Eggos as a thing.) But she was only 12 when she first played the part.

Brown was born on February 19, 2004, making her the second-youngest main cast member behind Noah Schnapp. We don't know exactly how old Eleven is in Stranger Things, but given that her mother has been trying to find her for 12 years by season one, she's around 12 in 1983. That means she would be 14 in summer 1985, about the same age as Will, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Max. Brown was 15 when the season came out in July 2019, but she was probably around 14 during filming.

If Stranger Things proved anything, it's don't underestimate young teens, and Brown continues to prove that in real life too. Her co-star and on-screen father figure, David Harbour, compared her to Meryl Streep in an interview with Variety. Helena Bonham Carter, who played her mother in Enola Holmes, described her as "a phenomenon and really extraordinary" to Entertainment Weekly. And believe it or not, Brown also produced that movie. Like Eleven, she's young, but we're only just starting to see what she's capable of.

Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson)

At the start of season three, Dustin has just returned from the ingeniously named Camp Know Where, complete with makeshift radio tower and a mysterious long-distance girlfriend, Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). Dustin, like his friends, is heading into the first year of high school, which makes him about 14 at this point in the story. In real life, actor Gaten Matarazzo was born on September 8, 2002, which means he was 17 when the third season aired on Netflix in July 2019.

The gang's science nerd and graphic T-shirt connoisseur, Dustin is unapologetic about his geeky hobbies. But Matarazzo has a different interest — musical theater. Before Stranger Things made him Netflix famous at just 13, Matarazzo had already built up an impressive resume on the stage. He's played Benji in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and gutsy street kid Gavroche in Les Miserables.

This musical background came in handy for one memorable scene in season three of Stranger Things, in which Dustin and Suzie get on their radios and sing the "The NeverEnding Story," a song from the 1984 fantasy movie of the same name. Although the on-screen couple are supposed to be hundreds of miles apart, Pizzolo — also already a Broadway veteran — was actually on set while Matarazzo was performing. "We ended up harmonizing together," Matarazzo told The Hollywood Reporter. Pizzolo was born March 10, 2003, making her a few months younger than Matarazzo.

Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair)

Lucas and his friends are just about to enter high school, but actor Caleb McLaughlin is old enough to be attending college. McLaughlin was born on October 13, 2001, which means that when season three came out, he was about four years older than his character, and he's the oldest of the Stranger Things "kid" actors.

Even before he landed the show, McLaughlin had already played an iconic character on stage. He spent two years as young Simba in the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King. But despite being mostly clear of his teen years, McLaughlin hasn't backed down from addressing problems faced by many teenagers. He accidentally launched an Instagram campaign called Embrace Your Face — based on something his mom told him — when he tagged a photo of his face complete with spots, spot remover, and a caption that read, "People grow pimples, it happens, it's life, especially when you're a teenager. ... Don't care what anyone thinks." And on the Stranger Things set, he was the one who couldn't resist sliding down the escalators of Starcourt Mall. 

In other words, he's not outgrown Lucas just yet. As he told Coup De Main magazine, "We've grown up together. ... He's just become a part of me, and he is me now."

Sadie Sink (Max Mayfield)

Joining a gang of friends that's already been as well established as the Stranger Things kids is a tough job, but Max — and the actress who plays her — was up to the challenge.

Max arrived at Hawkins Middle School in 1984, which means she's about 14 in season three, the same as the rest of the kids. Sadie Sink was born on April 16, 2002, so she was 17 when season three aired, making her one of the older (young) actors.

Although Max and Lucas tease Dustin for his duet with Suzie — which they hear over the radio — Sink, like Caleb McLaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo, already has Broadway experience. In 2013, she played the ultimate musical role of little orphan Annie. She also appeared in one episode each of The Americans, Blue Bloods, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt before landing the part of Max.

According to Sink, she wasn't worried about fitting in with the cast. In fact, even though she and Millie Bobby Brown only had a handful of scenes together when Sink joined in season two, they're firm friends. But Sink was worried that fans wouldn't embrace Max like they had the other characters. "But I think Max's storyline kind of fits in there nicely," she told Marie Claire.

Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler)

Ironically, where the actors playing 14-year-olds are mostly a year or two older than their characters, the characters who really are in their late teens are played by people in their 20s. For example, Natalia Dyer plays aspiring journalist and fully fledged monster fighter Nancy Wheeler, who by season three has graduated from high school, making her 17 to 18 in 1985. In reality, Dyer was born January 13, 1995, making her 24 when season three aired in 2019.

As anyone who's watched any teen movie knows, older actors often play teens, some more convincingly than others. (Grease, looking at you.) Having an actor in their 20s play a teen makes things like sex scenes less uncomfortable, which explains why Dyer was cast as another teen in 2019's Yes, God, Yes. Here, she played a teenager raised in a religious family who's discovering her sexuality (with the help of a Nokia phone and that car scene from Titanic).

As someone who's playing teen roles to keep actual teens from being overly exposed on screen, Dyer feels a sense of protectiveness towards the younger actors. Speaking about some of the wildly inappropriate media coverage they've had to deal with, she told The Independent, "I feel protective over the younger kids even though they're not kids anymore, they're teens. They're all great people and all having to grow up in very crazy circumstances."

Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers)

As the oldest son of a single mother, Jonathan Byers has an old soul quality to him, but he's only supposed to be about 17 or 18. That older-than-his-years attitude may come from the fact that the actor who plays him, Charlie Heaton, does indeed have a few years on Jonathan.

Heaton was born on February 6, 1994, in Leeds, UK, so he would've been 25 in July 2019. (That's right, he's not really from Indiana.) His acting career started with small roles in a few British dramas, including Casualty, a medical soap opera that pops up on the resume of pretty much every famous British actor, including Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom, Tom Hiddleston, Martin Freeman and Daisy Ridley.

Heaton is relieved to be playing a teenager without actually having to be one. He told GQ in 2020, "I got my awkward years out of the way. I'm not having to grow up in the spotlight as a 14- or 15-year-old. If I look back at me at 15, I couldn't do what the kids do."

Joe Keery (Steve Harrington)

Steve Harrington — everyone's favorite bat-wielding, Demodog-fighting, perfectly quaffed babysitter — became an unexpected series hit, despite a rocky start as the high school popular kid who lured Nancy away from Barb (Shannon Purser). And that was before we saw the hilarious sailor outfit.

Joe Keery did such a good job as Steve that he was promoted to series regular in season two, but he originally auditioned to play Jonathan. In an interview with Vulture, he said that he realized quickly that he was better suited to Steve. "I felt I had a pretty good understanding of what they wanted the character to be ... [and] what I personally wanted to bring to him," he said.

There's a reason Steve exudes such a cool authority. Although Steve is supposed to be about 18 or 19 in the summer of 1985, Keery was born on April 24, 1992, which means he was 27 when season three came out. That also means he's the oldest of the young cast. And like many of his castmastes, Keery's other creative passion is music. In 2014, he joined psychedelic rock band Post Animal, and he played with them through the first season of Stranger Things. He left when the show made things awkward ("They don't want to be labelled as, like, Stranger Things band," he told NME), but in his downtime on set for season three, he managed to create his own EP under the stage name Djo.

Maya Hawke (Robin Buckley)

Just when Stranger Things fans thought the show couldn't best the Steve/Dustin combination that should be henceforth known as Dusteve, the series introduced a third character to disrupt the dynamic. Luckily, Robin Buckley proved to be an asset, just the kind of smart, tough, unimpressed, ice cream-scooping coworker Steve needed to knock him off his popular perch.

Robin and Steve were both in Mrs. Click's sophomore history class, which means that they're probably about the same age, 18 to 19. And actress Maya Hawke was pretty close to her character's age. She was born July 8, 1998, making her 21 when the third season was released in 2019.

Robin and Hawke have more than age — and appearance — in common. Hawke told NME that the showrunners, the Duffer brothers, originally envisioned Robin as a "snarky, dark, almost gothic '80s punk." However, as she explained, "I'm an Energizer bunny smile addict. ... So the character also shifted and became more like me as we were filming."

Dacre Montgomery (Billy Hargrove)

Max's stepbrother, Billy, was a bully from the day he zoomed into Hawkins High School in his blue Camaro. But no one could've been prepared for the major role he would play in season three as the Mind Flayer's main human minion.

Billy is about 17 or 18 in season three of Stranger Things — a fact that makes that whole Mrs. Wheeler flirtation even more disturbing. In real life, Dacre Montgomery was born November 22, 1994, so he would've been 24 when season three was released.

Montgomery proved he could deliver on Billy's wildest moments with his audition tape. He shared it with GQ in 2017, years before anyone knew the details of his season three story arc. It involved a thong, Duran Duran, and a leather jacket. The tape landed him a Skype interview with the Duffer brothers, who apparently told him that "it caused a bit of a stir at Netflix." Montgomery added, "Apparently, it was played in the big board meeting." You've got to be bold to survive Hawkins.

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