It’s been a little over a week since Stranger Things dropped and while the rest of the cast kept busy teasing season four for fans, Jamie Campbell Bower is just now getting to talk about his game-changing role.
That’s because Bower, who you’ll recognize from other fantasy franchises like The Mortal Instruments and Twilight, is this season’s big bad – a terrifying villain named Vecna (a.k.a. One, a.k.a. Henry Creel) who has some surprising ties to Eleven and the rest of The Party in Hawkins. The Duffer Brothers love a good monster story – Demogorgons, Demogogs, and Mindflayers have littered past seasons – but Vecna (a play on an infamous Dungeons & Dragons character) is a different breed. Calculating, vengeful, formidable, and on a mission to create his own twisted utopia that sadly doesn’t include the cheerleaders, jocks, and Max Mayfields in this cursed town.
We chatted with Bower about how he transformed himself (quite literally) for the role, Vecna’s endgame, and which bop would rescue him from the Upside Down.
Do you still have the mood board that you created when you got the role and what’s on that?
I still have all the work that I’ve done for the show, yeah. The original board was predominantly for Vecna, so it started with Will Byers in the middle. Then came more of the kids, the world, and particularly the world of the Upside Down and it started to spread. From there I started to use more culturally popular references in terms of characters that I love and that we’ve experienced before. Then I would put Post-It notes up of things that would just pop into the brain. I’ve got countless notes on my computer of all these little things that would pop up as I was reading, and I’d print those out and stick those on. It just developed more over time, but yes, I still have everything. The more work I do on film … I try to keep as much of that as possible because it’s great to look back at it in years to come and remember the process and go, “Man, that was mad.”
I’m guessing you had to hide it when friends would come over.
It’s funny, I was living in Atlanta while shooting this, in this guest house of these two lovely people called Bryce and Sue. Occasionally, they’d need to pop in to just check on a boiler or something, and I’d always have to say, “Oh, can you just let me know before you are going in just so I can put some things away.” They were really interested in what I was doing, but obviously, I couldn’t say anything because the character is such a big deal.
Were there any pop culture references you used when creating this character that the Duffer Brothers axed?
There was never anything that came up that they said, “Absolutely no, you’re way off the mark there.” One of the great things about Matt and Ross is their inspiration and their references, if you want to and you are interested in doing this, you can very, very quickly pick up on them. One of the jobs that I had was to make sure that I really dug into a lot of those references. I did go further than perhaps I needed to. There was one thing that we did on film that I … have you seen Hellraiser III?
I have seen the first film, but not the other two.
Oh, well there’s nine of them.
I have seen the first film but not the other eight, then.
There’s a scene where Doug Bradley, as Pinhead, walks into a church and he pulls out some pins from his head, puts them in his hands, and spreads his arms out and says, “I am the way,” and then the windows blow out. I was like, “Oh, I really want to reference that. I really want to put my arms out like this,” and I did it and it looked absolutely awful. So bad, and so we very quickly were like, “Yeah, no, let’s not do that.” But that was the only thing that we tried that didn’t work, and I think that’s me wearing the reference too much on the sleeve.
Are we going to learn more about where Henry Creel’s abilities came from?
The way I always saw it was that he was the first person to be born very special and very different. I never saw it in terms of what it would be like to be Spiderman. In Spiderman, he gets bit, and then from being bitten, he garners these powers. I always saw Henry as this person who was just born with this natural ability and it took him going to this deep depths of despair and isolation for those powers to come to fruition and to become real.
What’s his endgame? He’s choosing his victims for a specific reason? Is it because he wants to create a world where people don’t lie? That seems pretty impossible.
Well, let’s also remember that he’s existed in this facility with a sort of patriarchal figure who has used him to create others, who has suppressed his abilities and oppressed him as a person. Within that, I think for me, what happened was it just compounded this already preexisting idea of what the world is. He’s witnessing Brenner not only be quite brutal to some of the others, but he’s also witnessing Brenner lie to everyone around him, which is what he grew up with. I do believe that, ultimately, his goal is to live in this world where people don’t lie. Friends don’t lie.
That is a twisted callback to what Eleven would say in the first seasons of the show. I’m guessing there’s more between these two when the show comes back?
There’s a lot more to explore between the two of them. They now have history.
It’s you under those prosthetics as Vecna, and you’re also doing the voice of this monster. How did you nail down what he should sound like?
The voice took a minute. It’s like singing. If, when we are singing, we are tight and tense our muscles tend to close up. We don’t breathe from our diaphragm. I had to really relax. When I first started trying the voice out, it came from a really different place. It was quite throaty, and then as I understood that that wasn’t where I wanted to go, I had to look at it in a different way. I would do these diaphragm warmups where you are humming, you are gently tapping your diaphragm to loosen everything up, and then just lean into that low vocal range a lot more, and then the other interesting thing is that, as Vecna, I’m wearing these teeth molds so that my teeth are very nasty and just discolored and pretty grim.
I was worried about how I would be able to talk with those. But actually, they became a massive help because I was able to grind my teeth which sort of brought forwards this more tense jaw almost. I would listen to very dark music, music that’s got very low-frequency sounds, and talk over that. I’ve got videos of me trying it out and it working because the other thing, as well, is obviously I don’t want to be selling in the eyes that I’m thinking about doing the voice. So, the voice has to come, and then the focus has to be the thing that takes over so it has to become second nature. I would just walk around doing the voice as often as I could, basically.
Your poor barista.
[laughs] Actually, and this is not something I’ve spoken to anybody about, which is the emotion, the frequency of the vibration within the body, particularly when I was being Henry. I remember wearing Henry out and about when he’s being really nice, and the way people would interact with me differently to when I was going further and going dark.
I was still being kind and congenial to people, but just the way people would pick up on whatever was inside of me became very interesting. I remember walking back from the shops one day, after doing the first Henry – the nice one — and calling someone and going, “It works.”
Did you think people could sense something in you, as Henry?
It wasn’t that I was saying anything different when I was in a different state of being, but people could pick up on things. It was very interesting. People are a lot more intuitive than I think we give them credit for.
What song would rescue you from the Upside Down? And keep in mind, Noah Schnapp has already claimed “W.A.P.”
[laughs] My god. Okay, I’ll give you two answers to this. My sort of sensible response would be Placebo covering the song by Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill.” I love Placebo, so my smart and connected response is “Running Up That Hill” with the Placebo cover. But, I’ll say this here, just in case it doesn’t translate: We stan Kate Bush.
But if I’m to be naughty and giggly about it, “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus.