Charlie Heaton

Picture this: You’re on the set of Netflix’s new sci-fi drama Stranger Things, about to meet the woman who plays your mother, Winona Ryder. And you don’t recognize her. “I was expecting to meet Winona, icon of the ’90s,” says the 22-year-old up-and-comer Charlie Heaton over a coffee at his local spot in East London. “But on my first day, she came up in this orangey wig worn by her more mature character … It took me a moment.” Heaton took the faux pas in stride. Drawn to the series for its page-turner script, he sunk his teeth into the role of Jonathan, an introspective older brother of a young boy whose disappearance unearths the supernatural tendencies of a Midwestern town. “I’d already played a messed-up guy in a dark, psychological role and a council estate junkie, but this has been the most I’ve connected to any material. I found a lot of similarities between me and the character.” Stranger Things has cinematic flair and nostalgia for sci-fi classics like E.T. “There’s definitely a Spielberg influence,” Heaton confirms. “His movies have a way of bringing in that sense of family and normalcy among strangeness. That’s our show-a normal town and place.”

Just a few years ago, Heaton was the drummer for the U.K. noise-rock band Comanechi, which took him on a world tour. When cash ran dry upon his return, he took his sister’s advice and knocked on the door of a commercial talent agency. “My first job was a commercial for a Swiss insurance company,” he says. “It was an eight-minute short with a proper story arc, and it ended up getting a spot at Cannes Lions; I was lucky to avoid the commercials where you’re their puppet.” Soon came a role in the 2016 psychological thriller
Shut In, alongside Naomi Watts, followed by the Sundance Jury Award-winning indie As You Are, an intense meditation on adolescent friendship. For now, Heaton is back on British soil (crashing at his dad’s), but it won’t be for long; there’s talk of a film shooting in Spain with a cast that includes Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy. In the meantime, he’s fitting in some jam sessions, making us wonder: Would he combine his love of music and film? “Yes, if I had the opportunity. It would have to be something with integrity, like Quadrophenia,” he says. “Sometimes you watch stuff and it’s like, oh God—it’s the obvious clichés of the genre. You’ve got to do better.”