There are many strange things that occur in the Netflix series "Stranger Things." Its producers and young cast have been gearing up for their second season, while also making time for our Mark Strassmann:
In 1983, a boy in Indiana disappears. His friends stumble upon a sinister government cover-up … and a creature from another dimension.
If that sounds like a nightmare Steven Spielberg dreamed up with Stephen King, well, that's the point.
"When we hear that kids are watching 'Stranger Things' and getting scared, and maybe shielding their eyes, like, that to me is the best thing in the world," said co-director Ross Duffer.
Thirty-three-year-old twins Matt and Ross Duffer are the creators, writers and directors of "Stranger Things." Their eight-episode first season on Netflix was a phenomenon, scared up 18 Emmy nominations.
It stars Winona Ryder as the mom of the missing boy who loses it. "Things just go south for Joyce pretty fast," Ryder laughed. "I think I have one scene where I'm not freaking out.
"I had to go in some pretty dark places, probably aged about ten years, you know? But you just kind of have to go there."
This past spring Strassmann visited Atlanta, where filming for season two was underway. One set, Mike Wheeler's basement, was graced with a poster from John Carpenter 1982 sci-fi film, "The Thing."
"This is one of my favorite movies," said Matt Duffer.
And they have a lot of favorite movies.
Much of the series draws from their childhood fascination with the science-fiction, horror, and adventure films they watched growing up in North Carolina.
And because those films often captured suburban life in the '80s, the Duffer brothers saw their own lives reflected on screen.
"That's why we fell in love with those movies and those stories," said Matt. "Because they were telling stories about people who we recognized in a setting that we recognized -- sort of small-town suburbia, oftentimes about kids that felt very much like us and our friends."
They'd started making movies in the third grade. "They were terrible," laughed Matt.
One was an adaptation of a card game called "Magic: The Gathering." "It was a really nerdy, like, fantasy stuff," he added.
"Just us, like, beating each other up with plastic swords," said Ross. "And we just sort of kept teaching ourselves. And it got a little bit better and a little bit better over time."
Better enough that these film geeks evoke not just nostalgia but déjà vu in "Stranger Things," with scenes that recall their inspirations: "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," "The Shining," "Stand By Me." Many of those movies became classics, in part, because their hearts beat with kids, and friendships, that seemed believable, relatable and timeless. "Stranger Things" has that, too.
The Duffers say they auditioned about a thousand young actors. "There's nothing more grating than a bad child performance," Ross laughed. "It's just the worst."
They cast four boys: Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, and 14-year-old Gaten Matarazzo, who has a rare genetic disorder. The Duffers wrote it into his character.
"When you're born with cleidocranial dysplasia, I have extra teeth that shouldn't be there," Matarazzo said. "And they don't grow in properly because of the way my skull is shaped."
"So when you went for other acting jobs, was that an issue?" asked Strassmann.
"It was, actually. I would go in for, like, commercial auditions, they would say to me, 'Hey, you're a good kid. But you might want to get your teeth fixed.'"
The breakout star may be 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. The British actress plays a character known simply as Eleven. Her telekinetic powers do most of the talking for her. She spoke only 246 words throughout the first season, but that was enough to win her an Emmy nomination.
She told Strassmann she loved her short hair look: "It's not like every other teenage girl right now. Every teenage girl is usually blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful, oh my goodness, short skirts, miniskirts, crop tops. No, I'm good. First of all, I would like a shaved head and some comfy clothes, and that'll do me!"
"On the other hand, I would be blond hair, blue eyes," laughed Finn Wolfhard.
From new faces to familiar faces like Winona Ryder, the star of "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands," it's a role many are calling a comeback. "They start using that word when you're basically in your late 20s," she said.
"I understand the debate about roles for women, like, my age. There are times when it feels like there's a real drought. But I do think you can get lucky with certain shows or certain directors.
"And hopefully that will keep happening. I don't know!" she laughed.
The trailer for season two of "Stranger Things" (which debuts in October) already has more than 45 million views online. But don't expect many clues.
Are there more monsters out there? "There's more evil, yes. I'll say that," replied Matt. "There's a greater evil."
This much we do know: Season two will be another love letter to 1980s cinema from two of its biggest fans -- brothers who never grew out of their childhood fascination with things that go bump in the night.
To watch a trailer for the second season of "Stranger Things" click on the video player below.
For more info:
- "Stranger Things" (Netflix)