About a month prior to Stranger Things‘ hotly anticipated third season premiere on July 4th, Brief Take spoke to one of the newbies, who plays Heather, a lifeguard at the Hawkins community pool. Of course, with Stranger Things being the huge success on Netflix that it is, discussing particular plot details went out the window, although Reale said that she was used to this level of secrecy from a Netflix series, having previously appeared in the criminally underrated Haters Back Off, and is part of the ensemble of the SXSW debuting Yes, God, Yes. But we were most eager to speak about Stranger Things season three, and the chatty Reale did an incredible job of talking about the series, while keeping all of us in suspense for the Independence Day streaming debut.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone conversation with the winning and down-to-earth Francesca Reale of Stranger Things.
Brief Take: Did you know Natalia Dyer, your co-star in Yes, God, Yes, would also be with you on Stranger Things?
Francesca Reale: No! So it’s interesting, actually, I had met Natalia on my first day of Yes, God, Yes and it was very early in the morning, we were both very, very tired and discussing 90’s trivia. And yeah, we really bonded and it’s kind of rare that you make such a quick friendship like that on a job. She was one of the first people I got to call when I did get the job on Stranger Things and I got that after we finished Yes, God, Yes, we had just wrapped that movie for about a month, I want to say, by the time I had auditioned and booked Stranger Things.
BT: I like the idea of 90’s trivia. What’s your favourite bit of 90’s nostalgia?
FR: Oh my God! We talked a lot about Britney Spears. I think that a lot of it was also kind of shock and awe about what we were exposed to as children of the ’90’s, and how different it is from what kids are shown now on TV and in music videos. We were always debating whether we were shown more vulgar, crude television than they are now, or if we kind of got the better end of the stick. [laughs] We talked a lot about Britney Spears and we talked a lot about Walkmans vs. iPods, and instead of the convenience of switching from one song, taking two clicks to switch from an album, you had to actually get your physical CD out of its case and put it into the Walkman and let it load and then go from there. It hasn’t been that much time since we were kids and how insane it is that all this technology has been here and around and how much has changed.
BT: I imagine that making and promoting Yes, God, Yes at South By was an incredible experience.
FR: Yes! Not only…what a group of people to promote a movie with, but they’re all so funny and they take off the pressure, because sometimes interviews can be kind of scary, you know, if you’re doing them by yourself. You can kind of be like “oh, I’m completely on the spot here, everything I say has really gotta mean something”, but that group was really good at making sure that it was always lighthearted and always fun and always laughing. Timothy Simons, he’s the oldest of all of us, and he made sure that we were always comfortable and happy and enjoying ourselves.
BT: You seem like an incredibly collaborative person and always quick to praise others.
FR: Thank you! [laughs] That’s the nicest thing I think that I’ve ever been told. My Mom will be so glad to hear that! She’ll take full credit for that compliment, I promise!
BT: What was something that you enjoyed about working with Colleen Ballinger, or Miranda Sings on Haters Back Off?
FR: Honestly, she is an amazing human in the way that she works. If you’re ever able to take a step back and watch the way that she creates her character and switches in and out of it, she has this way of doing about 500 jobs at once but all completely flawlessly, or seemingly flawlessly, at least I always felt like she did it very flawlessly. But on our show specifically, she was not only the star, she was one of the writers and worked with the producers, and she worked with the directors and she was very involved in the creative process. Simultaneously, while we were all on our lunch break, she was making her YouTube videos for the week, because I think that she explained that there were three for Miranda during the week and three for Colleen. She would be doing her social media stuff and she taught me a lot about how to use social media in an effective way, how to engage with people in an effective way, because it can be very mind-numbing [laughs] for me specifically. I’m not really the biggest fan, but she taught me how to enjoy it and how to use it in a safe way, but also that I’m engaging with the people very, very intimately and it really is incredible. And she also manages to keep a very bubbly and positive personality even though I’m sitting there thinking “If I had as much responsibility as you did, my brain would literally explode”. [laughs]
BT: What was it like to be on the Stranger Things set? People seem to rave about Shawn Levy in interviews.
FR: Well I was a little afraid of Shawn come day one of working with him, because he came on the set with a huge personality and he was ready to go and he was incredibly efficient, but I was actually a little scared of him, to be completely honest. [chuckles] You know, when you’re new on the set and he comes in and he knows everyone already, and I met him and I was like: [voice quavering] “Oh hi! I’m new!” [laughs] I’m just a scared person to be honest, everyone scares me at a certain point. He’s an incredible creator and he has an incredible mind for cinematography and how to get a good performance out of his actors. Same with the Duffer Brothers, I mean, they are so welcoming on the set and they know exactly how to work with you, all three of them, honestly, they know exactly how to work with you to get the exact performance that they’re looking for, while also simultaneously making sure that you’re happy with the performance that you give out.
Thankfully I already knew Natalia, so I already had a sense of the dynamic and I felt a little more comfortable and as I got to meet everyone slowly, there was nothing but genuine kindness on that set. Even from the kids, well, I can’t call them kids, because they’re actually more adults than I ever was at that age, to be completely honest, so Finn (Wolfhard) and Sadie (Sink) and Caleb (McLaughlin), all of them were such amazing people to be around and had such great energy. I can’t speak highly enough of the set, because it really was unlike any other thing on which I have ever been, coming in so nervous.
BT: In honour of your friendship with Camila Mendes, I took a Buzzfeed “Which Riverdale character are you?” and I got Betty. Are you a Betty or a Veronica?
FR: Actually I turned out to be a Jughead. I don’t even know how I turned out to be that way, but I actually turned out to be a Jughead. And then I retook it and I very meticulously picked my answers and I turned out to be a Veronica, but that was after I very specifically picked every answer. I wanted to be a Veronica, obviously, I don’t even know how I got that response. I wanted to be a Veronica, too, because I love Veronica. But I want to be Nancy Drew (as Betty) and I love wearing Beanies. I’m not writing a novel, I can tell you that though. That’s definitely not what’s happening.
BT: In previous interviews, you’re quick to praise your roommate Hannah Marks. Would you be open to directing as well?
FR: I would love to do any type of directing in the future. I would need to learn a lot more about it, I’m still pretty new to the whole industry and I’m still learning a lot, but Hannah is an exceptional example of someone who really is kind of a shining star. We did room together in Vancouver and she was doing Dirk Gently, while also writing her feature After Everything that eventually went to South By, and then she got announced to direct Turtles All The Way Down a couple of months ago I believe. It’s incredible! I could only dream to be in that position one day and maybe with her help, she can teach me how to do it and teach me her ways, but she’s an inspiration.
BT: Stranger Things is shot in Georgia. How do you feel about the heartbeat bill and the situation that’s going on there?
FR: I mean I feel very strongly about everything that’s happening in Georgia and I’m honestly appalled at the entire situation. I think it’s very unfair that we’re living in an era in which women are still having to fight for basic rights and their choice to do what they want with their bodies. It’s really kind of heartbreaking to see that there’s still such a divide among the sexes and there are men still feeling like they can make choices for women and speak on behalf of and for women and their experiences, especially when their experiences are ones that men will never have to go through or have on their own. Atlanta is such a beautiful place and I met so many wonderful people there and I made so many friends, that I am really hoping that Georgia gets it together and makes the right choice and doesn’t do anything that they’ll really regret in the long run.
BT: What are you going to do when it’s July 4th and everybody is watching season 3?
FR: That’s an incredible question because I legitimately have no plan. [laughs] My plan is that hopefully everyone enjoys the good response to Heather, and so far, that’s my plan. The social media element of it, hopefully my friends, who I just talked about, and my team will be very supportive and show me how to appropriately use those outlets to further help promote the show. I’m hoping that honestly everyone likes it and enjoys it as much as the last two seasons and then Stranger Things can continue on for as long as it wishes to go for in creating good TV and good entertainment and good work.
BT: Do you believe in the supernatural?
FR: It’s funny that you mention that, actually, when I first got to Atlanta, they put me up in a hotel and I had told Natalia that I was staying at this hotel and she said “Oh. That hotel’s haunted.” [laughs] And I was like: “No, no, it’s not, you’re lying!” and she said “No, Francesca, there’s this kitchen with absolutely no windows and only a door and this horrible fluorescent lighting and I am telling you, it’s haunted”, and I was like “Okay, I don’t believe you”, and then I went home that evening, to my hotel room and I was convinced that I was seeing ghosts. I was convinced that I was hearing things and hearing whispers and I can’t tell to this day if it was actually real or she had badly spooked me. I think after that experience I was pretty convinced that I was seeing shadows or hearing voices and clicking and clacking in the hotel. The lovely hotel employee told me that it was the furnace, but I don’t really believe her.
BT: Do you enjoy streaming? What do you like to watch on Netflix?
FR: I love streaming! I think it’s incredibly convenient and wonderful. It really depends on the show, depending on whether I’ll binge it or not. I had never seen Parks & Rec, so I binged that entire show while I was sick. I also started watching Chernobyl on HBO, which is so intense, that I actually have to watch an episode and then take a break and then watch the next episode and then take a break. So it really depends on the content – if it’s light-hearted, I can watch it all the way through, if it’s a little more intense, I have to watch it with little breaks. Also, The Society on Netflix, I just watched and I finally finished it. But I had to take breaks during it because a lot of it was really tough to watch. [laughs] it was really dark at certain points, so I had to take breaks between all the episodes. Stranger Things I was able to binge all the way through, but I think that this season, people are going to be so hooked. My mom’s planning on watching at midnight and she is going to binge it all the way through. She did the same thing with both seasons of Haters Back Off.
Stranger Things season 3 begins streaming on Netflix on July 4. Seasons 1 and 2 of Stranger Things are currently streaming.