Natalia Dyer on Stranger Things Season 4 and Embracing Her Inner Fangirl

Natalia Dyer as Tommy Shelby from ‘Peaky Blinders.’
Natalia Dyer as Tommy Shelby from ‘Peaky Blinders.’ Photographed by Natalia Dyer. Dyer wears a Margaret Howell shirt and jacket.

For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

Natalia Dyer is under no illusions about the fact that Netflix has her “in a really tough spot.” The 26-year-old is strictly forbidden to discuss the very thing countless fans and viewers have been dying to ask her about: Stranger Things season 4. Dyer can’t even hint at a release date; filming was still underway in Atlanta, Georgia, including on scenes first started pre-pandemic—all the way back in January of 2020—at the time that we spoke. She can, however, delve into her love for another Netflix series: Peaky Blinders, which stars Cillian Murphy as a transfixingly tortured leader of a street gang in 1920s England.

One would think Dyer, of all people, would have a good grasp of fandom. But it took some firsthand experience to get there: She and her quarantine housemates (including boyfriend and Stranger Things costar Charlie Heaton) watched the most recent season finale wearing Peaky Blinders hats. Apart from this shoot channeling Murphy’s Tommy Shelby, Dyer has yet to live up to the Beckham level of dressing up as a dandy in her downtime—for now. (The drop date for the next season of Peaky Blinders is TBD; Stranger Things fans, Dyer feels your pain.) Here, she talks embracing her inner fangirl and details the select Stranger Things things she (thinks she) can.

When did you first get into Peaky Blinders?

It’s funny—it’s obviously been around for a while. I think I may have tried to watch it over the past couple of years, but I’ve never been good at watching shows by myself and it was a little difficult for me to understand the dialect. And then I quarantined with three other people—one from the cast, and then one of my good friends I made in Atlanta and her friend—and we just started watching it. With subtitles, to be honest.

Honestly, I watch most things with subtitles. No shame.

Don’t sleep on it. I find it can be quite helpful sometimes. And with the subtitles on, I think it’s honestly the first show I’ve watched all the way through and then been waiting for the next season. Of course I’ve watched a lot of shows over the past year or so, but Peaky Blinders was the one that really brought us together and gave us something to be excited about—to the point that we bought the hats and wore them to watch the last episode. We were really into it. The performances are amazing, but it’s really a special show that marked quarantine for my friends and me, and I really appreciated having it. As someone who didn’t watch as much TV, this whole period really taught me the value and power that that has: how nice it is to have this thing that people make—that I also make [Laughs]—bring people together, and bring them joy together.

It’s so funny to hear you say that. I mean, the show you star in has an enormous fanbase.

It took me quarantine to kind of...well, not appreciate TV, but to find a new appreciation for TV. And there’s so much good stuff out there. I guess it’s hard to talk about my show; obviously I’m in it, so I don’t have the same experience with watching it. But I get it now. I get watching shows all the way through, watching them with other people, telling other people about it, waiting for seasons. It can be such a real connection.

Dyer with costar and boyfriend Charlie Heaton on the set of 'Stranger Things.' Photographed by Tina Rowden/Netflix.

Do you feel like you also got why people get so completely and utterly obsessed with a series? No shade to the Stranger Things community or any others, but it can get intense.

Yeah, I think so. It’s funny—there are shows I’ve watched this year with actors I’m sure I’ve met at events, just as normal people, not even knowing what shows they’re in. And then I go back and watch them and I go, Oh god. If I ever saw them again, I don’t know how I would be. It really does kind of transform your view of people, and I totally understand that. It’s always an interesting experience on the other side, but I definitely can be a fangirl too. I have been a fangirl. I pride myself on being not too much of one, but there have been a couple people that I just lost my mind over and really couldn’t rein it in.

Such as?

I saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge when she was just sweeping the awards, and so deservedly, and it was almost like I was propelled by a force. I just had to say something, but you never know what. You’re like, “I...think you’re awesome.” She probably thought I was a crazy person, and I probably was. It’s weird to have a relationship with someone who has no idea who you are. You’re like, You’ve been in my living room for months, you know? We were close—remember all those nights together? [Laughs]

Have you ever met Cillian Murphy?

No, and that’s somebody who I don’t know how it would go with. I don’t know if I would even say anything, or if I’d be too scared because I’m such a fan.

He’s sort of like a Benedict Cumberbatch in that the Internet is so divided over his appearance. What’s your stance?

Beautiful. Striking. Those cheekbones? Those eyes? Oh my god, yeah. And Tommy Shelby is such a mesmerizing, quiet performance. When he’s on, he just commands the screen—you want to know everything about him, and you get why other characters are drawn in.

Have you ever been so into a show before?

I’ve definitely watched shows all the way through, like Game of Thrones, but I tend to be quite late to them. Over quarantine, I watched all of The Crown, Succession, and Breaking Bad. Honestly, I’m kind of glad I saved them all. It’s always really sad when you finish—you’re like, What now? Where do I go from here? I just want more of that.

What’s your new go-to?

The most recent was actually Survivor. [Laughs] Joe Keery [who plays Steve in Stranger Things] has been talking about watching it for a while and I was kind of like, Really? It just didn’t sound up my alley. But I don’t know—after we finished Breaking Bad and Mare of Easttown, I was like, Hmm, maybe I’ll try something different, and I was so shocked by how watchable Survivor is. If you want to take a break from all the heavier, introspective shows, It’s a fun watch. I don’t typically watch reality TV; the most I do is cooking shows, like The Great British Bake Off and MasterChef. And MasterChef Junior—that’s a great show.

I spoke with your Stranger Things costar Maya Hawke recently, and got the impression that you’ve all been in Atlanta forever.

Oh yeah, we’ve become very familiar with Atlanta. Very familiar. We started filming in January of 2020, and then, you know, everything happened. Then we went back in September of 2020 and have been working there since, so I’ve been kind of staying in that mental space since the beginning of 2020. This season has been quite a different journey; we normally film for six or seven consecutive months. We’re kind of in the last stretch, at least with my part. So it’s been pretty busy—very busy, actually, but also fun.

Is there anything at all you can share about season 4?

I can’t say much. It’s bigger, it’s darker, and it’s gonna be great. [Laughs] It’s such a hard question. I’m like, I can say that, but then I’m like, Oh, can I? I’m not sure.... You know, we kind of pick up a bit after where we left off. [Laughs] I really have been saying the most generic things. They put us in a really tough spot. I say this every season, but I really am excited. I think the cast and crew are, too—we’re all amazed that despite everything, we were able to keep working. And I will say, I’ve really come to admire the “kids” on our show. They’re not kids anymore.

Right—Finn Wolfhard is a Saint Laurent model now.

I know. So to watch them grow up and hone their craft.... I’ve gained so much respect for them as actors, and really just love working with them.

It must be such a strange experience to film something with so many special effects.

Definitely. And there have been bigger and crazier things happening in every season since the first. I’m partially so excited about this one because the way we shot it feels so different, so stretched out, you know? There’s stuff we filmed a year and a half ago, which is kind of crazy to still be working on it—like, What did we shoot? That was so long ago. I’m really curious to see it, though it’ll be a while. We don’t know when, but of course you edit after you wrap, so it’ll be a minute.

I remember being blown away the first time I saw what special effects looked like behind the scenes—it was this photo of Andy Serkis, who played Gollum, squatting on a rock in a spandex bodysuit with silver balls on it. Is that the type of thing you deal with?

Oh yeah. I mean, I’ll never forget this one scene from last season. We’re in the hospital and the lights are blinking and we’re terrified—you know, Monster! But for us it’s this guy in one of those giant spandex suits covering his entire body, and a silver ball on his head. [Laughs] And he was amazing! It is lovely to have a person, because sometimes you’re talking to tennis balls or marks or screens. You just have to take a moment to laugh at what’s happening. When you’re working with special effects, there are so many moments where you’re just like, This is my job.