10 Surprising Facts About Stranger Things

Netflix
Netflix

The kids and monsters of Hawkins, Indiana, own our Steven Spielberg-loving hearts. Eleven and the crew navigate adolescence in a dangerous world filled with face-splitting, interdimensional beasts, and phones that do not work unless they're tethered to the wall. Terrifying!

The second season of Stranger Things expanded the mythology of The Upside Down, gave Eleven a big city makeover, and delivered the Dustin/Steve bromance we didn’t know we needed, but they’ve just now started filming season 3, so we’ll have to wait a while to explore life in the brand-new mall coming to town.

In the meantime, grab your flashlight and Huffy bike and let’s learn 10 facts about Stranger Things.

1. THE SHOW IS BASED ON A REAL TIME TRAVEL PROJECT.

David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

There aren’t any transdimensional horror-beasts rampaging through quiet suburban towns (that we know of), but Stranger Things is based on real conspiracy theories about the United States government conducting reality-bending experiments on children. Specifically, the Montauk Project, which has been referenced in other fiction from Lost to Thomas Pynchon’s novel Bleeding Edge. Much of what Eleven experiences in the laboratory corresponds to the alleged events of the Montauk Project. The show was also initially called Montauk and set on the far edge of the Long Island peninsula. (Montauk was also the inspiration for the town in Jaws, another story of a monster menacing a small community, and one of many Spielberg movies that inspired Stranger Things.)

2. THEY AUDITIONED 906 BOYS and 307 GIRLS FOR THE MAIN ROLES.

The Duffer brothers and casting director Carmen Cuba undertook the gargantuan task of hearing from 1213 child actors to get the right people for what would be crucial roles. They had them read scenes from the pilot episode as well as scenes from Stand By Me. You can tell from the ratio that they extended the net widest to find Eleven, and, despite a sea of child actors at their disposal, they cast Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin immediately. Smart move.

3. STEPHEN KING HAD A HAND IN CASTING MILLIE BOBBY BROWN.

When you’re going up against that kind of competition for a role, it helps to have someone influential in your corner. Millie Bobby Brown had a heavyweight. The master of horror saw Brown in the BBC show Intruders and publicly praised her work on Twitter, giving her a leg up in the race to become a stranger thing.

4. THE SHOW WAS ALMOST AN ANTHOLOGY SERIES WITH DIFFERENT CHARACTERS AND SETTINGS EVERY SEASON.

The Stranger Things that we know almost didn’t come to be. The Duffer brothers meant for it to kick off with a monster-centric flash of 1980s nostalgia, but then they wanted it to tell new eerie tales and progress through the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and then 2020 in a final season that would air in 2020. The show would have said goodbye to Eleven, Dustin, Will, Mike, Lucas, and the rest of the cast after the first season. Luckily, they realized how special the team they’d assembled was and chose to keep focusing on their original story.

5. DACRE MONTGOMERY HAD AN UNUSUALLY SHIRTLESS AUDITION TAPE.

Dacre Montgomery in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

Dacre Montgomery played the greasy-headed Billy Hargrove in the second season. The character was a nod to the classic Stephen King villain Randall Flagg, who has appeared in several of the author's novels. But in his audition, Montgomery channeled a lot of other demons. He read through the prepared scenes, but then added a Duran Duran song in the middle of reciting the scene where he tries to run down Max’s (Sadie Sink) new friends, started dancing, went a little nutty, and then ended the entire thing with a newfound mustache and without a shirt. Ross Duffer said they hired him without needing to fly him out to Los Angeles. “I’ve watched thousands of auditions now, and it’s by far the most bonkers that I’ve witnessed,” he said. Good thing they played it at the Netflix board meeting.

6. ELEVEN IS MODELED AFTER E.T.

In the first season, Eleven dons a pink dress and absurd blonde wig in an homage to E.T., but the Easter egg is also a clue to her entire, otherworldly character. “[The Duffer brothers] told me that the performance that they wanted me to resemble was E.T. and that relationship between E.T. and the kids,” Brown said. "I thought that was very interesting, and Matt and Ross were like, ‘Basically you’re going to be an alien.'" Accordingly, Eleven (like Spielberg’s extraterrestrial wonder) does more with body language than dialogue.

7. BROWN ONCE SHOWED UP TO SET COVERED IN GLITTER.

Millie Bobby Brown in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

While discussing the unique challenges of working with a young cast, the Duffer brothers like to point to a story where production halted for a brief period of time because Brown showed up to set inexplicably covered completely in glitter. No, they never figured out where the glitter came from. No, they never have to worry about that type of thing happening to David Harbour.

8. THE DUFFER BROTHERS PULLED A MORBID PRANK ON NOAH SCHNAPP’S MOTHER.

Noah Schnapp plays Will Byers, whose disappearance sets the entire show into motion and whose fake dead body covers up the government’s secret project (for about five minutes). The show ordered a prop body from Fractured FX, and when it arrived, they used it to freak out Schnapp’s mom. “We immediately took Noah’s mom aside, told her we had something to show her, and led her into a dark closet where we had propped up this frighteningly realistic corpse of her son,” the Duffer brothers said. “After the initial shock, she loved it.” Schnapp’s mom posed for pictures with the fake corpse, which she then texted to her friends.

9. THE GANG WENT TRICK-OR-TREATING TOGETHER.

James Landry Hébert, Kai Greene, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Millie Bobby Brown, and Linnea Berthelsen in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

It’s probably a lot easier to remain anonymous when you’re behind a mask, even if you’re on a wildly popular Netflix show. All the kids are famous for being friends in real life (they even have a group chat called Stranger Texts), and they’ve even adventured out on Halloween together. “This one kid was like, 'Are you the cast from Stranger Things?'" Brown explained. “And I was like, 'No, I’m Harley Quinn.'"

10. BOB NEWBY ALMOST HAD A VERY DIFFERENT FATE.

Sean Astin’s lovable lunk Bob Newby gave the second season a puzzle master and a Boy Scout’s moral compass, but the character evolved in a lot of ways since his creation. At first, the Duffer brothers weren’t sure they wanted Astin for the role because, while he’s a living nod to The Goonies, he might have stood out as being too famous as a geek icon. Then they planned to kill him off early on, but Astin and the character were too good. What’s really surprising though is the way they intended to dispose of him: Will was supposed to murder Bob.

Evil Will was supposed to show up far earlier in the season and end the man dating his mom. Fortunately, the plan was scrapped and Astin convinced the Duffer brothers to give him a Jaws-like, gruesome death. You died a hero, Bob!

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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