Another reason it was so important to cast unknown actors: As the Duffer brothers told Vulture, they wanted to write a series in which the ordinary meets the extraordinary, the kind of story that peaked on film in the 1980s. “What you’re looking for are kids that feel real and naturalistic,” Ross Duffer said in that interview. To that effect, Cuba looked for kids with theater experience — like Gaten Matarazzo, who performed on Broadway in Les Misérables and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert before he was cast in Stranger Things.
Casting unknown actors to play these kids makes the show’s through-line of innocence lost that much more powerful. The young kids go from playing Dungeons and Dragons in the basement rec room to battling actual monsters in the wild; Nancy goes from a doe-eyed virgin to a deflowered, disillusioned monster-slayer; and Eleven is a human incarnation of purity corrupted, a young girl blessed — and cursed — with innate abilities that render her a weapon of the state. It’s easier to believe these are real kids going through life-altering tribulations when you’re seeing the actors onscreen for the first time. Despite its supernatural elements, the world of Hawkins, Indiana feels grounded in reality. We can thank the kids for that.