Netflix’s “Stranger Things” is loaded with 1980s pop culture references, but the series also takes deeper levels of inspiration from the decade.
Focused on four young Dungeons & Dragons-loving boys in Indiana, the show notably puts young actors in its lead roles, as did ’80s classics like “E.T.,” “Explorers,” “Goonies” and “Stand By Me,” which celebrates its 30th anniversary on Aug. 22.
Wil Wheaton, who played Gordie in the Rob Reiner film, spoke with TheWrap this week about the classic 1986 drama and its connections to “Stranger Things,” calling the Netflix show “One of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced in my life as an audience member.”
High praise. But perhaps not as lofty as that aimed at his own film by “Stranger Things” creators Matt and Ross Duffer, a.k.a. the Duffer brothers, who visually and thematically reference “Stand By Me” in the show.
The duo also had auditioning actors read lines from the 1986 film’s script.
Wheaton called the homage “an incredible honor.”
Unlike any other era in film, kids ruled the big screen in the ’80s, and Wheaton rode the crest of the phenomenon as notably as any of them with his iconic role as a sensitive 1950s pre-teen on an odyssey with his friends.
Wheaton attributed much of the success of “Stand by Me” to director Rob Reiner‘s exhaustive casting, noting the similar process employed by the Duffer brothers.
“It’s what makes something like ‘Stranger Things’ so wonderful and so rewarding and so memorable,” he argued, reiterating his long-held conviction that he, the late River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell were a lot like their respective “Stand by Me” characters in real life.
“We get to see actors who we’ve never seen before just become these roles,” he said of the young “Stranger Things” cast. “We can embrace the characters and they become real the same way the characters in ‘Stand by Me’ did for our generation.”
So why is the new kid-focused series such a rare breed? For one, casting is a challenge, said Wheaton. “It’s so important. You really do need to see 300 actors to find those right roles.”
The actor-writer, who turns 44 years old this week, offered another reason why the show’s casting is the exception and not the rule.
“People in Hollywood are not able to discover actors like they used to,” Wheaton said. “The film and television industry is more risk averse than it has ever been. There’s a tiny list of actors who are considered for movies or for a television series. No one wants to take the kind of chance that Rob took with ‘Stand by Me.’ It’s just too financially risky.”
Wheaton, who said he’s enormously proud to have been in the Reiner film and that he can’t believe it has already been 30 years since “Stand By Me” premiered, quickly shifted back to his favorite new show “Stranger Things.”
“I’m about to go re-watch it,” he said. “I understand it’s even better the second time around.”