Supernova Rising: A Conversation with Millie Bobby Brown

MANILA, Philippines — The chances of someone seeing the birth of a supernova with their naked eye within the next fifty years, according to astronomers, is pegged at a measly 20 percent. With the rise of Netflix’s ‘80s homage that is Stranger Things though, I think it's perfectly safe to say that we have already witnessed one. The supernova's name, you ask? Millie Bobby Brown.

Before you think it all got handed to her on a silver platter, however, Millie would be the first to remind you that no, it wasn't. It's just that she managed to put in her share of work — as all serious players in the industry are wont to do. Oh, and she's only 12, if you haven't noticed.

Born in Marbella, Spain to British parents Robert and Kelly, Millie found herself drawn to acting at a very young age, with the young actress signing up with an agent after the latter discovered her during one of her acting and drama class showcases.

Despite having a string of roles in projects such as Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, Modern Family, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as a lead role in Intruders, opposite Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, and John Simm, Millie’s career only took off to new, greater, heights after her compelling turn as the stoic and mysterious psychokinetic Eleven on Stranger Things — a series that earned high praise from one of horror fiction's most respected masters, Stephen King himself.

Hello, stranger

Millie Bobby Brown appears in a scene from Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX

Millie Bobby Brown appears in a scene from Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX


For the benefit of the uninitiated, Stranger Things is a supernatural drama revolving around the disappearance of a young boy, as well as the sudden appearance of the aforementioned Eleven, an enigmatic young girl with equally strange and mysterious powers.

A pop culture phenomenon in every sense of the word, Stranger Things has spurred quite a discussion among fans since its premiere, spawning not only message boards and forums on the subject, but also, countless memes and fan theories — things normally reserved for the likes of more established titles along the lines of say, Star Trek and The X-Files.

“I think it’s great!” Millie, a panelist at the recently concluded AsiaPOP Comic Con, says, when asked about her thoughts on the show’s reception. “I think the Duffers wanted to create an homage to the ‘80s and I’m happy that it turned out well and that it respected the likes of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.”

Dubbed by The Guardian as “a shot of ‘80s nostalgia to the heart,” and by the New York Times as “an eerie nostalgia fix” paying homage to the likes of cinematic classics Stand By Me, IT, Carrie, and Firestarter, Stranger Things bears all the trademarks of an ‘80s celluloid horror spectacle: jump scares, spooky woods, erratic power failures, and stretchy, rubberized walls. But more than its arsenal of lovingly reworked ‘80s horror tropes however, the show, helmed by the Duffer brothers of Hidden and Wayward Pines fame, has another, far more effective weapon up its sleeve: a stable of brilliant actors, at the core of which is Winona Ryder and yes, Millie Bobby Brown.

Despite having a very small number of lines, Millie gave an indelible performance as Eleven: subtly yet movingly conveying fear, sadness, doubt, love, and a yearning for connection with the kind of nuance one would expect from the likes of Jodie Foster and, needless to say, Winona Ryder.


Her name is Eleven

"I felt sorry for her when I first read the script," Millie says when asked about how she first reacted towards her character in the show, adding: “I didn’t relate to her in any way. I talk a lot, I’m very happy — quite the opposite." Millie maintains however, that it was this vast difference from Eleven that made her want to become the character: "I fell in love with the character on my first day of shooting. I wanted to become her.”

And fell in love with the character, Millie did.

Millie Bobby Brown appears in a scene from Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX

Millie Bobby Brown appears in a scene from Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX



As shown by a video the young star shared on her social media pages, her transformation into the psychokinetic heroine was one that's nothing short of jarring, one that, had the role been given to another actress, would have been met with hesitation. But Millie isn't like other actresses, apparently.

"I wanted to cut my hair off because I wanted to show my dedication for the show! I was very excited actually that day. I couldn’t get in the chair quick enough" Millie says of her transformation. "I was like, ‘chop it all off’, let me get started with filming.’”

So, what made her fall in love with the character?

“I like how she’s different. I like how she can be super badass or she can be so vulnerable and innocent. That’s what I like about her,” Millie says.



She's a winner



Aside from Millie's impressive turn as Eleven though, one other performance took the spotlight — Winona Ryder's.

Already a household name for most of the past 30 years, thanks to roles in Beetlejuice, Heathers, and Edward Scissorhands, Winona's turn as the distraught Joyce Byers left quite an indelible mark on Stranger Things' viewers, especially when one considers how earnest her scenes — filled to the brim with raw emotion and beautiful delirium — were. And it seems being a mentor is something Winona is keen on adding to her already impressive résumé — at least, according to Millie.

“Winona is a very good friend of mine so I go to her for everything. If I have trouble like if I have a scene and I don’t know how to deliver it, I’d go to her and we’d eat cheese," Millie says, laughing, before adding: "No, she’d tell me what she thought, how she thinks I should do it. She’s not a criticizing person at all, so it’s more of her helping me understand the scene.”



On stranger tides

It's oft been said that showbiz is a vast ocean and that the thing about doing something as iconic — yes, we're considering it that way as early as now — like Stranger Things is that there's always the risk of not only being typecast, but also, of being drowned by one's previous role. It's a good thing then that Millie is already preparing for her next step.

“I am very open-minded. I read a lot of scripts. I’d go up for comedies, everything,” Millie says, when asked what role she would like to portray next, before laughingly adding: “it’s just that I always seem to bump into science fiction thrillers,” a reference to her previous turn in the sci-fi thriller Intruders.

But is there a dream role that she would like to play?

“I don’t really have a dream role. It’s just whatever I read that I relate to. Stranger Things was something like that,” Millie says.

Millie Bobby Brown appears in a scene from Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX

Millie Bobby Brown appears in a scene from Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX

Ladies now let's get in formation

For all its scares and thrills though, what really stands out in Stranger Things is the fact that its strongest characters — literally and figuratively — are women. And it's an element that struck a nerve with fans, most of whom are actively calling the show's subversion of common tropes as strokes of genius. After all, despite the likes of Jessica Jones, Daenerys, Melinda May, and Supergirl taking the lead in some of our favorite titles, there still remains a dearth of powerful women in our television and cinema screens.

Winona Ryder appears in a scene in Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX

Winona Ryder appears in a scene in Stranger Things. | IMAGE courtesy of NETFLIX

And it's something that Millie agrees with.

“It’s great that we have women (characters). I mean, you don’t really find a heroine in a movie so it’s quite refreshing to see something like that" Millie says, adding: "Winona, her character is a hero, in that she’s trying to find her son and that she’s going through everything to find him.”

Puzzles

In Episode One of Stranger Things, we get treated to a montage of scenes best described as an ‘80s supercut: Dungeons and Dragons, a nighttime bicycle race, comic books, copious amounts of faded denim, and a mysterious monster that wouldn't look out of place in say, a John Carpenter film.

The episode, which saw the disappearance of one of the series’ central characters, has been dubbed as one of the series' most memorable, and is one that essentially establishes the idea that the show is an extensive puzzle — an idea that Millie feels is accurate.

“I come in right at the end of Episode 1,” Millie says, “and it’s one of my favorites because it basically opened up a lot of jars, and you know, over the series, you start to fill them.” Millie continues: “When you first watch it, you’d have no idea what was going on just yet and then you just start to realize what’s happening.”

(No) Stranger Danger

Despite her legions of adoring fans — they're called Strangers, by the way —  though, it comes off as a nice surprise to learn that Millie hasn't let her newfound fame get to her head — something she attributes to her family and her upbringing.

"I have an amazing family that keeps me grounded. My brother keeps me levelheaded. He'd say 'You're not a celebrity in this house,'" Millie shares, beaming.

Astronomers peg the chances of  someone seeing the birth of a supernova with their naked eye within the next fifty years at a measly 20 percent. With the rise of Netflix’s ‘80s homage that is Stranger Things though, I think it's perfectly safe to say that we have already witnessed one. Not too shabby, for someone who only got enrolled in acting class just to have something to do on weekends. Not too shabby at all.

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Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.

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ARTICLE IMAGES courtesy of Netflix. BANNER IMAGE courtesy of Converse.

This article first appeared in GIST.PH