Stranger Things’ Matthew Modine
As the science fiction horror series Stranger Things 2 continues on Netflix, Barry Didcock took the opportunity to pose some searching questions of star Matthew Modine ...
The series has been a huge hit. What do you think it is about it that appeals so much?
A global phenomenon. Amazing. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, so I’ll do my best to explain domestically why. It’s pre 9/11. Pre cell phones, pre computers, home computer games, pre social media, pre internet. Pre climate change. Pre “helicopter parenting”. In just a few short decades the world has become what it is today. There is so much fear today. Today, if Winona Ryder’s character didn’t know her son was missing until breakfast – she would be publicly humiliated in the 24hour news system, destroyed on social media, and arrested and imprisoned for bad parenting.
What can you tell us about how your character – and the story – develops in season two?
Although Stranger Things is a story which deals with the supernatural and which is framed by a very deliberate and knowing sense of 1980s nostalgia, at its core are some very human stories. Would you agree – and if so which relationships in particular are the most interesting?
What is supernatural? Do you think this is all there is? Just like unseeable spectrums of light, there is more to see than what meets the eye.
Does Stranger Things pack more punch if you know the 1980s films it’s riffing on, or does that not matter?
All art is theft. But not all theft is art. Our team has done a great bit of stealing and done an amazing job of making it art.
You worked with Winona Ryder on a Roy Orbison video in the 1980s, but you hadn’t worked with her since. Tell us about the experience of finally working with her ...
Winona was a lovely young girl when we did the Orbison video. She’s grown into a wonderful artist and strong woman.
We hear a lot about what channels like Netflix and series like Stranger Things have done for television and for drama. What are the pluses for actors?
The pluses are there are more opportunities for work. Also, because of the series format being what it is, it allows for more complex story telling and character development.
Plot-wise, Stranger Things is a b it of a head-scratcher: do you understand what’s going on?
I’m not trying to figure it out. Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones – each of these shows came from multibook novels. Stranger Things does not. So it doesn’t have the advantage of a laid out future. It has to be created or invented. That can, for the writers and creators, be like trying to write Moby Dick, in a storm, on the open deck of the Pequod.
When the Duffer brothers were three years old, you were working with Stanley Kubrick. Do they defer to you in all things – or are you learning from them as much as they are from you?
I’m teaching them everything. (Smile)
You were already busy working in the 1980s. Did you have a chance to see films like Poltergeist, The Goonies etc? If not, have you caught up with them since?
Yes. I was very busy with work, but I always found time to see what my contemporaries were up to.
You’re (fairly) often cast in “nice guy” roles. How does it feel to be playing a less pleasant character?
Less pleasant is an entertaining comment. It tells me more about you than I can tell about the character I’m portraying. Let me ask you a couple questions. How many people has Brenner killed? Hurt? How many arms has he broken? Did he always calmly explain to Eleven what experiments he was going to perform? Just asking ...
Has your character become a Hallowe’en favourite yet – and if he hasn’t, how would you feel if he did?
I’d be cool with that.
A Harvey Weinstein question: what rumours, if any, had you heard, and what are the wider implications for the film industry and American society in general?
I don’t deal in rumours. As for the subject of sexual harassment and the people that wade in that cesspool – I am glad they’re being exposed for what they are. I don’t take any joy in their being outed, but I’m glad their power to harass is taken away from them. It’s such an ugly aspect of our world. I do take heart that young people will look upon recent events and clearly, soberly, understand that forcing oneself onto another person is violently wrong and unacceptable behaviour – no matter what.
Stranger Things 2 is available now on Netflix
Modine thinks the appeal of the show is in large part its roots in the 1980s – a time when life was very different from today
Matthew Modine as Dr Brenner in Stranger Things