I have a fun game: Imagine you are on the run in the land of Gobbledygook, in the year Noonerscooter. You obviously cannot speak that famously unintelligible language with any felicity, and, though you find yourself to be particularly athletic and powerful in their land, you cannot immediately discern the method and customs by which the two-dimensional Goobleheads live and move. In order to remain safe, though, you must somehow warm the hearts of your newfound protectors, as well as the hearts of the zillions of your own kind watching at home, who know that, in reality, you too are a Gobbledygook just like them!
That last bit, however, about warming the hearts of those at home? That may be just the brilliance of Millie Bobby Brown. Because if you add a couple of dimensions and some shady drug trials to the game, that’s just what Brown did as the mysterious Eleven on the phenomenon that is the Duffer brothers’ Netflix show Stranger Things. That really is all we know of Brown’s character: her name, her powers, and her extra-dimensional insight (we think?).
Brown’s own backstory, though, is somewhat more apparent, if no less peripatetic. Born in Marbella, Spain, Brown grew up a bit in Bournemouth, England, a bit in Orlando, Florida, a bit in Vancouver, and a bit in Los Angeles, where she sort of still lives, and where she began acting in television shows in 2013. And since Stranger Things, which premiered in July and proceeded to test the bandwidths of the internet and our excitement for it, and which has already announced a second season, Brown has been the breakout star of the year, the sleeper hit of the late-night season with more hidden talents than letters in her name (google her name and Nicki Minaj ASAP), and just generally the toast of every town.
Along the way, Brown has become another level of famous for her celebrity crushes, at least one of which has turned into a real, warm friendship. Brown and her BFF, the dancer and star of Sia‘s music videos Maddie Ziegler, are suffering from having been apart for more than a week. In September they got on the phone to talk about Brown’s crazy run, about the love that we all need, and about that one time the fire department had to come to their sleepover.
MILLIE BOBBY BROWN: Hey, girl. How are you?!
MADDIE ZIEGLER: Fantastic, darlin’. Did you just wake up? Because I’m kind of tired.
BROWN: Well, wake up, girl! You got to be professional about things. [laughs]
ZIEGLER: Okay, okay. So I think people are interested in how we first met because they see us on Instagram and want to know how we know each other, but, I mean, we kind of just, like … We clicked right away.
BROWN: Yeah. I got tickets to go see So You Think You Can Dance because I’ve been watching you since I was about 7, and I was crazy when I knew you were actually going to be on the show. And the whole show I was looking at you like, “Please let her look at me.” And then they told me that I could go backstage and meet you, and I’m literally, like, taking deep breaths, like, “Oh my goodness,” and then you were a normal human being. You were Maddie Ziegler. Then you followed me on Twitter—and I had a meltdown—and the rest is history, really. I finally got your number, and then we met, and we had that very hysterical day where we met some funny people at the pool. We just clicked. I feel like I’m talking to someone else, not you. I feel like I’m talking in the third person. [laughs]
ZIEGLER: Nope. It’s just me, darlin’. You were born in Spain. Wait, you were born in 2004?
BROWN: Is this the first time you’ve read my biography? I was born in Spain. I thought I told you this many times before, Maddie Ziegler.
ZIEGLER: I knew you were born in Spain. I didn’t know that it was in 2004.
BROWN: Well, yeah, you were born in 2003—
ZIEGLER: No, 2002. [both laugh] Well, I thought it was really funny because a couple of weeks ago I was asking your sister, “Can you count to ten?” I go, “One, two …” And she started going, “Uno, dos, tres …”
BROWN: Ha, yeah.
ZIEGLER: But you’ve moved around a bunch because your family is British. You live in England but you’re, like, always in L.A.
BROWN: Yeah, no. Listen, Maddie, I live on an airplane. I don’t really live anywhere at the moment. I lived in L.A. for a while and I kind of live in L.A. now. I live in England to do stuff, I lived in Atlanta … I could possibly be moving back there, so I kind of live everywhere, but my favorite place to live is L.A.
ZIEGLER: Yes, because I’m there.
BROWN: Exactly. The ray of sunshine is there. I haven’t seen you in a long time. Well, to be honest, a long time for us is a week. I haven’t seen you in a week. [laughs] I’m having palpitations, girl.
ZIEGLER: I’ve been dancing since I was 2, but you’ve been acting since you were, like, a baby …
BROWN: I’ve been acting since I was 9, so not exactly a baby. You’ve been dancing since you were 2, and, listen, dancing takes a lot more practice. Acting, you can kind of go by instinct. Or you can go to school if you really want to try, but right now people look for kids with instinct, who are very natural, and that is what I try to do. But I can’t even do a cartwheel, when you can do a plié and everything.
ZIEGLER: No, you are incredible. You were in one of my favorite TV shows—besides Stranger Things—Grey’s Anatomy.
BROWN: I don’t actually watch Grey’s Anatomy. When I was in it, I kind of knew that it was a big deal. My sister’s a big fan so I kind of knew.
ZIEGLER: That show is incredible.
BROWN: I should watch that show, shouldn’t I?
ZIEGLER: It’s very bloody and stuff.
BROWN: The thing is, I think I’m about that life.
ZIEGLER: So when did Stranger Things come out? Before or after you came to So You Think?
BROWN: It came out on July 15th, and I came to see your So You Think, like, the 18th or 19th, so it literally just came out. It wasn’t very big so I thought you thought I was a crazy fan. I was like, “Have you watched my show yet? It’s been out for four days.” You were like, “No, I don’t watch Stranger Things.” The next time I saw you, you had watched it and you kept on teasing me about the kiss, and I thought, “Oh, this girl’s crazy.”
ZIEGLER: I felt so bad because I didn’t know what you were talking about. I was like “Okay, she’s on a TV show.” So then I was like, a lot of people have been talking about this show, and then I watched it, and I was like, “Holy crap, this is like the biggest show right now.”
BROWN: Yeah, it’s pretty big. I mean, we took about seven months to film it, but I think the Duffers have been with it since 2012, when my sister was born. And then in 2015, they were like, “Netflix picked up our show. Now we’ve got to cast it.” They cast Winona and David Harbour, they cast Gaten [Matarazzo], they cast me, and it was going on from there. But really, the Duffers deserve all the recognition that we got, because they made it such an incredible show.
ZIEGLER: It’s something different, because it’s based in the ’80s. A lot of shows right now are up to date, like in 2016 …
BROWN: Yeah, like with hoverboards. [laughs]
ZIEGLER: I want to see Eleven riding a hoverboard down the street.
BROWN: She would just use her mind.
ZIEGLER: Exactly. Did you like playing a role like that, like, super creepy …
BROWN: Yeah. It was something challenging. It was different from other roles because in those I had to speak a lot. I had, like, paragraphs. I had to play a man in one of my shows, and kill my mum in one of my shows, so it’s very weird the things I bump into. And in this show, I realized I didn’t have to speak with my mouth, I had to speak with my face. Instead of actually saying I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m confused, I had to do it with my face, and that was challenging. But I really enjoy playing a challenging role. I love playing Eleven.
ZIEGLER: Even though you didn’t have all of the lines, you literally made the show.
BROWN: Thank you so much. But, you are my best friend. I feel like you’re being biased. Did you hear that Grace VanderWaal liked my tweet? Maddie, we need to get her on our squad.
ZIEGLER: How will you feel with Eleven as a Halloween costume? Even though, I feel like I already see people dress up as Eleven.
BROWN: At Comic-Con, people dress up as her. It’s very rewarding in a way, and as strange as Stranger Things. People are embracing her character and trying to portray her. I think it’s nice to see what different people think of her character. I’m cool with people dressing up as Eleven for Halloween. I definitely want to open my door and give them candy.
ZIEGLER: I think it’s really cool, because it’s not just girls dressing up as Eleven.
BROWN: It’s kind of like the same with you, though. I mean, the older guy dressed up as Sia and did the “Chandelier” dance. Like, it’s crazy how they just want to portray your character, even if they’re a different sex. It’s incredible.
ZIEGLER: There was even a dog that dressed up as the “Chandelier” video, which was really funny.
BROWN: Did you see the baby that dressed up as Eleven? That was crazy. That poor baby, though.
ZIEGLER: It was really cute. Oh, what was I gonna say? We were talking about Stranger Things being your favorite show because you get to kiss Finn [Wolfhard, who plays Mike].
BROWN: You’re an evil, evil person. You know that? Are you aware of that, Maddie? Yeah, I did have to kiss Finn. At the end of the day, it’s only acting, and it’s something you have to do, and I would do anything for the show. I cut my hair, I kissed Finn. It was definitely strange. It was, like, my first kiss, so it was kind of weird. But then, like, when I’d done it, I thought, “Wow. It makes sense for the storyline.”
ZIEGLER: It was priceless, like, your reactions. You were like, “Kissing sucks.” And then Finn …
BROWN: Finn reacted quite well and I didn’t. [laughs] I felt really bad afterwards.
ZIEGLER: It was funny because, obviously, boys are attracted to you. Pretty cool.
BROWN: It’s in a strange way. I don’t know if they’re like in love with the character. Like, [they want to brag] “I know the real character, guys.”
ZIEGLER: But you’ve become super close with your cast mates. It’s crazy—you were telling me that you’re literally the only girl, besides Winona.
BROWN: I am the only girl, and the boys have their squads. They have their group, and it’s definitely difficult because they’re boys and talk about boy stuff. They talk about girls and video games. I definitely need to talk about normal things a girl would talk about. They’re like my big brothers. They annoy me, but we are very, very close. Aren’t we, Maddie?
ZIEGLER: Yep. I’ve been there to experience you and the boys. I mean, I did not think they were that old.
BROWN: Hello? They are, like, two years older.
ZIEGLER: I literally could not believe that, that they’re older. But, as far as blowing up on Stranger Things, I mean, you’ve had so many people tweeting you and instagramming you, and even a bunch of celebrities being like, “I want to be like Eleven.” How has it been, because you’ve always been doing jobs, but this is like the biggest thing that’s happened, that’s really blown up?
BROWN: I got to meet a lot of people: I got to meet you, I got to meet James Corden and John Travolta. It’s really fun and a little overwhelming but in a really good way. I get to go to these events that are really fun. It’s all very new to me so I’m very grateful because not many kids or even adults get to do this. We’re very lucky, Maddie.
ZIEGLER: I feel like if I didn’t meet you before I watched the show, I would tell everyone, like, “You have to contact Millie.”
BROWN: Is that how you felt about me? That’s how I felt about you, but I didn’t have your contacts. I’m sorry, Maddie. I didn’t have all your famous people in my group. I just have my dad, my grandma, my dog. [laughs] Did you follow my dog on Instagram, Maddie?
ZIEGLER: You have a dog?
BROWN: Oh my goodness. I have a dog. It’s an English mastiff called Dolly. Her middle name is Poppy. She has nearly 3,000 followers. Really proud of it.
ZIEGLER: Because my dog is very adorable too, we should start a dog squad.
BROWN: A dog squad, oh my God, that’s incredible. Doug the Pug. Doug the Pug.
ZIEGLER: They could be a mini version of us.
BROWN: Of us?! Oh my God, that’s amazing. Wait does Kalani [Hilliker] have a dog?
BROWN: Does Grace VanderWaal have a dog?
ZIEGLER: Yes, actually.
BROWN: I thought you memorized her biography. Remember when we cried at her audition [on America’s Got Talent]? We sat there and cried at the TV.
ZIEGLER: Oh yeah. You never saw the golden buzzer [on America’s Got Talent], right?
BROWN: Yes, I saw it! You said, “You have to see this.” You said, “I literally watched it for that.” I started crying. It was just a very emotional evening, and then what happened with the fire alarm …
ZIEGLER: Oh my God, we have to tell the story.
BROWN: Maddie, would you like to start off, because I didn’t wake up for part of that?
ZIEGLER: Yes, okay, so first of all, this was Millie’s first proper sleepover, and she kind of has some night terrors, and I had never seen them before, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I was like, “What do you do if you have them?” You said you scream a lot and try to climb up the walls. And I was like, “What do I do to help you?” And you were like, “You just have to slap me really hard.” So we practiced on each other, and I was like, “Is this how hard I would slap you?”
BROWN: Ha-ha, it was so funny.
ZIEGLER: It was.
BROWN: “You slap me, and I’ll show you how I do it.” [laughs] It was so funny.
ZIEGLER: So embarrassing. Anyway, so then we’re sleeping, and I’m just waiting for her to have a night terror, and I hear this super-loud noise. I’m not facing Millie, and I’m like, “Oh no. Millie is having a night terror.” And then I looked at her to see if she’s in bed, and she’s just sleeping like an angel, sound asleep.
BROWN: I was like a princess.
ZIEGLER: I was like, “What the heck?”
BROWN: It was like incredible. I’m not joking.
ZIEGLER: I was about ready to get up and smack you, but you were sound asleep. So then I ask my mom what’s going on. She’s like, “The fire alarm.”
BROWN: And I was like, “Has it ever happened before?” She’s like, “I’m sorry this happened on your first proper sleepover.” Maddie’s stepdad comes in and goes, “Girls, you have to go downstairs.” We go downstairs and we have pillows in our hands. We’re sleeping on each other, and what frightened me the most is the firemen all came in one by one and held the door open, proper gentlemen, like, “You go in first, you go in.” I’m like, “Oh no, I’m dying.” And then I went out and I met a couple of your neighbors. It was a pretty groovy night at 3 a.m.
ZIEGLER: And then we went back to bed, and I was like, “Millie, you didn’t have a night terror!” I was so excited.
BROWN: I had to lie to you because you were like, “You won’t have another night terror now!” Last night, I had a dream of getting Beyoncé’s number.
ZIEGLER: I had a dream about Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy. I became her best friend. We were both on the same lot, and we were both changing in the same wardrobe, and she looked over and goes, “Oh my gosh, you look like my little sister. We have to be friends.”
BROWN: Anyway, that was our night, and then the next day we went to Universal Studios, but we were very tired.
ZIEGLER: We were tired, but we had so much fun.
BROWN: You ate my second churro on the tour bus. I had never tried a churro before, and you were like, “You’ve never had a churro before?”
ZIEGLER: You had a churro and you liked it.
BROWN: I just like it. I really, really, really, really, really, really like the churro [singing the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You”]. I’m sick, Maddie. Tell everyone I’m usually not like this.
ZIEGLER: You are really sick. I can tell in your voice. You’re an incredible singer, and you started singing before you started acting, right?
BROWN: I did. I started singing before I started tweeting actually. It was always a passion, and I guess it’s like what you’ve done with your dancing, and now you started to act. I started singing and then I got into acting. Singing is something I love to do. I feel very confident doing it. I haven’t been allowed to release my first record yet, and my dad goes, “Understand the meaning of music.” And I was like, “Okay, Robert.”
ZIEGLER: I feel like a lot of people didn’t know that you sang, and then you sang at the Emmys.
BROWN: Yeah, that was crazy. It was really mental and I loved it. It was nerve-racking. It was my first time onstage. I thought, “Why not hit the Emmys?” And then I came off and I thought, “I want to do that five times over.” I bet it was the same thing for you. You were at the Grammys, and you danced with Kristen Wiig. Well, I guess you’ve been onstage. I’m not scared of many crowds, but with this crowd, each and every one of them are so talented. I saw Tori Kelly and I was just like, “I just want to be you.” David Schwimmer was singing with it. It was just incredible.
ZIEGLER: It always gives you a rush, like, “Wow, I’m performing for really cool people.” What are you doing right now?
BROWN: I’m lying on my grandmother’s sofa, crying about being ill, having lots of sports drinks, watching old TV, talking to my grandmother and kind of wishing I was in L.A. How about you? You’re on tour at the moment, right?
BROWN: Well, good luck. Where are you now?
ZIEGLER: I’m in Arizona. I’m going to the airport in, like, 15 minutes, and I’m not even ready. I’m going back to L.A.
BROWN: That’s cool. You’re doing the Hollywood Bowl, and I’ve always wanted to go.
ZIEGLER: Well, you should come.
BROWN: I should come, shouldn’t I? Hold on, let me pack my bags and go to the airport now. I’ll come see you. About 12 hours to get there, but no biggie.
ZIEGLER: The last thing that I’m going to ask you—
BROWN: Oh, let me guess: Is there going to be a season two?
ZIEGLER: That’s not what I’m asking you.
BROWN: What is it then?
ZIEGLER: I’m curious, what’s the best advice you’ve gotten, and who was it from?
BROWN: I think David Schwimmer honestly, because a lot of people say to me, “Stay grounded, be humble.” I get that a lot, and I’m sure you get that a lot, Maddie. David Schwimmer was just like, “You need to love what you do.” And I think that’s really nice. Just love your work. My family has given me great advice saying, you know, “Don’t work too hard.” And it’s really nice to have someone like that—you know that they love you. It’s nice to have famous people love you.
ZIEGLER: Stay humble and stuff, but also just love what you’re doing, and if you’re overworked, then, you know, don’t do it. But I think what’s really cool about us is that we both like to work. We both are work junkies because we’re bored if we’re not filming or whatever.
BROWN: Like, Sunday I’m going to the White House. And I cannot wait to go back to work. It’s like I crave it, and when I get on set—it’s not just that I love what I do—I love meeting new people. The crew, it’s like being around my family, and I know them very well. It’s really nice to go to work every day. It makes so much sense to just love what you do and go to work every day to get to get to work.
ZIEGLER: I’ll FaceTime you soon.
BROWN: FaceTime me. But I wish on FaceTime they had filters so you didn’t have to see me like this. Add a Snapchat filter. I miss you loads.