[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “Stranger Things.”]
For its second season, the Netflix original “Stranger Things” offered fans a chance to get even closer to the hit series, chasing each episode with a new aftershow tantalizing entitled “Beyond Stranger Things,” which delivered episode recaps and exclusive insights, all care of some very special guests. While the choice to beef up and build out the mythology of its beloved original series was a bit of a no-brainer, a new episode of the show has drawn ire from some of the show’s own devotees, an uproar that has highlighted the continued need for young actors — like the biggest stars of the series — to be treated with professional respect and equality, even (and especially) in an environment that seems to so happily play up its sense of fun.
In the second episode of “Beyond Stranger Things,” host Jim Rash is joined by creators Matt and Ross Duffer, director Shawn Levy, and stars Sadie Sink, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo for an episode entirely about Sink’s character Max, the new season’s arguably biggest and best new addition. In the series, the introduction of Max — a skateboard-riding, video game-playing Californian transplant — nearly drives a wedge between McLaughlin’s Lucas and Matarazzo’s Dustin, as both are taken with the cool new girl, in perfect line with their burgeoning interest in the fairer sex.
By the final episode of this season — “Chapter 9: The Gate” — Max seems to make her own choice between the pair, opting to dance with Lucas at the big, fancy Snow Ball, and even giving him his very first kiss out on the dance floor. It’s a charming, sweet moment, and one that’s echoed by another kiss between Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), which also helps end the entire thing on a upbeat note (despite the greater dangers lurking in the Upside Down, but that’s a story for another time). They’re teens! They’re hitting puberty hard! Crushes are inevitable!
But during the episode of “Beyond Stranger Things,” a still visibly unnerved Sink made it clear: She didn’t sign up for that kiss, even though Ross Duffer ribs her by telling the 15-year-old actress that the scene was “all [her] own fault.”
The actress then tells the group, “It was not written in the script. The kiss was not written in the script.” What unfolds next is a free-wheeling discussion that seems to puts the origin of the scene on not just Sink, but on what was her obvious discomfort with the surprising news that she and McLaughlin would be kissing on-screen, despite no indication of that scene in the script.
Sink recalls, “I get there, the first day of [filming the] Snow Ball…one of you, I think it was you, Ross, you say, ‘Ooh, Sadie, you ready for the kiss?’ I’m like, ‘What! No! That’s not in the script…that’s not happening.’ So the whole day I was like stressed out, I was like,’Oh my god, wait, am I gonna have to’… And it didn’t happen that day, but then the second day of filming the Snow Ball.” Ross Duffer then adds, “You reacted so strongly to this — I was just joking — and you were so freaked out that I was like, ‘Well, I gotta make her do it now’… that’s what happened, that’s why I’m saying it’s your fault.”
Both Sink and McLaughlin then relate further memories of the experience, with Sink admitting she was “stressed out” by the scene, one that was performed multiple times in front of a packed room of extras, plus “their parents, and the crew, and my mom.”
McLaughlin added that the on-screen kiss was actually his first kiss, and he recalled thinking, “This is feeling weird.” But as Matt Duffer points out, that weirdness comes with an added caveat: It’s not just all those extras and cast members and friends and family they kissed in front of, it’s everyone who watched “Stranger Things.”
They don’t seem too happy about it. You can watch the clip below:
As The Daily Beast notes, a number of “Stranger Things” fans reacted to the exchange with displeasure and discomfort. Twitter user Anna Marquardt broke down her problems with the exchange in a popular thread — which you can see below — that includes some sage points about her takeaway from the clip.
There is something messed up in the 2nd ep of the #StrangerThings aftershow that I want to address.
— Anna Marquardt (@ajlobster) October 31, 2017
Perhaps of highest import was this note: “A director’s job is to get the best performances from their actors AND make sure they feel safe and comfortable.” When it comes to younger actors, that is doubly true. So much of the popularity and notoriety of “Stranger Things” rests on its cast of emerging stars and big talents-in-the-making, a group of breakout talents that the Duffers assembled with obvious care (and the payoff has been prodigious: these kids are great, and they all seem to love the creators and the series itself).
But that care must translate into the actual production, and it seems clear that Sink and McLaughlin are both still a bit embarrassed by not just the kiss, but the way it was treated on set: as a way to tease the young stars, to keep them on edge, and to push them into a piece of performance that they were, at the very least, not entirely prepared for.
That the set of “Stranger Things” seems jocular and teasing — kind of like middle school itself! — isn’t surprising, but that the Duffers would continue to rile up their young stars, knowing full well how nervous and reticent they were about that particular scene, isn’t just unnerving, it’s unprofessional. The default for working with kids might verge right into that middle school territory, but it’s up to the Duffers and other adults in charge to make sure their talents — of all ages — are feeling safe and comfortable, not teased and pushed into doing something they are not ready to do, even if it’s in service to the performance. In short, they need to be treated with the same respect as older actors, not spoken down to because of their age.
Yet, the incident with Sink and McLaughlin takes on a slightly different cast when paired with the previous episode of “Beyond Stranger Things,” which sees Brown and Wolfhard sounding off about their own kiss, and how its presence — unlike Sink and McLaughlin’s, it was in the script — inspired Brown to suggest that the Duffers also include a kiss with Max and Lucas. Brown remembered that Sink seemed surprised by the idea, though she assured the fellow young actress that “it’s not that bad.” But even in this remembrance, Matt Duffer said that Brown “really got [Sink] worked up” by chatting about the imminent smooch.
From every angle, the young actress seemed to be, at the very least, woefully nervous about the kiss.
Oddly enough, for all of Brown’s encouragement of her fellow actress, the “Stranger Things” star admitted to her own nerves when it came time to kiss Wolfhard. Like Sink and McLaughlin, she found the open set atmosphere to be even more uncomfortable than the alternative. Like Sink and McLaughlin, she and Wolfhard kissed during the Snow Ball, in front of hundreds of others. At the end, everyone clapped, and Brown said, “The clapping made it awful.”
But why should any of this be awful? If an actor — of any age, any experience level — so clearly doesn’t want to do something, it’s up to the directors in charge to work through those concerns, all the better for art, all the better for the experience.