Note: This article contains spoilers for “Stranger Things 4” Volume 1.
For a majority of “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume 1, Jamie Campbell Bower is tasked with introducing viewers to not one, but two deeply unnerving characters.
There’s Peter Ballard, the friendly orderly at Hawkins Lab who, despite seemingly trying to help Eleven, has a disconcerting quality about him that is hard to place. And then there’s Vecna, the monster that is terrorizing Hawkins from the Upside Down. The fact that they are the same person, which is a major plot twist in Episode 7, has to both remain a mystery and also make complete sense as soon as it’s revealed. It was a challenge that Bower knew immediately he wanted to face.
“That’s why hopefully [Peter] comes across as slightly jarring and slightly disconcerting, where you’re like, ‘Oh, on the outside, he seems to be being nice but there’s something off about this person.’ Because there is,” Bower told TheWrap during a recent interview.
In the week since the first part of the explosive fourth installment dropped on Netflix, Bower has finally been able to discuss playing such a massive role: that of Season 4’s central villain. It was “terrifying” he admitted, to give the character over to the fans after having kept it under wraps for so long. But, after having been a part of so many major franchises from “Twilight” to “Harry Potter,” Bower said he was ultimately not surprised that audiences welcomed him to “Stranger Things” with open arms.
“It’s a pleasure and a joy to be a part of the show and to be a contributing part of that world,” he said.
Below, Bower details more about his experience diving into the world of “Stranger Things,” as well as what songs would help him escape the very villain he portrays.
You’re no stranger to being a part of major franchises with very passionate fan bases. What has it been like to be welcomed into the “Stranger Things” fandom? Is there anything that’s struck you about this show and these fans, specifically?
Wow. I mean, one of the great things about this show I think is its demographic is so broad. So I have friends who are in their 40s who adore the show and their children, who are like eight and nine, love the show as well. That’s really beautiful. There comes a sort of universality with it. From what I’ve experienced thus far, this is a very kind, funny, dedicated fan base. It’s a pleasure and a joy to be a part of the show and to be a contributing part of that world. There’s a lot of hilarity. I’ve got memes of Vecna — from before people knew [it was me] — of like Vecna arriving at the Met Gala, which just made me f—ing howl. It was the funniest thing.
How does it feel to finally be able to talk about the full scope of your role this season?
It feels terrifying. Cathartic and terrifying at the same time, if that’s possible. It really is a joy to be able to talk about it now. I’ve said this before, but we do the work in a bubble. And we don’t think about anything other than what we’re doing. And then all of a sudden, we get to hand it over. And it’s scary. That’s scary sometimes.
So, obviously the Peter/001/Vecna connection shocked me. But I was even more floored when I learned that Vecna was actually you, with practical effects. How did you react when you learned that was the plan?
I knew that from the beginning. I was all in. I was sold. I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing.’ Duncan Jarman, who works with Barry [Gower], who sculpted this amazing character, I’ve worked with Duncan before and Barry’s obviously a genius. So I just was very sure that this was going to be brilliant. I remember the test day for Vecna. Everyone was quite nervous as to whether or not this would all work when we got on camera. Would it be good? And thankfully it was, and there was this collective sigh of relief, I think. But I was never like ‘Oh no. Seven and a half hours in makeup? Absolutely not doing that. Get someone else in.’ It sounded like a joy. It sounded like a challenge.
How do you think having you and having Vecna on set helped elevate those scenes?
Well, we’re interacting rather than standing in front of a tennis ball on a stick or, you know, a cardboard cutout of something. There comes a truth and a reality to the performance and the fear, and the terror is amped up, cecause this is a real person. It’s a real being. I just think it just brought more terror to the show.
Vecna is already pretty scary. But, Peter is also really unnerving, even before you know there’s a connection. You couldn’t give too much away too soon, but it also made total sense when everything clicked into place. How did you balance that?
I both tracked backwards and tracked forwards at the same time to where we first meet Henry. And I got there at roughly the same time. So, I was learning, building the backstory at the same time as knowing where he ends up and then it was about, ‘Okay, well, I can’t show her what I’m thinking. So I need to blanket this with a nicer, gentler veneer.’ That’s why hopefully it comes across as slightly jarring and slightly disconcerting, where you’re like, ‘Oh, on the outside, he seems to be being nice but there’s something off about this person.’ Because there is. It’s there. That’s the predominant goal. I just sort of had to mask it. Be nice. Everything’s fine. Please don’t see what I’m trying to f—ing do.
Especially since you’re also a musician, I have to ask — is there a song that would save you from Vecna and the mind layer?
You’re the third person to ask me that, and I’ve now backed myself into a corner where I have to answer the same way every time. There are two. If I’m being normal and grounded and centered and intelligent, I’m going to say the Placebo cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” I love Placebo, and I love that song. So those two worlds combining, I love that. My naughty answer, my crazy Jamie answer would be “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus.
Something tells me that Volume 2 won’t be the last time we see Vecna. Can you give us any hints about what’s in store?
In Volume 2 or beyond Volume 2?
Let’s say a little bit of both.
In Volume 2, you will see mass character development, understanding of the world, understanding of a lot of things. There’s a lot more to come and a lot more questions are answered. Eleven and Henry have a history. We’ll go with that. And beyond that, I couldn’t possibly say.