Perhaps no one is harder to pin down for an interview than any of the young actors on Stranger Things, including Noah Schnapp, who is one of the ensemble’s breakout stars for his performance as the possessed Will Byers. The main cast -- which also includes Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Sadie Sink -- have become Hollywood’s it stars since the show premiered in the summer of 2016 and returned with a highly anticipated second season last Halloween.
In between seasons, Brown booked the Godzilla sequel as well as Calvin Klein’s latest fashion campaign; Wolfhard played Richie in the hugely successful It remake; Matarazzo became the face of Verizon Fios; and Schnapp recently completed filming on the WWII movie Waiting for Anya, opposite veteran actors Anjelica Huston and Jean Reno. Now the cast and crew, including creators the Duffer brothers and executive producer Shawn Levy, are back in Atlanta, where filming on season three of Stranger Things started in late April.
Speaking with ET by phone during a break in production, Schnapp can say very little about the new episodes, which are shrouded in secrecy. “I’m really excited,” he says, adding: “I’m looking forward to working with my cast and crew again.”
There are a few things that audiences now know about the next eight episodes: the show will take place in the summer of 1985; there are some new characters in the mix -- most notably played by Maya Hawke, Cary Elwes and Jake Busey; and Will is going to get a much-deserved break from the “hell” he’s been put through in the first two seasons.
“I’m just really excited that I'm going to have a lot of fun this year,” Schnapp says, speaking to the fact that Will was put through the ringer,spending season two largely possessed by something from the Upside Down after having been rescued from the alternate universe in season one.
But it’s all that torment he’s suffered onscreen that has earned the actor his first-ever MTV Movie and TV Award nomination -- two, in fact, for Most Frightened Performance and Best On-Screen Team -- as well as considerable Emmy buzz for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. If nominated, the 13-year-old would tie with Johnny Crawford (The Rifleman) as the youngest male performer for a drama series ever nominated.
“It’s very cool to be talked about like that,” Schnapp says of the crazy ride he’s been on following the success of the second season, which really pushed the actor to new creative heights. “I remember reading the scripts and just thinking, Oh, yes, I can’t wait to get to do all of this, because in season two, I got to do so many different things.”
Possessed by a being from the Upside Down, Will was slowly tormented by something that the rest of his friends and mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) couldn’t see or comprehend, leading to unexplained seizures, invasive medical examinations and growing isolation.
Ready for a challenge, the actor dove head-first into research, watching videos of people experiencing seizures and reading up on the physiological science behind them. To learn how to play possessed, he turned to none other than The Exorcist. And when it came to some of his emotional scenes, he relied on his experienced scene partner, Ryder, for advice and direction.
“She talked me through that,” he says, referring to the scene from episode four when Joyce pushes Will to open up to her about what’s happened to him. Growing tearful and visibly upset, Will attempts to explain: “It came for me and I tried to make it go away. But it got me, mom. I felt it everywhere -- everywhere. I still feel it. I just want this to be over.” It’s one of those moments that sends chills up a viewer’s spine -- it did for this writer. “I was really happy how that turned out,” Schnapp says. “What's best about acting is when you get to act off a really good actor.”
That's not always the case for his character, like when he’s in the field alone and supposed to taken over by a creature that’s added in post-production. “I have nothing to act off of. I just have to stare at the sky and yell at it,” he says, adding that a stretch of imagination and trust in the directors is required to pull it off. “It's just nice to see something from paper come to life on the screen.”
Growing up onscreen has also been a strange phenomenon for Schnapp, who was 11 when the show premiered and will be 14 by the time the series returns to Netflix. He likes the idea of having his youth preserved on film, even if it means noticing things that embarrass him as an actor. “I have trouble watching myself sometimes because I nitpick the littlest things,” he admits, while finding it fun to appreciate how much his voice has changed from season one until now.
Ultimately, though, age is just a number on the Stranger Things set, where the biggest stars are the youngest ones. They’re also part of a new generation of actors -- from Young Sheldon’s Iain Armitage to Grown-ish’s Yara Shahidi -- that have recently proven themselves as formidable talents and are earning respect within the industry. Everyone from Ryder to the Duffers and Levy treat each of them like adults, from offering advice to bouncing ideas off of. “They work with us and we have input, too,” Schnapp acknowledges. “It’s nice to be treated like that. That’s definitely the one thing I’m really happy about.”