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!

Orson Welles's Former Hollywood Hills Estate Is Taking Vacation Reservations

Fred Mott, Getty Images
Fred Mott, Getty Images

Orson Welles's former Hollywood Hills estate is a perfect place to get away from society, grow a bushy beard, and brood over a bottle of whiskey.

Interested? The late Hollywood icon's 3000-square-foot home is available to rent for about $755 a night through HomeAway. The house, which sits on its own private 15,000-square-foot knoll, was home to Welles at the very beginning of his career and is where he wrote the screenplay for 1941's Citizen Kane. Bring along your typewriter and try to channel some of his greatness.

Quite a few other celebrities have inhabited the house as well, including Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and David Bowie. Features of the grand four-bedroom mansion—built in 1928—include a lagoon pool, Jacuzzi, deck, and both canyon and city views.

There's never been a better time to rent Welles's abode: his final film, The Other Side of the Wind, is set to premiere at this month's Venice Film Festival before arriving on Netflix. The unfinished flick, which was shot intermittently between 1970 and 1976, has been completed and restored for its much-anticipated release. (Of course the mansion has plenty of TVs for your viewing pleasure.)

The property has a three- to five-night stay minimum, depending on the season. For more pictures, see below or head to HomeAway. And since you're already in vacation-planning mode, another creative celebrity abode to consider is F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's Montgomery, Alabama home, which is available to rent via Airbnb.

Orson Welles' house
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles mansion
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

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