Graphic by RPP/ Photo by: Jordan Matter
You are going to remember the name Noah Schnapp. At a young age, the actor has achieved success that veterans can only hope to one day reach. In fact, my twitter practically exploded at the mere mention of Noah, as his fans flooded my account with fanatical questions and love confessions (mostly the latter).
Noah has voiced the iconic character of Charlie Brown in The Peanuts Movie, played Tom Hank's son in Steve Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, and, now, catapulted to another level of fame for his work on the mega-hit Netflix series, Stranger Things.
We were lucky to catch up with the talent just before he went back to school (Noah is still an eleven year old boy, after all). We talked about Stranger Things, his career and his best advice for aspiring actors.
RP: To start off, what was your very first role?
NS: I did a lot of commercials and voice-over work first, but I'd say that my first big role was as the voice of Charlie Brown in the Peanuts animated movie. After that, I worked back to back on Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies as Tom Hank's son and We Only Know So Much, a small indie film based off the Elizabeth Crane novel. I've been really really lucky.
RP: You've also been really really talented. Congratulations on the success of Stranger Things! It's 100% my favorite new series. How did you audition for the show?
NS: Thanks! I love this show so much! It was a pretty long process. I actually first sent in a self tape for the role of Mike. I was then asked by the casting director, Carmen Cuba, to re-tape for Will. I spoke with the Duffer brothers over Skype and we just talked about their vision for the show and how they saw Will.
I was then asked to come to LA to do some chemistry reads with a few other kids. I met Caleb there for the first time, and was hoping he would get cast because we got along really well.
By the time I found out I got the role, it was the summer and I had gone to camp. When I got the call that I had the role, I thought it was my dad playing a joke on me!
RP: That's awesome! The story is set in the 1980s. Was it hard for you to put yourself into that mindset?
NS: The Duffer brothers helped us with that. They asked all the cast members to watch films like Stand by Me, The Goonies, ET to get a feel for it. They also had this amazing inspiration board for the show on set and it was all these pictures that gave us a pretty good idea of that time.
"My parents would never let me ride my bike alone at night."
RP: What do you like most about the '80s that you wish still existed today?
NS: Hmm, good question. Maybe the freedom the kids had? My parents would never let me ride my bike alone at night or play 10 hours of Dungeons and Dragons in the basement! I think those banana seat bikes are pretty cool too.
RP: It must be amazing to have your mother be played by Winona Ryder. What was it like working with her? Did she offer you any advice on the industry?
NS: It was such an honor. To be honest, I had never seen her movies before! When I found out she would play my mom, I watched some of them to get to know her. She is pretty serious about her work, but she is really nice. She always looked out for me. In one of our scenes together in episode 8, I'm almost dead and she had to give me CPR. So the costume guys gave me a foam pad under my clothes to protect me from David banging on my chest! She actually came up to my mom to make sure she was okay with the scene. She was very protective of the kids on set.
"We slept over at each other's houses, we texted and FaceTimed. I don't know, we just all became real friends."
RP: Your character, Will, has a tight knit group of friends on the show. How did you guys go about forming that "best friend" bond?
NS: I don't know. We didn't really think about it. It just happened naturally. I met Caleb first in LA at the auditions. He's sort of like a big brother and a close friend. We all met during the first weeks of pre-production and just clicked. Millie, Finn and Gaten too.
Everyone stayed in Atlanta the entire 6 months of shooting, but I was going back and forth between NY and the set. That was hard for me, to be between my normal school then back to Atlanta. But every time I came back, it was like I had never left. Everyone would give me big hugs as soon as arrived on the lot. We slept over at each other's houses, we texted and FaceTimed. I don't know, we just all became real friends.
Gaten and Noah in Netflix's Stranger Things.
RP: You had various scenes with the "monster." I know the entire monster (as we see it) wasn't there on set, so how did you go about pretending that it was there and making yourself scared for those scenes?
NS: Well, it wasn't too hard to actually feel scared. That one scene when I am running away from him was shot at night in the woods. So that was pretty scary. Then when I filmed the part when I pick up the phone in the Byers house, Matt and Ross actually played the sound the monster makes so my reactions would feel natural. The funny thing is, the monster is played by an actual guy in a monster suit and then they mixed in some CGI afterwards. So you were actually interacting with a real monster which helped.
RP: The series pays homage to so many wonderful movies, like The Goonies and E.T., what is your favorite reference to those films (if you have one)?
NS: Yes, definitely. I enjoyed all of them for different reasons. I think maybe The Goonies was my favorite. It has some elements that I think make people love Stranger Things so much. It's exciting and scary, but also really funny and the kids share a special bond.
RP: Agreed. You must be so pumped for season 2! What are your hopes for Will and his storyline in the upcoming season? [NOTE: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD]
NS: I am so excited for Season 2! I literally can't wait to start shooting. I think that last episode makes you wonder what really happened to Will in the "Upside Down." I mean, why did he cough up those slugs? I'm thinking that maybe something bad is incubating inside of him. I also wonder why in that scene in the bathroom at the end, he could see the "Upside Down." Maybe he can still get access to that dimension?
"I also kind of hope he has one side of him that is turning evil and maybe he's fighting both sides."
I don't know anything at all yet, but I'd like for the audience to get to discover who Will is. I also want to know what made him survive that experience. I also kind of hope he has one side of him that is turning evil and maybe he's fighting both sides. I don't know what is being written at all, but whatever the writers come up with, I know it's going to be amazing and right for the show.
RP: I really want to ask you about voicing Charlie Brown in The Peanuts Movie as well! It's such an iconic story, what was that experience like and how did you go about finding the "Charlie Brown" voice in you?
NS: That was a really special experience for me. Making an animated movie is a long process. I learned a lot about how that works. The animation happens first and you have to say the lines in a booth without knowing what the characters look like.
"I didn't want to mess it up!"
I was pretty nervous at first to take on this character that people love so much. I didn't want to mess it up! I watched all the old Peanuts specials and listened to the tone of his voice. I tried to listen to different Charlie Brown voices too. There are so many different versions. I just tried to find my own way to do it. I had to slow down how I talk. And, also, just remember that Charlie Brown is constantly disappointed so I think that feeling had to be in his voice.
Steve Martin, the director of the movie, was amazing to work with. He guided me through the different lines and explained to me what was happening in that scene so I could imagine it in my head. I also had to make the "sounds" separately so sometimes I spent hours in the booth just grunting or screaming. It was really cool.
RP: I know that you love the theater, would you be interested in doing Broadway in the future?
NS: I love Broadway. I've seen so many shows and every time I wish I could be up there. I just feel like I need to work on my voice first. I can sing pretty decently, but not like my friends Gaten or Caleb, who have amazing voices. Maybe one day I'll get the opportunity. Who knows.
RP: What's your dream project?
NS: Wow, that's a really good question. I think where I get to play a bad guy or someone that is really different from who I am. I'm inspired by actors that you can't recognize from one movie to the next and can just play anyone. I kind of love Tom Hanks for that reason. He is really low key and a nice guy in real life but then, can be Forrest Gump, or screaming "Wilson!" So, I guess a dream project would be to be able to surprise people by playing a character totally not like me. Like a serial killer or something!!
"I feel like I still have so much to learn and I want to just focus on becoming a better actor."
RP: Any upcoming projects we can look forward to seeing you in?
NS: Well, I'm pretty focused on Stranger Things right now. We start shooting very soon and that will keep me busy for a while. I was a part of a small film last year called We Only Know So Much based on an Elizabeth Crane novel and I think it is in post production right now. I hope people get to see that soon. Making an independent film with a small budget is really different. The days are super long because you have to get all the shots in. But I got to watch the DP setting up the camera and sat in on other actor's scenes just to watch and learn. One of the AD's, Andoni, even helped me with my math homework! You end up doing everything on an indie. I learned a lot.
RP: To end on an inspiring note, what is your advice for people your age who want to become actors too?
NS: I think to just keep on going and not get yourself down from all the “no's." For me, auditions are the hardest part. I love actually "doing" it, and being on a set. But it takes a ton of auditions to book one thing. It’s hard work to do that and keep up with school and your other activities. And it's easy to get disappointed because you audition so much and you think you did great but don't get a call back. Then you think you sucked and they call you back in! I also try not to get too attached to something. After I audition, I do this thing where I just tear the sides in two, and throw them out. If I hear back, then that's amazing. If not, I try to forget about it. I would also say to keep on doing it only if you really really love it because it's hard work.
It makes me really happy so I want to continue. My parents tell me all the time that if I don't have fun anymore or I'm too stressed to just stop. But that's not an option for me. I feel like I still have so much to learn and I want to just focus on becoming a better actor.
RP: Thank you so much for your time, Noah and best of luck!
NS: Thank you!
Watch Stranger Things on Netflix now, and follow Noah on Twitter @noah_schnapp.