Nearly two years ago, at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts tea in Los Angeles, Millie Bobby Brown, who was then only 12, was the sensation of the party. Stranger Things, a clever, supernatural homage to 1980s pop culture, had just become a hit, and her character, Eleven, an otherworldly, possibly alien, androgynous girl with telekinetic abilities and a diabolical stare, was the breakout star of the show. Unlike the misfit Eleven, Brown, who was born in Marbella, Spain, and grew up in Dorset, England, is bubbly, charming, and has a gift for socializing. On the day of the BAFTA event (and at most other ceremonies during the hectic awards season), she was leading her teenage male costars in a kind of nonstop Millie Bobby Brown parade. The four boys, who were dressed in formal clothing that they constantly seemed to be squirming out of, were content to joke among themselves or hover around the buffet, but Brown had other plans. Again and again, suddenly and swiftly, she would round them up and march her posse over to, say, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, or Justin Timberlake. Cheerfully, forcefully, Brown, who was wearing an age-appropriate party dress and strappy sandals, would extend her hand and say, “Hi! I’m Millie Bobby Brown. So glad to meet you!”
She was on a quest to meet her biggest crush, Leonardo DiCaprio, but he wasn’t there that day. Luckily, nearly every celebrity she did meet was a huge fan of Stranger Things and, especially, Eleven. But even if they had no idea who she was, Brown was unfazed: The future was, simply, hers for the taking.
According to her father, Robert Brown, Millie, who is the second youngest of four children (three girls and one boy), popped out of the womb in a confident state. “She’s always been a personality,” he told me during the shoot for this story. Brown, who is now 14, started auditioning for commercials, movies, and musicals like Matilda and Annie when she was 8. Her first job was a commercial for Publix, the supermarket chain. In the audition, she had to hold up some cupcakes and say, “Mom, can I have these?” Afterward, the casting director remarked to her father, “Your daughter is something quite unique.”
“When I got that first job, I knew right away that I was born to do this,” Brown recalled. She is now taller than when Stranger Things debuted, but she still looks the same: curious, hyper-alert, and appealingly wide-eyed. She was wearing fitted jeans and a pink sweater, but was barefoot. “Where are my sneakers?” she asked no one in particular. The entire Brown family has left England and resettled in Atlanta, where Stranger Things is filmed. Brown had just started shooting the third season, after Netflix signed her to a deal for a reported $3 million.
Like every teenager, Brown is umbilically linked to her phone. She has almost 17 million Instagram followers, who closely monitor her every post. When she met Drake in Australia last November, where both of them were on tour (she was promoting the series; he was performing), the musician draped an arm around her shoulder for a picture that went viral. “He invited me to his concert,” Brown explained matter-of-factly. “And now we talk all the time. I ask his advice.” Perhaps he has advised her to use her celebrity to draw attention to certain issues. When she won favorite TV actress at the Kids’ Choice Awards in March, Brown wore a denim shirt with the names of the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting embroidered on the back. “I take my responsibilities seriously,” Brown told me. “I recognize that I have a voice, and I want to use it wisely.”
In 2015, when she auditioned for Stranger Things, Brown had no idea that it would become her launching pad. “I didn’t know anything about it,” she explained. “Every part of the show was top secret. I Skyped with the directors [brothers Matt and Ross Duffer], and we spoke about ’80s movies—E.T., Stand by Me, and Poltergeist. I flew to L.A. for a screen test, and the next day I got the job! I was 11. We did the show, and I went back home to England. I thought, Okay, it’s a little show. What’s next? And then we came to America for the premiere. Three days later, my whole life changed. People went crazy! My followers went up to 1 million in one day. Magazines wanted me. One of my goals was to be on the cover of W, and you see? Dreams do come true.”
After the first season of Stranger Things, Brown signed a contract with Calvin Klein and was nominated for an Emmy and a SAG award, while the show won a nod for a Golden Globe. (Last week she was nominated for a second Emmy.) Time magazine chose her for its Time 100, making her the youngest recipient to garner that honor. “I don’t think I’ve changed,” she said. “I’m not thinking, Oh, I know everything now. I still get nervous. I still get anxious.” That response surprised me: Brown has always seemed so confident. Was this sudden self-doubt part of becoming a teenager? “Maybe,” she allowed. “But I still love parties! Although, even back then at the BAFTA tea, when I met Justin Timberlake, I swear I could have fainted.” She smiled. “Ask me some questions,” she said, deftly changing the subject.
Lynn Hirschberg: Who is your girl crush?
Millie Bobby Brown: Paris Jackson. She’s got great style. She’s like a sister to me. And she plays the piano!
Hirschberg: What was the first album you bought with your own money?
Brown: Amy Winehouse. I was 6. I knew every single word to “Valerie.” My dad wouldn’t let me hear “Rehab”! There were definitely rules. Amy Winehouse was my go-to, but back then I sang “We Found Love,” by Rihanna, in the mornings. It got me going when I had to go to school.
Hirschberg: What’s your favorite Halloween costume?
Brown: I’ve never been very good at Halloween. I play characters all the time, so what’s the point of dressing up as another character? The last couple of Halloweens, I saw a lot of people dressed as Eleven. Sometimes it’s comforting. But it’s also very interesting to see a 40-year-old man wearing the look of my 12-year-old character.
Hirschberg: As a child, what was your favorite toy?
Brown: A microphone that had High School Musical on it. I could sing with Zac Efron! I watched High School Musical every single day. When I met Zac Efron, I could barely speak.
Hirschberg: What is the first e-mail you remember sending?
Brown: I always wanted to be on Ellen, and that was the first e-mail I sent: to Ellen DeGeneres. I explained my life story and how I needed to be on her show. I never got a response. Five years later, I was on Ellen! She found that e-mail and showed it to the audience. Very embarrassing. I had made lots of grammatical mistakes.
Hirschberg: In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, your first film, which will be out next spring, you play a girl named Madison. Was it hard to act opposite a monster that wasn’t there?
Brown: Godzilla was a tennis ball! I was always looking up. My neck hurt a lot, and I had to get dry needling. They stuck a really big, but thin, needle in my neck. Your muscle then spasms, and, eventually, you’re fine. After the dry needling, I had a great rapport with the tennis ball.
Hirschberg: Now that you live here, what do you like best about America?
Brown: I love red Jolly Rancher candy. Cherry. They’re very sour. I’m not allowed to eat them anymore, because they color my tongue. Eleven is odd enough without having a red tongue.
As she stuck out her tongue to show its clean non-redness, Brown had to stop talking: It was time for hair and makeup. Without knowing her affinity for Amy Winehouse, the stylist decided that Brown’s hair should be teased into a version of the messy, high bouffant that was the singer’s trademark. Brown was thrilled. Her father, who was sitting nearby with her older brother watching Liverpool, their soccer club, defeat Roma, was smiling at his daughter’s reflection in the mirror. “You know,” he said, “Millie is all confidence and swagger in the world, but at night, at home, she can turn into a little, shy girl. It’s a side of her that only her family sees.”
As the makeup artist added a cat-eye tilt to her round eyes, Brown stared at the transformation in the mirror. I asked her if she ever felt like a typical restless teenager—did she ever want to go crazy, be rebellious, run away? “I can be rebellious,” Brown replied, carefully choosing her words. “But not so much. I’ve never been grounded by my parents. I’m a very good girl.” She paused. “But I do believe in making noise, in being loud.”
To play Eleven, Brown had to cut off her long hair and shave her head, which is something that would be traumatic for any 11-year-old. Her baldness instantly set her apart from, well, everybody. “The shaved head was a big deal,” Brown admitted. “On the one hand, it was cool. When you’re bald, rain feels like a head massage. I’d walk in the rain, and people would look at me like I was crazy. I’d be smiling—so, so happy to have the water hit my naked head. But on the other hand, people stared at me, wondering whether I was sick. Some would even laugh at me, without knowing whether I was or wasn’t sick. It was hurtful, but their attitude taught me something about compassion. In the end, being bald was the best thing I ever did—being different changed my life. I wanted to embrace my baldness and, hopefully, inspire people. And, now, that’s become my message to the world.”
Katherine Langford, Aubrey Plaza, Evan Peters and More Stars Who Prove Television Is Better Than Ever
I was born in Oakland, California. Since I was a kid, I have been acting in plays. The only musical I’ve ever done is Hamilton. Even the early versions were really great, but I’ve made a lot of stuff I think is great and nobody cared, so the success of Hamilton was definitely a surprise.
You won the Tony for best actor in a featured role in a musical. You wore a Comme des Garçons Homme Plus suit to accept it.
That whole night was out of body. For a month, I had been campaigning for something I didn’t know I wanted. And I loved that suit. I’ve gotten to wear a lot of Comme des Garçons’ art pieces, and they’re pretty wonderful.
Had you already been cast in Black-ish?
Yes. The Black-ish creator, Kenya Barris, pitched me the idea of playing Rainbow’s brother. Rainbow is liberal, freethinking, a doctor, and a mom. I told him, when I watched the show, I’ve always been Team Rainbow! I’m from the Bay Area. I really get that hippie shit for real.
What movie makes you cry?
Wonder made me cry. Yeah, I was in the movie! Sitting there, in the premiere of my first film, and I’m weeping. That wasn’t a good look.
What was your first pet’s name?
Kasha. He was a sheltie. When I was born, my parents had six German shepherds and one sheltie. They all had Hebrew names: Shlomo, L’Chaim, Mezuzah, Delilah, etc. So, Kasha.
And what street did you grow up on?
So your porn name is Kasha 44?
Not bad. It’s good for futuristic Internet porn.
Diggs wears a Bottega Veneta suit, shirt, and tie.
13 Reasons Why was the first thing I’d ever done. Living in Perth, Australia, I didn’t have a big social media presence. Then the show aired, and overnight it blew up. I spoke to Selena Gomez, a producer of 13 Reasons Why, and she said, “The message of the show is really important.” So I went through a wave of being like, “Social media is really cool.” But when I read what some people were saying on it, I took a step back. I’ve not stopped posting, but I am careful about my output into the universe. What is your favorite karaoke song? I don’t do karaoke much because I end up screaming. But on my birthday, they just baited me with Gaga the whole night. “Yoü and I” killed me. I love an anthem: something that will rally the troops.
Langford wears a Valentino cape and blouse.
I’m named Aubrey after a song from the group Bread in the ’70s. My mom was really young and she just liked the song. I looked it up in a baby book: My name means “ruler of the elves,” so I’m a queen elf. I was always interested in being an actress. The week I left the East Coast for Los Angeles, I was cast in two films and in Parks and Recreation. My whole life changed overnight. In all those projects, I was the dream girl of all the nerds, so when I read the script for Legion, I thought I was going to play the female lead. But they offered me the part of Lenny Busker, which was originally written as a middle-aged man. Lenny becomes the psychic mutant villain of the show. I was interested in showing I can do unexpected things.
Is it fun to have superpowers?
Yes! I can kill people just like snapping my fingers! That’s a good feeling: minimal movement for maximum destructive effect.
Plaza wears a Paco Rabanne dress.
I always watched a lot of TV. As a kid, I’d gorge on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. When I was 12, I was offered a part on One Life to Live and turned it down. I was nervous about developing bad acting habits as a child. Even at 13, when I did the pilot for My So-Called Life, I knew it was unusually excellent material. It’s so rare to be on an immediate and exact parallel with the character you’re playing. It was a relief to blast all of my teenage grievances out into the world. When Homeland came around, I was scared. My character, Carrie Mathison, is very troubled. To play somebody wrestling with a bipolar condition in very high-stakes circumstances seemed rather fatiguing. But, ultimately, it was too good to ignore. It’s that classic thing: If it scares you, you don’t really have a choice.
Growing up, did you have any TV crushes?
Yes. I had a crush on the kid from the show Mr. Belvedere. And Ricky Schroder. And the Coreys: Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. There was a hotline, something like 1-900-Corey. I was in a crummy mood one day after school and I kept calling it. A month later, my dad got the bill. He was like, “Claire, did you call this weird hotline number?”
You were in Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio. At that time, he was everyone’s biggest crush.
Yes. That was problematic. I couldn’t really have a crush on the guy I was professionally having a crush on! Quite a few gay men have talked to me about the fact that when they were kids watching Romeo + Juliet, they were confused about who they wanted to kiss. It was all about Leo! And I completely understand.
Danes wears a Proenza Schouler dress.
The shaved head was a big deal. On the one hand, it was cool. When you’re bald, rain feels like a head massage. I’d walk in the rain, and people would look at me like I was crazy. I’d be smiling—so, so happy to have the water hit my naked head. But on the other hand, people stared at me, wondering whether I was sick. Some would even laugh at me, without knowing whether I was or wasn’t sick. It was hurtful, but their attitude taught me something about compassion. In the end, being bald was the best thing I ever did—being different changed my life. I wanted to embrace my baldness and, hopefully, inspire people. And, now, that’s become my message to the world.
Millie Bobby Brown wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Calvin Klein Jeans turtleneck.
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In the Ryan Murphy world of American Horror Story, I have been Tate Langdon, who was crazy; Kit Walker, who was abducted by aliens, which made him crazy; Frankenkyle, a college fraternity guy who gets in an accident, dies, and is sewn together and brought back to life as a monster; Jimmy Darling, who had lobster hands and was part of the freak show; Mr. March, who was a serial murderer; and, in the latest installment, Kai Anderson, a totally insane, megalomaniacal cult leader. Now, in Pose, I play a yuppie in 1987 New York. I get bit by the wonderful bug of the transgender underworld. Pose is more of a love story, but, at this moment, we still don’t know how it ends. I may still go crazy.
Did you ask Ryan Murphy to finally give you a non-insane part?
I go into each job saying, “I don’t want to play anybody crazy again.” But then Ryan calls and tells me, “You’re playing this Charles Manson–esque person who sucks people into a cult and controls them with ‘pinky power,’ ” and I say, “Okay! Sure!”
Peters wears a Bottega Veneta sweater.
Is it hard to act when you’re naked?
Here’s the trick: You have to look at a sex scene as an opportunity to express things that can be expressed best when people are making love. Or fucking. Or whatever. But, in fact, I’m a sex worker in The Deuce, so I have to pretend to fuck someone I’ve just met. And then another guy. And another. So what’s expressed in those scenes is somebody who’s doing a transaction. Then it’s fine to act naked, because all these other things are going on in your mind.
Did you watch any ’70s porn films to prepare for the role?
Yes, I watched some Lasse Braun movies. He was a very playful Italian porn director. But I haven’t seen Deep Throat. I did read the autobiography of Tina Russell, a pretty famous porn star in the early ’70s, when the mood was “we are all fucking and free and we love it.” I do believe in showing that kind of sexual freedom. On the other hand, she wrote that book when she was in her early 20s and was dead less than a decade later of alcoholism. So, for The Deuce, I’m into that combination of things: They’re both true.
Gyllenhaal wears a Marc Jacobs trenchcoat.
I had been offered a lot of parts where I would play the villain, and that was not interesting to me. When my agent called and told me that The Looming Tower was about 9/11, I immediately said I didn’t want to do it. I assumed they wanted me to play a terrorist. But, in fact, I play a real American FBI agent who was fighting against al Qaeda, against evil. I was like, Whoa. Yeah. Finally!
Where were you when the planes hit the World Trade Center?
I was in Belfort, France, my hometown. I was shopping when the first plane crashed into the first tower. We didn’t know whether it was an attack or an accident. I ran into a huge store, and it had a wall of TVs. And then the second plane crashed in front of my eyes. I thought that it would be World War III. And it has changed the face of the world.
Rahim wears an AMI Alexandre Mattiussi jacket and sweater; his own ring.
When I auditioned for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I wore this yellow shirt that I thought was adorable, but they asked me to change my clothes for my second audition, so I guess it wasn’t as adorable as I thought! The costumes are a huge part of Midge, my character. Her outer appearance is something she takes an enormous amount of pride in. Between the corset, the petticoats, the tights and the beautiful dresses, hair and makeup, I feel completely transformed when I walk out of my trailer. That’s my favorite part about being an actor. It always has been.
Mrs. Maisel does stand-up comedy. Were you nervous about being funny in front of an audience?
Comedy is terrifying. It’s probably the worst thing i could imagine anyone doing to themselves–and also the most exhilarating. But I would absolutely not attempt stand-up as myself. Nope. No. No. No. Never. Even as Midge, I do a lot of power posing in my dressing room to gain confidence.
Brosnahan wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress and boots.
For as long as I can remember, I knew something about my life was meant to be meaningful, that I’ve got something to do here,” she says. “I don’t know how I knew, but I was sure I’d make an impact.
Letitia Wright wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, turtleneck, and pants; her own shoes. Beauty: Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup in Color 11.0, Brow Tamer in Dark, Sin Afterglow Palette, Hi-Fi Shine Lip Gloss in Midnight Cowgirl.
A long time ago, I was in a miniseries called Taken that Steven Spielberg produced for the Sci Fi channel. I hadn’t really done anything else on TV until The Alienist. We shot the show for almost seven months in Budapest, Hungary, which became my home. I sobbed hysterically when I had to leave my life there.
Were you also attached to your character’s corset?
I didn’t get quite as attached to the corset. But one of the most important things about The Alienist was the costumes. I fainted during my first fitting. I had just gotten off the plane and was swollen and jet-lagged. They put the corset on, and I said, “I’m going down!” I had to sit. But I got used to it. My body completely changed. For better or worse, the corset puts you into the character. It affects everything you do: breathing, walking, sitting, standing, and definitely eating.
Do you watch television?
Yes! I’m obsessed with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Some of the best TV I’ve ever seen was the breakup of Arie and Becca on last season’s Bachelor. That’s what I’m trying to figure out: With reality television, if it’s all set up and fake, then they’ve got the greatest actors in the world.
Fanning wears a Gucci dress, headpiece, and body chain.
Preacher is based on a very dark comic book, with a lot of humor to break up the darkness. I wasn’t a comic book kid, but I know someone who had a brother who wore black leather jackets, had a lot of piercings, and would never come out of his bedroom. We once broke into that boy’s room, and he had Preacher.
When I heard about the script, I looked at the comic again. On one of the covers, I saw this drawing of a head. I saw a demonic, demented, psychotic person staring back at my face, and I thought, That’s sort of me.
Seth Rogen is one of the producers of Preacher. When I went to meet him, he had huge hair and a massive beard. He was in a haze of marijuana smoke. He was trying to explain to me that the show would have people with assholes as faces and other people would sort of have sex with meat. I thought, No—this isn’t for me, thanks. But, obviously, I had inhaled so much of what they were having that I was mesmerized. I signed up straightaway.
Cooper wears a Giorgio Armani shirt.
Before I was an actress, I wanted to be a basketball player. Growing up in Boston, I practiced all the time. I wouldn’t leave the court unless I made 100 free throws and 100 lefty layups. My friend Phoebe and I would hustle men—we would act like we didn’t know how to play, and then we’d play two-on-two with guys and bet money. We would often win.
I went to college in New York, at Barnard, and that’s where I discovered acting. My first job was playing a waitress from Staten Island on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Eventually, I moved to L.A. I was sick of being a broke, struggling auditioner, so I wrote SMILF.
The optics of SMILF are very autobiographical. Like my character on the show, I play basketball, and I, too, have a baby daddy who’s married to a beautiful blonde actress from Australia. But then the show veers off in a million crazy directions.
Your toddler son on the show is so cute.
Those are twin girls playing my son. They’re the most beautiful humans who have ever lived and will ever live.
Won’t it be awkward when you’re in year 20 of the show and your son looks like your daughter?
It’ll be GILF then. Grandmothers! Actually, we may want to say he was really two girls. That would be a great story to tell!
Shaw wears a Michael Kors Collection coat; her own jewelry.
When they sent me Yellowstone, I freaked out because the show’s writer-director, Taylor Sheridan, is my favorite living writer. I went to the store, got a cowboy hat, and gave it my best. I made a tape at home, mostly because I didn’t want to go in and screw it up in front of a casting director. Taylor called me two days later, and I was so nervous, all I could do was giggle.
You grew up in Dayton, Ohio. That is nothing like Darby, Montana, where you film the show.
Well, growing up in Ohio, I hunted and did stuff like that. In Montana, there are hardly any people. Just land. You’ve got to figure out your outdoor activities real quick or you’re going to be in trouble.
Where was your first date?
I met my first girlfriend at church camp. My dad’s a pastor. I went to Christian schools and Christian everything until I moved to New York. My first girlfriend’s dad was also a pastor. We weren’t really allowed to date, but we were a little sneaky. We found a way.
Grimes wears a Simon Miller jacket; Everest Isles shirt; AG T-shirt; his own necklace.