The reviews for the third season of Stranger Things are in, and — as can be expected — the Duffer brothers have knocked the hit Netflix show out of the proverbial ballpark. Though heavy on the 1980s references — almost to the point of kitsch — Stranger Things’ few shortcomings are more than ameliorated by an unparalleled character development. What’s more, unlike the child stars of yesteryear — who relished in age-defying precociousness — the teens/young adults who make up the Stranger Things cast proudly show off considerable acting chops and a maturity that belies their age.
To Caleb McLaughlin, however, a trait that is awe-inducing to a jaded entertainment journalist is de rigueur for him and his castmates. “We’re just being ourselves,” he said to BET.com in an exclusive interview. “Overall, we’re a good bunch of kids, and we’re surrounded by good people — our crew, our cast, our respective teams and, of course, our parents are always around. Any mistakes we make, they’re pretty innocent and minor. We don’t go looking for drama.”
"Part of the joy of being an actor is thinking about what Lucas would do in certain situations and how he’s matured alongside me." -Caleb McLaughlin
Millie Bobby Brown’s questionable flirtations with Drake notwithstanding, the cast of Stranger Things — McLaughlin included — seem to be more focused on their career aspirations than on headline-grabbing stunts that keep their names pinging in Google Alerts. The 17-year-old New York native — who got his start on the Broadway stage as young Simba in The Lion King and who says he’d eventually like to return to the Great White Way — said that he has “grown up” with his character, Lucas Sinclair, the breakthrough role that he has embodied for the past three years.
While the Duffer brothers suggest that Stranger Things is only destined for a four or five season run, the third season still has plenty of surprises in store for its more devoted fan base. In fact, the surprises are so plentiful that members of the press corps who were granted early access to the eight-episode season were directed to redact as much of their reviews and recaps as possible to not spoil the season for the fans.
What can be said, though, is that the third season of the show promises more of the so-called “teen romance” that made John Hughes films the blockbusters that they were in the Reaganomics era (albeit viewed, perhaps correctly, as a bit dated and anachronistic through post-MeToo, 21st-century eyes). Lucas is still going strong with Max (Sadie Sink) and moving more towards “adult” situations while moving away from younger pursuits like Dungeons and Dragons. While this alienates Will (Noah Schnapp), it also gives McLaughlin a chance to flex his growing acting chops.
“I’ve grown up with him [Lucas],” he said. “For me, part of the joy of being an actor is thinking about what he would do in certain situations and how he’s matured alongside me. For example, in the beginning of Stranger Things, Lucas was very high-strung and nervous. Now, he’s a lot calmer and more rational in his decision-making process. Are we exactly alike in that regard? No. But have we both matured in our way of thinking? Yes.”
Maturity is the name of the game as McLaughlin, himself, transitions from his teenage years to young adulthood. McLaughlin says he has acting projects coming up that are nebulously listed as “in the works,” but which promise to be more mature than his previous roles.
Additionally, he’s in the studio, recording what he says will be a “mix of R&B and pop,” and filled with “groovy and good vibes.” He hopes to get the project out “before the school year starts” at the end of the year and hints at (though doesn’t explicitly state) the possibility of a tour in support of his musical efforts.
“I’m working with this great artist called Rashaad, too,” he said, speaking about one of the artists who has been helping him with his musical pursuits. “He’s really helping me realize my vision as an artist, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear what we have in store.”
Regardless of anything else he may pursue now or in the future, however, McLaughlin waxes poetic about the effect that Stranger Things has had on his career. Whereas many a child star is quick to dismiss the breakthrough role that made him/her famous, McLaughlin has embraced Lucas Sinclair as part and parcel of his greater legacy.
“Listen, being on the show has opened a lot of doors for me,” he said. “I never worried about where the next role was coming prior to getting the role of Lucas, don’t misunderstand. But when the role of Lucas came along, it took me literally around the world. Yes, I had to grow up faster than my classmates — I had to be more mature — but in the end, it gave me an experience unlike anything else I’ve ever had before. And I’m forever grateful.”
The third season of Stranger Things premieres July 4, 2019, on Netflix.