'Stranger Things 2' Creators: 'We Wanted To Raise The Stakes'

Oct 27, 2017
Originally published on October 27, 2017 10:08 am

Things are about to get even stranger in Hawkins, Ind.

That's the small town the Netflix series Stranger Things is set in. The second season of the instant cult classic set in the 1980s is released Friday, and it picks up about a year after the first adventure into the Upside Down, the defeat of the Demogorgon monster and Eleven's apparent disappearance.

Stranger Things is the brainchild of twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, who said that their tastes are very similar — but that they fight all the time. It's mostly about writing.

"Any other part of the process is, you have your blueprint," Ross says. "But when you're just staring at the blank page, doesn't matter — it's always terrifying."

"Every writer you meet, at least in Hollywood, is miserable," Matt says.

Now the show's central group of kids — Dustin, Lucas, Mike and Will — are a year older, and in this season you get a sense that they're growing up. Their story lines start to diverge and expand.

"It's fun, because we're able to balance different genres," Ross says. "I can do teen romance, and then I can jump to these little kids messing around to just the mom crying — an emotional scene. I like that we can jump around to different genres, but it's always a struggle, structurally, to get it to build the way we want it to."

They spoke in NPR's studio in Culver City, Calif.


Interview Highlights

On the character Eleven's new role

Matt Duffer: So that's probably the biggest difference for this season, in that Eleven is not with the boys, really. I mean, you know, there were conversations with Netflix. Everyone was nervous about it just because a lot of the success of the first season came from her interaction with the boys — the chemistry between them. And then immediately, you're kind of taking away that safety net. And I think that part of that was just to challenge ourselves. We really wanted to not do the same thing again. ... I wanted her to have her own journey, separate from the boys.

On the more sinister and threatening feel to Stranger Things 2

Ross Duffer: Well, yeah, I guess the first season was very focused on just Will and saving him. We wanted to raise the stakes — even though Will plays a central role — that it really puts everyone in danger moving forward.

Matt: Well, it's a cliché sequel thing: like, bigger and darker.

On the pressure to deliver a good sequel

Ross: I always say that it evens out in terms of just how scared I am about the whole thing. 'Cause season one, you're just scared that people might not like it, and even worse, that no one's gonna watch it. So season one was really scary in a lot of ways. And then this season's a very different feeling, which is: We know we're gonna have these people watching it, but yeah, they have expectations now. And that's always the balancing act, 'cause you don't want to just give people exactly what is expected. You want to surprise them a little bit.

On the fate of the character Barb

Matt: I think we resolve it.

Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted this interview for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Things are about to get even stranger in Hawkins, Ind.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE DIXON AND MICHAEL STEIN'S "STRANGER THINGS")

GREENE: Hawkins is the small town where the TV series "Stranger Things" is set. Now, for the uninitiated, the show became an instant cult classic last year - kind of "Goonies"-esque, you might say - bunch of kids going up against a monster known as the Demogorgon who is from a parallel universe that is called the Upside Down. Now, one of the kids, Eleven - she disappeared. And the second season, which is out today, picks up a year after that. Eleven's friends, Dustin, Lucas, Mike and Will, are a year older. And you really do see them growing up. The Netflix series was the brainchild of twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. And they came into our studios here in Culver City, Calif., the other day. They produce. They direct. They basically do everything. The hardest part, they told me, is writing the scripts.

ROSS DUFFER: Writing is the most important part of the process, I think, at the end of the day. But it's our least favorite. It's the most painful.

MATT DUFFER: Well, it's the most difficult. I think most people agree, like, writing is the most difficult thing.

R. DUFFER: Well, you're staring at - any other part of the process is you have your blueprint. But when you're just staring at the blank page, it doesn't matter. It's always terrifying.

M. DUFFER: Every writer you meet, at least in Hollywood, is miserable.

GREENE: But you're writing for middle schoolers. And there's something so simple...

M. DUFFER: Oh, that part of it is really fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")

GATEN MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) I've got four quarters. What's your haul?

CALEB MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) Take your puny haul and multiply it by five.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) How? Were you scrounging around like a homeless bum?

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) I mowed Old Man Humphrey's lawn.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Old Man Humphrey's got that kind of cash?

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) Just call Mike already.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) You call Mike.

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) I have to go take a shower from doing real work like a man. Over and out.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Mike, do you copy? Mike, you copy?

GREENE: It feels like the first season was so much about the ensemble and these kids as a group. And this season, you begin to have these individual storylines develop.

R. DUFFER: Yes.

GREENE: What were you guys thinking?

R. DUFFER: Part of it was us just wanting to get to know these characters better individually. So, like, we wanted to go in Dustin's house. And we wanted to get to know Lucas's family. And so to start to expand on these characters, we needed to separate them out.

GREENE: Yeah. Lucas's sister becomes - I mean, she's not in it much...

R. DUFFER: Oh, yeah.

GREENE: ...But, my God, get ready, everyone. You're going to love her.

R. DUFFER: That is actually my favorite thing about television - is that someone like that who's just - that's just local Atlanta casting. It was not something that was intended to be anything. And then you...

GREENE: Really? You didn't do a national search for it?

R. DUFFER: No. No.

GREENE: They found...

M. DUFFER: It was not a national search.

R. DUFFER: It was just scrolling through...

M. DUFFER: It's just like, let's just hire someone there. Let's just see.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) All right. It's Dustin again. Seriously, I have a code red.

PRIAH FERGUSON: (As Erica) Could you please shut up?

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Erica? Erica, is Lucas there? Where is he?

FERGUSON: (As Erica) Don't know. Don't care.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Is he with Mike?

FERGUSON: (As Erica) Like I said, I don't know, and I don't care.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Please tell him it's super important. Please tell him that I have a code...

FERGUSON: (As Erica) Code red?

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Yep, code red. Exactly.

FERGUSON: (As Erica) I've got a code for you instead. It's called code shut your mouth.

MATARAZZO: (As Dustin) Erica?

GREENE: Well, I don't think I'm giving away too much here because you had this in the trailer. But Eleven makes her return. OK. You're...

M. DUFFER: OK. So that was a big thing because it was like, that's probably the biggest difference for this season - in that Eleven is not with the boys.

GREENE: Yeah. She does her own thing.

M. DUFFER: Really, and that was like - I mean, you know, there were conversations with Netflix because everyone was nervous about it just because a lot of the success of the first season came from her interaction with the boys.

GREENE: The chemistry.

M. DUFFER: The chemistry between them. And then, immediately, you're kind of taking away that safety net. And I think that part of that was just to challenge ourselves. Like, you know, we really wanted to not do the same thing again. And...

GREENE: So you're doing it to shake it up. Because I wondered if there was a...

M. DUFFER: Shake things up.

GREENE: Like, not have her be the token girl in the group. Like, you wanted to explore her...

M. DUFFER: Well, that's - I wanted her to have her own journey separate from the boys.

GREENE: Ross, this season feels more sinister. Like, you had the Upside Down threatening a group of kids. Now, suddenly, I felt like humanity was being threatened. Like, I don't want to give too much away - but affecting people in ways that - I don't know. It felt more threatening and ominous.

R. DUFFER: Well, I guess the first season was very focused on just the individual of Will and saving him. And we wanted to raise the stakes. Even though Will plays a central role - that it really puts everyone in danger moving forward. So...

M. DUFFER: Well, it's that cliche sequel thing - like, bigger and darker.

(LAUGHTER)

M. DUFFER: But, I mean, that's what we wanted to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")

NOAH SCHNAPP: (As Will) I felt this evil - like it was looking at me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) It was evil? Well, what do you think the evil wanted?

SCHNAPP: (As Will) To kill.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) To kill you?

SCHNAPP: (As Will) Not me. Everyone else.

GREENE: I know you've talked about maybe four seasons being the plan. Have you guys charted out the 3 and 4?

M. DUFFER: I get in trouble every time I talk about that. But yeah, I mean, I don't know.

GREENE: Is it like - are we dealing with, like, expensive contracts and things?

M. DUFFER: No. Just, you know, I can't say for sure that it's not built to sustain, like, seven seasons - something like that.

GREENE: We could have 20 years of "Stranger Things."

M. DUFFER: It's not going to work, I don't think...

GREENE: But you guys have the next few seasons, at least...

M. DUFFER: Yeah. We have a rough idea.

GREENE: OK.

R. DUFFER: We know where we want to go, where the end goal is. We just don't know quite how long it'll take there. It certainly won't be wrapped up in Season 3. So it'll be longer than that. That's about all we know.

GREENE: And the end goal is probably something you don't want to share today, I would imagine.

R. DUFFER: (Laughter).

M. DUFFER: No. But it's almost like - yeah. No. We have - yeah, we have - no, we don't want to share.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Yeah, I can - but is there pressure on a Season 2 for you guys when Season 1 was such an epic success?

R. DUFFER: I always say that it evens out in terms of just how scared I am about the whole thing because Season 1 - you're just scared that people might not like it. And even worse than - no one's going to watch it. So Season 1 was really scary in a lot of ways. And then this season's a very different feeling, which is we know we're going to have those people watching it. But, yeah, they have expectations now. They have - and that's always a balancing act. You don't want to just give people exactly what is expected. You want to surprise them a little bit.

GREENE: I want to ask you this because I don't want to get attacked on social media for not asking. Barb was such a beloved character from Season 1. Are we at some point going to know what did or didn't happen?

M. DUFFER: I think we resolve it.

GREENE: In this season.

M. DUFFER: In this season.

GREENE: OK.

M. DUFFER: But I don't know if the fans are going to agree with that.

R. DUFFER: But she's - I've been telling the fans for a year now that she's dead. And she is dead. So I don't know...

M. DUFFER: They don't believe - they refuse - they're in denial. They're in denial.

GREENE: You guys can definitively say that she's dead?

R. DUFFER: Yeah, she's full-on dead.

M. DUFFER: I've been saying that for, like, a year and a half.

GREENE: And no one listens to you.

M. DUFFER: No one.

R. DUFFER: I feel like they keep expecting the "Carrie" shot - you know, where you're going over a grave, and her hand pops out.

GREENE: You guys are sneaky. I mean, you could bring her back from the dead.

R. DUFFER: I wouldn't lie like that, though.

GREENE: Who would - I mean, yeah, but, I mean...

R. DUFFER: They don't know me. I'm not going to go around lying publicly.

GREENE: How can you not guarantee that you can't come back from the dead in your world?

R. DUFFER: That's true. It's like James Cameron said. No one's ever truly dead in sci-fi.

GREENE: Exactly. Guys, if I keep asking you questions, I'm probably going to give too much away. And we don't want that. So I'll cut it off and say thank you.

R. DUFFER: Thanks for having us.

GREENE: Best of luck with Season 2.

M. DUFFER: Thanks.

GREENE: And thanks for making us all addicted.

M. DUFFER: Thanks, man.

GREENE: Those were twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. They are the creators of "Stranger Things." The second season is out on Netflix today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.