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By Adam B. Vary
Senior Entertainment Writer
SPOILER ALERT: This story includes discussion of major plot developments in Season 4 of “Stranger Things,” currently streaming on Netflix.
One of the many thrills embedded in “Stranger Things” has been watching each of the young cast literally grow into young adults before our eyes. That is perhaps especially true of its youngest original member, Noah Schnapp. His character, Will Byers, has been through it over the years: Abducted into the Upside Down, then possessed by a demonic entity known as the Mind Flayer, and then — perhaps worst of all! — seemingly abandoned by his best friends as they discovered girls and matured beyond their days of playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Will never has, and throughout the recently concluded fourth season, he struggled to articulate to his best friend, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), why.
From the start, it seemed clear that Will is gay and terrified of coming out. When Variety asked Schnapp and his costar Millie Bobby Brown about it in May for Volume 1 of Season 4, however, Schnapp said instead that Will’s sexuality was “up to the audience’s interpretation.”
In a follow-up interview this week following the conclusion of Season 4, however, the 17-year-old actor is clear that he felt compelled to dodge the question to avoid spoiling Will’s emotionally nuanced journey in the final two episodes of the season, as crafted by creators and executive producers Matt and Ross Duffer. He also talked about the standout scene from the season finale that wasn’t in the original script, why he launched a vegan hazelnut spread, and, yes, the social media storm around his TikTok post (since deleted) of DMs from Doja Cat about Schnapp’s “Stranger Things” costar Joseph Quinn.
What was your understanding of Will’s arc for Season 4 when you started filming?
This was kind of a different season for him. I was used to acting him [dealing] with the Mind Flayer, the supernatural aspects and the darker, kind of non-personal stuff. This season was a new thing for me. I had to explore him navigating his personal identity issues and struggling with growing up and assimilating into high school. It was new for me.
What did you understand about what that personal journey would look like, what Will was going to be contending with?
I mean, it’s pretty clear this season that Will has feelings for Mike. They’ve been intentionally pulling that out over the past few seasons. Even in Season 1, they hinted at that and slowly, slowly grew that storyline. I think for Season 4, it was just me playing this character who loves his best friend but struggles with knowing if he’ll be accepted or not, and feeling like a mistake and like he doesn’t belong. Will has always felt like that. All his friends, they all have girlfriends and they all fit into their different clubs. Will has never really found anywhere to fit in. I think that’s why so many people come up to me and tell me that they love Will and they resonate with him so much, because it’s such a real character.
The conversation that Will and Mike have in the van, where Will is essentially telling Mike how he feels about him, but through the prism of Eleven — that was so heartbreaking. What do you remember about shooting it?
I remember it was just all day. We started in the morning and went straight through, past lunch, for hours and hours. I remember when I was doing the scene, I was bawling, like, going all out the whole day. And when I saw it on screen, it was actually more subtle. I liked how they edited it together. The day was a lot of fun. I love just playing with Will. This scene was really important for him, because it really solidified that truth, that he loves his best friend and he doesn’t know how to tell him.
A lot of fans feel like Mike has been a pretty terrible friend to Will over the last couple of seasons. How do you feel about that relationship?
Yeah, I’ve seen that a lot too, actually. I think it’s kind of Mike dealing with his own stuff. In Season 2, they were best friends and they were so close, and then obviously Mike has all his eyes on Eleven. Will is dealing with a little bit of jealousy there. He just wants his best friend back and wants it to be like what it was in Season 1, when they were playing D&D in his basement. But Mike’s growing out of that and only cares about Eleven right now. I’m interested just to see where the Duffers go with that in Season 5, and how they close out that storyline.
The shot of you crying through the van window has even become a meme. Have you seen that?
Yeah, I’ve seen that picture everywhere.
Do you have any favorite memes?
There’s so many. I can’t think of anything specific, but it’s awesome and honestly, it feels really good to get that recognition for that scene. Just that little turn told you so much. Everything was done so intentionally, like when I put my hand over my mouth. He’s hiding it, and he doesn’t want Mike to hear him. It’s just really cool that people loved it.
Then there’s the follow up scene between Will and his older brother Jonathan, when Jonathan communicates to Will, basically, I know you’re gay and I’m always here for you — without ever using those words. What did the Duffers say to you about that scene when you shot it?
So this scene was actually not originally written in the script. It was only until after I did the scene of me in the van, where they saw me crying and the protectiveness that you see with Jonathan looking in the rearview mirror. They were like, we need a scene with that. So they wrote it as we were filming. It’s also very important for people to see that Will is not alone — because all we ever see of him is struggling and feeling depressed and that he can’t be himself. Jonathan is talking to him in code — it’s just the perfect way to tell someone like Will that he cares about him and he accepts him no matter what. I think it was really wholesome.
As you alluded to earlier, the implication that people perceive Will as gay is baked into the very first episode of the show. But in past interviews, including one that you did with me for Volume 1 of Season 4, you’ve talked instead about how you saw Will as still figuring out that aspect of his identity. Did it feel like it was a spoiler to say outright, “Yes, Will is wrestling with being gay and coming out”?
Yeah, I think it is. Obviously, it was hinted at in Season 1: It was always kind of there, but you never really knew, is it just him growing up slower than his friends? Now that he’s gotten older, they made it a very real, obvious thing. Now it’s 100% clear that he is gay and he does love Mike. But before, it was a slow arc. I think it is done so beautifully, because it’s so easy to make a character just like all of a sudden be gay. People have come up to me — I was just in Paris and this, like, 40-year-old man came up to me and he was like, “Wow, this Will character made me feel so good. And I related to it so much. That is exactly who I was when I was a kid.” That just made me so happy to hear. They are writing this real character and this real journey and real struggle and they’re doing it so well.
How has it been for you to be asked about this over the years of the show, especially since you’re as young as Will is?
I think it has been tricky. Years ago in Season 1, I didn’t know where the Duffers wanted to go with this character. So I was kind of figuring it out along with the audience. But now that I’ve spoken to them and seen the show, I know what they want to do with it. They obviously don’t tell me anything, either. I’m always spoiling stuff, so they will never share anything with me. So it’s a lot of figuring it out on my own. And kind of realizing later on, like, “Oh this makes sense and this was intentional.”
If this line of inquiry is too personal, please tell me. But you’re still young, and to have this much attention focused on this character while you are also figuring yourself out — has that been tricky for you?
I think it’s all just part of the challenge of acting. Like, yes, it has been a challenge, but I think it’s just been fun to be able to step into his shoes. Because I really have to take into account, like, this isn’t just a single layer thing of he’s struggling with coming out. It’s this multifaceted trauma that goes years back, because he was taken by the Demogorgon and then his friends, they never acknowledged him, and now he’s scared to come out and doesn’t know if they’ll accept him. And then Eleven is like his sister, but he doesn’t want to hurt her because if he says he likes Mike, that’s gonna hurt her feelings. There’s all these things running in his mind. So I kind of just have to make sure that I’m conveying the depth of all his traumas.
You and a lot of the rest of the cast post a fair amount on social media, so you’re living your life in front of a lot more people than most kids your age. What is that like to navigate?
It’s definitely fun. I’d say I’m the most active on social media [in the cast], and pretty engaged with my fans. Honestly, I love it. Everyone supports me so much. Social media, it’s a great way to be able to connect with them and even though it can be super transparent sometimes and they know everything about me, it’s okay, because my fans are amazing, and they’re super protective. I mean, I was just, like I said, in Paris, and we went outside the hotel and they were mobbing [us]. I was with my mom and then I got in the car. My mom wasn’t in there — she was lost in the crowd of fans. I was like, “Oh my God, where’s my mom? Guys, like, we got to stop. I can’t find her.” And all of them cleared out and were like, “Noah’s mom! She’s gotta get in the car! Everyone stop!” They’re so nice! They’re just always looking out for me, and it’s truly like a family.
You recently caused a bit of a stir when you posted your DMs with Doja Cat about your co-star. I saw your TikTok from yesterday where you said in the comments that you apologized to Doja Cat and that there’s no hard feelings. Is there anything more you want to say about that?
Yeah, I mean, look, I’m super unserious on social media and pretty goofy, so I posted that not thinking too much of it, but obviously it hurt her feelings. So, as I should, I apologized and she was totally okay with it, and was like, “I’m sorry how I reacted.” It was all good. I love her. I’m like the biggest fan of her music, and I told her that. I was like, you’re literally my role model. It’s all good. People make such a big deal out of everything when it’s on the internet, but, like, in reality, it’s like a two minute thing.
You’ve also launched your own vegan hazelnut spread, TBH. How did that come about?
I’ve always been super interested in entrepreneurship. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to tackle and be a part of and build a business. I was just brainstorming all of my passions and what I care about, what I love, and I just kind of combined my favorite things. I love Nutella. It’s my favorite thing ever, but it’s so bad for you and so bad for the planet. And so I was like, there’s a gap in the market for that. I need to fix it. It’s been such a fun journey. It’s been a cool learning experience, too, building the package and taste testing what works and what doesn’t and seeing the feedback. It’s super fun. I’m very excited to continue on that kind of entrepreneurship journey and see what’s next.
You’re 17 now — how old were you when you when you started doing this?
Doing TBH? 15.
It’s just, you know, when I was 15, I was lucky if I got the right shoes on in the morning.
No, I’m the same. Yeah. But it’s cool to learn about that and I have a great team behind me who helps me do this kind of stuff. Obviously, I was so new to it at first. I didn’t understand anything and was so confused. I had all these people who have who helped market it and build it and finance it, and they all explained to me through the journey, “This is how this step works, and this is what comes next.” They taught me that whole process and that’s what kind of sparked my interest for college for entrepreneurship. Obviously, I’m gonna study some film and stuff, but it’s also a cool thing to learn about something different and I care a lot about my education.
Are you thinking this is a parallel path with working in entertainment?
Yeah. I love acting. It was a hobby. It’s still a hobby. It’s so fun. I love stepping into any character’s shoes and just belting my heart out, whatever the scene is, so I’ll never quit that. But it’s fun to explore different things. I’d love to direct and produce and write and be an entrepreneur and do all these different things. It’s good, especially as an actor, to be well-rounded and know all these different things, because at the end of the day, you are portraying all these different characters and you have to understand where it comes from. I mean, I love doing it all. If I’m not busy, I’m miserable.
On the “Stranger Things” set, did you have jars of TBH that you were giving out to everybody else?
When we were filming, it was still in development. So I will next season. Millie also has a business of her own and we want to do some type of collaboration. So we’ll be handing that out on set.
Finally, what are you looking forward to for Season 5?
The Duffers are saying for next season that they’re going to focus more on Will and build that storyline. I think that’s super exciting.
Certainly, at the end of Season 4, the fact that Will can still feel Vecna and has that connection with him, that means something, it seems to me!
Totally. I called them a few weeks ago and I was like, “What’s your plan with Will? Like, with his sexuality, but also with the Upside Down and all of that?” They have a lot to get to. They’re still working it out, but they have their end goal. There’s so many different things they have to address. Obviously, we hope for a coming out scene, and I also want to see them address this connection to the Mind Flayer and how that fits into the world. And I’ve always been wondering, why was Will the first victim and the first one captured? I just want to see it all tie in and all work out. So I’m excited to see what happens.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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