Will Byers was basically a conversation piece in the first season of Stranger Things, but 13-year old Noah Schnapp became a bonafide scene stealer in Season 2 playing the young man possessed by the Mind Flayer, the evil ruler of the Upside Down.
Schnapp reveals that Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers told him in the audition process that he wouldn't be around much for Season 1 — Will was abducted and held in the Upside Down for 90 percent of the season — but that his time to shine would come in the sophomore season. In the early episodes of Season 2, Will is still dealing with the PTSD of his kidnapping but in Episode 4, "Will the Wise" everything changes for the quiet nerd.
"I was a little nervous because I didn't know if I could pull it off or not," Schnapp said of one of the episode's crucial scenes in which Will is first taken over by the lord of the Upside Down. Will attempted to stand up to the monster but inevitably became a vessel for the evil being. The possession scene was a feat of CGI for the viewers, but Schnapp had to pull of the emotion of the traumatic event with just an empty field and a green screen.
"I had to think, 'Okay, there's this big scary monster right in front of you,' but it's a green screen," he said. "I pretended like it was crawling up my skin." Schnapp didn't need to be nervous though, because he had a two-time Academy Award nominee to validate his work.
"Winona [Ryder] came up to me after the scene like, 'Oh my baby! Noah, are you okay?' and she said, 'Oh this gave me the chills,'" Schnapp recounted. "I was just thinking in my head, 'Yes! that's what everyone else is going to think!'"
The possession was just the beginning of Will's transformation, though. With the Mind Flayer inside of him, Schnapp had to balance playing a scared little boy and an evil entity sharing the same body.
"'He likes it cold,' that one line — I remember the Duffers coming up to me and they said, 'Noah, this line has to show that this is Will's turning point. This is where you don't see Will anymore. You see the monster. Will is a sweet, innocent little kid so to show that he's gone you have to do the complete opposite of that,'" Schnapp explained.
That's exactly what he did as the Mind Flayer used Will to try and murder all of his friends and family who were plotting to stop the Upside Down from taking over their hometown of Hakwins. Schnapp's ability to juggle both the Mind Flayer and Will has him in contention for a Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy. If he snags the nod, he'll be the youngest person nominated in the category since fellow 13-year old Johnny Crawford was nominated in 1959. If Schnapp is also able to take home the trophy, he'd make history as the youngest winner in the category.
The young actor is trying not to think about that though.
"I keep telling myself, 'Don't get your hopes up. Don't get excited about anything,' because I don't want to be let down or anything," Schnapp explained, but that doesn't mean a little hope hasn't snuck in. "I've talked to my mom about it and sometimes in the shower I just think about me on a stage and what I would say. I'm grateful to be [talking] about it. That's enough. That's already winning for me."
Emmy nominations will be announced on July 12 with the ceremony airing Monday, Sept. 17 and hosted by Colin Jost and Michael Che.
Stranger Things Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
Additional reporting by Krutika Mallikarjuna