Finn Wolfhard Is Killing It
The 13-year-old star went supersonic after stealing the show in Netflix’s summer smash series Stranger Things. Now, as he embarks on some even spookier projects, City Life takes a ride with horror’s new wonder kid.
I realize my mistake about seven seconds after Finn Wolfhard hops out of his car.
“Sorry my voice is a bit hoarse,” he says with an apologetic shrug. “We’ve been screaming and crying a lot on set this week.”
I look from the 13-year-old actor to the towering Leviathan behind us, just as the next train of thrill-seekers shrieks past at 148 kilometres per hour, and wonder if an amusement park was really the smartest spot to bring him for our interview.
But pandemonium is Wolfhard’s forte. He first appeared on our screens this summer next to Winona Ryder in Stranger Things, Netflix’s retro-style sci-fi/horror series that promptly earned cult status and a renewal for a second season. He was such a natural at playing the role of Mike Wheeler, a character that pays perfect homage to the young and curious hero of vintage space opera, that Wolfhard was basically a shoo-in for the cast of the Toronto-shot remake of It. In shifting from a series that’s inspired by the ’80s imaginings of Stephen King to a flick that’s set out to reimagine an actual Stephen King classic, Wolfhard’s jumped from one unearthly monster to the next, screaming and scheming all the way.
Despite having left most of his voice (and most of his energy) in the studio, Wolfhard is as buoyant and bubbly as the invincible tween he is as we wade through the unusually humid September air and into a shimmery golden hour at Canada’s Wonderland. Trying to be as inconspicuous as it’s possible to be while being trailed by a bodyguard, a publicist and two photographers, we walk up to a squirt-gun game manned by a young woman with a headset microphone. She welcomes us to the fun, pauses — and then, eyes widening, she blurts through her speaker, “Oh, my God — it’s the kid from Stranger Things!” Oops. Better get moving.
“I love your show, have a great day!” she exclaims, drawing dozens of eyes our way, as Wolfhard frantically thanks her while backing away.
“Thanks! Thanks so much,” he says with the grace and patience of someone who’s still taking his baby steps into a life in the public eye.
Even here in Vaughan, where we’re relatively removed from the flash photography that haunts bigger cities, Wolfhard’s wearing sunglasses like a good celebrity-in-training. He hasn’t yet fallen victim to the paparazzi, but he’s experienced a fair share of the name-screaming, selfie-demanding mania that’s synonymous with fame. Since Stranger Things became a worldwide phenomenon — becoming the object of elaborate fan art, themed Halloween costumes, essay-length Reddit theories, memes and BuzzFeed quizzes — Wolfhard’s star has gone supernova in a matter of months.
“I went to this AOL livestream thing and people were lined up out front screaming, ‘Finn! Finn!’ And I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t like this,’” he tells me. “It’s totally gratifying, but it’s also weird to think that people want to come up to me.”
Wolfhard rules out the idea of taking on Behemoth or Leviathan in an attempt to salvage his speech, but he consents to trying out a few of the slower rides, and we make a beeline for the first to catch his eye: The Rage, a pendulum pirate ship. As we wait to board, I ask Wolfhard if he’s dared to go for a stroll down King Street lately. During filming, he and his mother have been staying in Toronto’s core, which TIFF is presently ravaging. He tells me he hasn’t dared, and I say that’s probably for the best.
“Probably,” he says with a chuckle, as we shuffle onto the ride and are instantly eyed by two whispering sisters seated behind us.
“That’s that kid,” I hear one of them murmur excitedly.
For Wolfhard, who hails from Vancouver’s west side, acting was always on his horizon. His family’s dabbled in the industry for years, with his father spending his free time penning screenplays. When he was eight years old, Wolfhard decided he wanted to dip his toes in, too, either behind the scenes or in front of them, and he ended up pursuing the latter — and swiftly smashed it.
“It’s really fun to play pretend, and do it for a living,” he says — especially when your breakout role is complemented by Ryder’s captivating comeback performance as Joyce Byers, Mike’s friend’s mother. The edgy ’90s icon played mentor to most of her younger, less experienced cast, and Wolfhard’s portrayal of Mike reminisced her signature raw, honest approach to acting. The result has kept him suspended in the hearts of viewers and the gaze of casting agents.
In fact, the series’ creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, pulled a Lost and wrote the script as they went along so they could mould the characters to synergize with the actors and their chemistry. Hanging out with Wolfhard, I start to see the Mike in him — or maybe it’s the Finn in Mike. He says he relates a lot to his It character, Richie, as well, who’s the source of crude comic relief in the grim film.
“Both Mike and Richie are caricatures of me,” he says. “Mike’s more serious and knows what he wants, but Richie is always joking. I like playing the funny guy.”
Every job has its pros and its cons, and he admits that the gruelling hours and physical and emotional demand of his job can at times be a bit much — especially now, as they wrap up the final month of filming for It, which has apparently been his most challenging on-set experience yet. The 12-hour days are harder to swallow than the typical nine-hour shoots he went through while working on the first season of Stranger Things, and Wolfhard laments that he hasn’t had the chance to chat with his friends much this summer. Not to mention his schedule held him back from walking the Emmys red carpet on Sept. 18 with his Stranger Things buddies, who gifted the audience with an iconic pre-show by taking to the stage to sing Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk.”
“[Shooting It] has been a blast, but it’s also been the most intense thing I’ve ever done in my life,”
he says. “The first month was easy, because we were doing fun scenes. But the last month has been, like, terror.”
For those who haven’t dared read or watch previous renditions of It, the monster appears in the form of its victims’ biggest fear. I ask Wolfhard what the monster would look like for him, and it takes a few minutes but he comes up with something. “A ravenous coyote — those really freak me out,” he says thoughtfully. “Or a rodent of some kind, like, a raccoon, or a possum. They’re so disgusting.”
I guess when you’re a kid who’s already faced the ugliest horrors that Hollywood can cook up — from bloodthirsty clowns to the debilitating downsides of the industry itself — all that’s left for you to fear are trash pandas.
Wolfhard may be exhausted tonight, but he doesn’t let that become an excuse to disengage from our conversations, to stop cracking jokes, to become distracted by his phone, which is constantly abuzz as the Instagram “likes” roll endlessly in. In fact, it’s a challenge to keep up with his animated chit-chat, his adolescent sense of humour and bewilderingly grown-up sense of self. His shiny profession hasn’t caused his inner light to snuff out, no matter how tired he’s gotten. It’s evident in the way he so thoroughly enjoys a simple swing on a pendulum pirate ship.
“This feels so good,” he says when The Rage slows to a stop. “I haven’t felt like that in so long.”
It’s also evident in the way he hops energetically off the ride, exclaims, “That’s one down! Aaaaaand—” and fake retches with a flourish, making everyone around us chortle.
I ask what the rest of his 2016 is going to look like. As soon as It wraps, he’s jetting home to Vancouver for two weeks of school, then rushing off to San Diego for Comic-Con. After that, it’s back to the set of Stranger Things in Georgia to produce its much-anticipated (that’s an understatement) second season, which was announced just days prior to our meeting, sending the Internet into a frenzy.
But in his rare off-hours, he plans to direct a little something of his own — a short slasher film. He was inspired on set and wrote a screenplay that he’s tentatively dubbed Psychosis, and he hopes to direct it with a friend by the end of the year. He divulges his plan to shoot the two-minute flick using strictly iPhones and maybe enter it in an iPhone film festival.
“It’s not meant to be the game-changer of horror movies,” he divulges. “We came up with it when I was shooting Stranger Things, when I was getting an interest in horror movies. It’s sort of inspired by Scream.”
And if his crammed schedule doesn’t allow that this year, there’s always the option of jamming on his guitar — a hobby that’s been known to spark Twitter crazes, like when he posted his quick cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” (even Rolling Stone retweeted him, and his inbox flooded with requests from radio stations around the world to have him come in and play).
While the second season of Wolfhard’s breakout series promises to be even darker than its first eight episodes, the young actor has a whole lot of brightness ahead of him. He’s in that bizarre middle ground where he’s both a kid and a star, with his fame simultaneously limiting and unlocking his ability to have fun. And his definition of fun is changing as his popularity increases — so, yeah, maybe he can’t enjoy an amusement park the way he used to (i.e., without all eyes on him), but he’s having a blast on this thrilling new track he’s worked hard to board. He’d better hold on, because it looks like it’ll only continue to be a wild ride.
Photography By David Perry
Styling By Ashley Galang
Hair and Makeup By Aitous Rasouli