In case you hadn’t noticed, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer have a thing for casting former ’80s stars the same way Serge has a thing for forcing his teammates to eat stomach-churning foods: they just can’t get enough. First it was Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine. Then former Goonie Sean Astin joined the cast for Season Two.
Now, the hit Netflix series has added Cary Elwes for its latest round of ’80s nostalgia-inspired casting. The Princess Bride star will be playing Mayor Kline, a sleazy politician (Is there any other kind? Hey-oh!) who’s more interested in planning Hawkins’ big Fourth of July party than in dealing with whatever fresh horror is set to crawl out of the Upside Down this season.
With Stranger Things 3 premiering on Netflix on July 4th, we sat down with Elwes and his co-star Dacre Montgomery — who plays the sociopathic town bully-turned-local mom thirst trap Billy Hargrove — to talk about the new season, the show’s obsessive fanbase, and their pick for who’s going to be this year’s Barb.
The appetite for this show is crazy. And it just seems to keep building with every season. What are you most looking forward to about the fact that people are finally going to get to see this thing in a couple days?
Cary Elwes: I’m most looking forward to the fact that they’re finally going to get to see this show. [Laughs.] Because I think the length between Season Two and Three built the anticipation to a level I don’t think anyone had anticipated… I think this show will be a bigger fireworks display, on many levels, than anything anyone can create in their backyard. It’ll be a nice supplement to a day filled with people celebrating.
Dacre Montgomery: Yeah. I’m very excited about it. I’m excited to see what they think of it as a whole, but also, I guess, selfishly, Billy’s story arc this season. I’m so excited to share it.
Have you had family and friends try to plug you for any inside info?
Elwes: My wife won’t let me [tell her anything]. She wouldn’t even let me learn lines with her. Because she’s that much of a fan of the show. She didn’t want to know anything. Because we binge-watched it together before I got hired. We normally run lines together. And she’s such a fan, she’s like, “Honey, you’re on own.” [Laughs.]
Montgomery: I told my family a little bit, but they’re the same. You don’t want it to be ruined, right? Because then the whole surprise is gone.
How did the Duffers sell you on playing Mayor Kline?
Elwes: They didn’t have to. Like I said, I binge-watched the first two seasons, and I was sold from the first frame. I turned to my wife before the titles came up — which, by the way, even the titles are cool — I turned her and went, “This is off the hook.” The cast, the direction, the editing, the lighting, the performances, the set design, the costumes, the props. Across the board. I’ve never seen anything like it.
What’s it like coming onto a show like this one or two seasons in, after it’s already become this huge phenomenon? Because I know Dacre, you had to do that last season too.
Elwes: It’s pretty nerve-wracking for me. Because these guys were all obviously well into the show, and had found their feet and fit right in. And I’m thinking, Oh God. This is great. I’m probably going to come in and really screw this up. [Laughs.] And they couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly, and made me feel like part of the family right away.
Montgomery: More than anything, I was just excited to get on the ground and get started. Because it’s so collaborative. Everybody is so engaging and encouraging, you don’t feel the weight of the fandom. I just feel like we’re all there making the best possible product.
Elwes: And there’s no competitiveness. There’s no ego. You get on some shows and it’s like, actors are playing tricks to screw up stuff, because they want to be in the close-up and all that. There’s none of that. Everybody’s just there to work hard and have a good time.
There’s a ton of wild fan theories out there about what we’re going to get this season. I’ve seen everything from zombies to Russian spies to time travel. What’s the weirdest one you’ve come across? Do you guys pay any attention to that stuff?
Montgomery: I don’t, but I was told of one the other day: apparently Billy is Zac Efron’s dad. He fathered Zac Efron.
Elwes: That’s hilarious. Yeah, that sounds about right… It’s funny. My wife was pointing out some fans who were looking at the first teaser and were writing like, “What does that mean? Why is he looking over in that direction? Maybe he’s pointing to the rats!” Just the frenzy, the excitement…
Montgomery: They go crazy.
Elwes: It’s so cool. It’s so fun. It really is.
This is a show that’s so specific in terms of its pop culture influences. Were there any movies that you guys talked about as touchstones for this season, or that the Duffers gave you as homework?
Elwes: Usually when I work with directors, I get them to fill out a questionnaire for me, so I can get a sense of what they’re after, and their backstory, all of that. And they were terrific. They filled it out in enormous detail. They had a very specific idea of what they wanted for this character: his background, where he came from, where he was going, what his dreams and fears were, all of it. And it was so specific, I said, “Is this based on any specific politician that I should know about?” And they were like, “No, no, no, it’s just an amalgamation of a bunch of people.” And I watch CNN every day, so I was just picking up on different vibes from different politicians and working them into the character.
Montgomery: Jack Nicholson was the big one for me — his whole career, every role he’s played. Because he has this unpredictable nature. That was the thing that the Duffers had mentioned to me. So it wasn’t ’80s specific or title specific.
This season seems to have a bit of a different vibe, just due to the fact that it’s set in the summer as opposed to the fall. What does that bring to the show – besides a convenient excuse to get Billy shirtless?
Montgomery: [Laughs.] I think it lifts the fold a bit. Everybody’s outdoors a lot more. I think it opens up the world slightly more. And although that cold and the rain — that sort of setting — isn’t there, it’s almost darker in a lot of ways. Even though it is summer. Which is a complete juxtaposition.
Elwes: Totally. Because you least expect it. You’re thinking, “It’s going to be a great summer for these guys. What could possibly go wrong?” [Laughs.]
Montgomery: The weather’s great, we’re out by the pool.
Elwes: Everybody’s having a good time. There’s love in the air.
I read that the Starcourt Mall, which plays a huge role in the show this season, wasn’t just a set on a backlot somewhere. That was an actual working mall, right?
Elwes: Yeah. We found an abandoned mall — the Duffers did — it was completely abandoned. There was nothing in it, at all. Everything had been ripped out. And they dressed it and put it back to being a mall from 1985. With 40 stores and a working movie theatre, and stores you’ll never see in the show! But you could walk through that entire mall, and it gave the Duffers an opportunity to go, Maybe we could just go and shoot in that store over there, if we wanted to. The atmosphere of being in a working mall, from that period, it was electrifying. They were like, “Wait ‘til you see the mall. It’s pretty cool.” They were so funny and modest about it. Like, “You might like it. We hope you do.” And I walked in, I’m like… “Holy… This is insane.”
In Season One, it was Barb. Season Two, it was Steve and Dustin’s bromance. Do you have any picks for someone — or something — that’s going to end up being the breakout fan favourite for Season Three?
Elwes: I love Billy. I love his arc. It’s so interesting. And I love Priah.
Montgomery: Priah, yeah! You know, Lucas’ younger sister? Priah Ferguson.
Elwes: Oh my God. She just blows up this season. She’s hilarious. Hilarious. I love the way they developed her character.
Montgomery: She’s got such good comedic instincts – as we saw in Season Two.
Elwes: She’s terribly funny.
Montgomery: There’s Maya [Hawke] as well. But, mate, you’ve got a really good one. There’s a great scene – not to give too much away – between you and David Harbour, so Hopper and Mayor Kline. That was one I recently watched with my partner, and mate, that’s a really good scene. Well done.
Elwes: Well, thank you. I think Kline’s a good foil for Hopper, because you have a mayor who really doesn’t care about Hawkins at all. Doesn’t care about the town. And here’s Hopper who cares almost too much, beyond just being the Chief of Police. So he’s a nice foil for me.