Published Jul 03, 2019Nearly two years after the second season of Stranger Things arrived on Netflix, Stranger Things 3 is finally right around the corner. While the new season is filled with the same familial drama, gory science fiction and '80s homages, it feels remarkably fresh.
Veteran actor Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Saw) and relative newcomer Dacre Montgomery (Power Rangers) are two of those reasons. Elwes makes his Stranger Things debut in the third season as money-hungry Mayor Larry Kline, while Montgomery joined the cast in season two as mullet-sporting bad boy Billy Hargrove.
"They all made me feel so welcome right away," says Elwes of the Stranger Things cast and crew, "and that's always a great thing when you're a new guy showing up. You never know what to expect."
For Stranger Things' biggest and boldest season yet, there are other new elements in the mix, chief among them the Starcourt Mall, which threatens to upend the social order of mid-'80s small-town Hawkins, Indiana. The location is a focal point of the new season's action, and also showcases the immersive nature of the show's production.
According to Elwes, the mall scenes were shot at an actual abandoned mall that was redressed by the crew. "Forty stores, [they] made them all operational. Working tills, you could go in and buy products — not fake products made by the prop department. They spent the money and got real Atari machines and everything. It was bonkers! And a working movie theatre and everything," reveals the actor.
According to both Elwes and Montgomery, it's the Duffer Brothers — real-life twin brothers, creative partners and Stranger Things co-creators Matt and Ross Duffer — that have kept Stranger Things feeling fresh, despite its origins as a tribute to the pop culture of a long-gone decade.
Says Elwes, "They're so sweet, the Duffers, they're like, 'We hope you like it Cary, we worked really hard on it.' And I walked on that set and was like, 'This is insane!' There are parts of this mall you'll never seen in the show! But because they wanted to make the atmosphere real for everybody, for all the actors, that's the level of detail, that's how they roll. They're incredible. Incredible."
Elwes is no stranger to the era. Now 56, the actor had his big break in 1987 as Westley, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, in The Princess Bride, but his roots in high-concept fantastical fiction run deeper than that. "I was there opening day of Alien, I was there opening day of Blade Runner, I was there opening day of Raiders [of the Lost Ark]," Elwes recalls.
As to how Stranger Things stacks up compared to the works that inspired it, Elwes is more than effusive with his praise. "When I binge-watched [Stranger Things] with my wife, I literally told her, before we even got to the first title sequence of the first episode, I turned to her and went, 'This show's off the hook. These guys are brilliant.'"
Says Elwes, it's the characters of Stranger Things that keep the show relevant three season in, which he believes is "hard to do with a science fiction show.
"That's much easier as a filmmaker to make a two-hour film and have you engage with the characters. Imagine spreading that out over three seasons, and being able to do it and watch these characters grow and still be engaged. That's amazing talent to me."
Neither Elwes nor Montgomery find themselves on the heroic side of things this time around — Elwes' sleazebag mayor finds himself clashing with grizzled, but caring police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), while Montgomery's Billy Hargrove spent his time in Stranger Things 2 abusing his stepsister Max (Sadie Sink) and beating up prom king Steve (Joe Keery). The trailers promise more sinister behaviour from Hargrove, hinting at an important role in this season's extraterrestrial escapades, being linked to the supernatural beings that prey on the citizens of Hawkins.
Even as the season's villains, the actors say that there are depths to the characters that will still be showcased throughout the season. Says Montgomery, "I asked the Duffers at the start, I said I'd really like to see the backstory of Billy's biological mother, and that's something that's explored this season, I can confidently say. So that's the backstory component in that respect."
According to the actors, a cast member's suggestion ending up in the final cut is not an uncommon practice when it comes to Stranger Things. Says Montgomery, "from the start, it's so collaborative, definitely. And I think that's what makes it the show that it is. Because the Duffers are given the freedom by Netflix, and then the Duffers give us the freedom. In working in tandem, I think it's the set is really conducive to that creative passion that I think most of the time leads to hopefully a good product."
Adds Elwes, "I think it puts everyone on their A-game because now you're really excited. It's one thing to go work for a benign dictator who tells you, 'No, this is exactly, you need to say it like this, stand there, sit there,' it's another thing when you show up to a set where the directors have cast you because they're confident that they know you can bring something to the table."
Stranger Things 3 arrives on Netflix on July 4. Read Exclaim!'s full review here.