NEWBURYPORT — With the third season of Netflix's original science-fiction horror series "Stranger Things" dropping today, executive producer Shawn Levy and Newburyport native Joe Keery, who portrays the effortlessly smooth Steve Harrington, say fans can expect the creepiest, most emotional season yet.
Based in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, the first season of "Stranger Things," set in November 1983, delves into the investigation of the disappearance of a young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who becomes captured by forces in a supernatural realm called the "Upside Down."
After the town is haunted by odd occurrences, a girl with psychokinetic abilities, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), helps the missing boy's friends locate Will. The second season, titled "Stranger Things 2," is set one year later in October 1984 and centers around the group of friends' attempts to return to normality, with some of the aftermath remaining from the first season.
"Stranger Things 3" is set in the summer of 1985, and is promised by Levy to be the creepiest, cry-worthy season thus far, while staying true to the roots of the characters planted in the first season.
One of those characters is Steve Harrington, an all-around bad boy with a good heart and wildly classic 1980s hair. Steve makes the jump from high school heartthrob to super babysitter as he transitions in the series from chasing his crush Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) in the first season to protecting the young pack of children from supernatural creatures in the second season.
In Season 3, Steve has graduated from Hawkins High and is working a summer job at an ice cream parlor called Scoops Ahoy, Levy said. Keery admitted, "The future is unclear for my character as it is for a lot of the characters."
Since the first season aired in 2016 without any marketing, according to Levy, "Stranger Things" has become a national phenomenon. The third season, Levy added, is slated to be a summer blockbuster packed with thrills and additions, including a new mall in town.
The once-childlike Will and his friends are growing up; they're now teenagers, where lovestruck feelings and the uncertainty of change fog their vision.
"As far as on the show, as we’ve seen, there’s no way we’re going to slow down time, so we can either do episodes that ignore their evolution, or we can come up with stories that acknowledge the change and make their change the topic of the season," Levy said. "That’s literally what we did with Season 3. It’s about the inevitability of change and how different characters wrestle with that."
Keery, 27, noted he sees some similarities between his character and himself when he was in Steve's shoes right after graduating from Newburyport High School in 2010.
Keery earned his bachelor's in fine arts from DePaul University four years later. He received a life-changing phone call telling him he snagged the role for "Stranger Things" while waiting tables in a Chicago restaurant.
"There’s similarities in just, I think Steve might not necessarily have as much of an idea of what he wants in life," Keery said. "I think it’s kind of a dilemma that can happen at that time. The pressure is on and you’re trying to figure out what you want to put your effort toward."
Keery began filming with the young cast when they were 12 and 13 years old. Now 16 and 17 years old, Keery said it's been great to see them grow up.
Just like their characters, Keery said members of the young cast are in their formative years, finding out who they are and how they fit in the world.
"To be able to be a part of all these kids' lives at this point, I just try to take it upon myself to be a force of good and trying to give advice when they need it and just be a friend, really, to these kids," Keery said. "Especially under such crazy circumstances that they find themselves in."
Although the change the characters and actors face is inevitable and, at times, unnerving, Keery said he's pleased he took the risk to pursue a career in acting, thanks to his sister, Caroline Keery, who dragged him into the high school theater "tech group" way back when.
"If I did anything different, I wouldn’t be where I am right now and I’m pretty damn happy with how things turned out," Keery said.
"I get to work on projects that I think are unbelievable with other artists that I am honored to even be in the presence of. So, for me, I wouldn’t touch anything. I just hope to continue that. I’m so excited to see what’s next."
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.