The star, 20, on , his CCD condition, becoming an instant celebrity, and why no one will recognise him in his new movie.
Stranger Things made you an international celebrity. Do you hide under a baseball cap when you go out now?
Actually, wearing baseball caps is hard because I wear a baseball cap for the show. So I’m more likely to get recognised when I wear one!
But having somebody tell you that they enjoy your work and how much it’s meant to them is really rare feedback in any other line of work outside of acting. It means a lot.
What’s your tip for young fans who approach you?
I just want them to talk. I want to know your name. I want to know what you’re doing that day and I’d love a handshake and an introduction.
So many people think that by staying for a bit and talking, they’re wasting my time or overstepping.
But just taking a picture really quick and then running away can feel like a token they can brag about. I’d much rather get to know people, and them get to know me and learn about what I do.
Still, you’re unrecognisable in new animated movie My Father’s Dragon. Is that nice?
Yes! I’m voicing Boris, who’s a big dopey, pudgy dragon with blue and yellow stripes all over his back, an amazing sunny disposition on his face and red spines and fingernails.It’s a little bit freeing, you know what I mean?
Boris is a 100-year-old dragon with the mind of a ten-year-old boy. And he’s lovable. He enjoys the little things in life and he loves people.
He’s also a big hugger. Are you?
I am a hugger! And I sometimes forget that some people aren’t. I love a good hug. My mom says I hug like my Aunt Cathy and I’m like, that’s the biggest compliment! Because the best hugs come from my Aunt Cathy. She’s a wonderful hugger.
It’s a film that teaches kids it’s OK to be scared. What are you scared of?
Oh, goodness, where’s the list? I think everybody’s scared. I’m scared of judgment; I’m scared of being disliked. And I think that’s normal. It’s something that everybody has to work on.
But in doing this line of work it’s hard to break out of, because so much of your ability to get work depends on whether or not people like your performance and what you bring to it.
And so when you get, ‘hey, it’s just not what we’re looking for’, that’s rough, especially when you’re first starting out. I was auditioning when I was six, seven years old.
That’s really young! Were you the star of the school plays?
The first time I acted was in my Broadway debut. I did play a coconut tree in The Jungle Book when I was in second grade – and let me tell you that coconut tree was the heart of that show.
Growing up is tough, but you had to do it in front of millions of people in Stranger Things.
How embarrassing was that?
It’s really weird. Sometimes I see those videos of myself when I’m 13, I’m just like ‘uuugh!’ That’s the age when you’re the most awkward you’re ever gonna be in your life.
I feel like if anybody had to watch videos of themselves when they were 13 they would just run under their bed, but I’ve realised that it’s a blessing. Not a lot of people get to look back on documentation of themselves growing up. When I’m older I’m sure I will have learned to giggle at it. And I’ll get to show my kids one day.
You were born with CCD. What is that?
CCD is short for . I get to talk about it in every season of Stranger Things, in some capacity, which is wonderful. It’s a genetic bone condition that affects the growth of the skull and jaw and joints.
The most noticeable aspect for a lot of people is with dental growth. My baby teeth had to be extracted manually, and my adult teeth had to be manually grown in through chains and appliances.
It takes a lot of surgery. It can be rough for kids and a lot of times insurance companies will label these surgeries as ‘cosmetic’ because they’re dental and not cover them.
So I helped start a foundation called CCD Smiles that raises money to help people pay for those treatments, but also raises awareness, and aims to educate medical professionals and insurance companies about the importance of these treatments.
Quick Stranger Things fan question: Who did you bond with most in the cast?
I love them all so much in amazing and different ways. On screen, I love working with Joe Keery so, so much – he plays Steve. And I loved getting to work with Joe Quinn who plays Eddie in the last season.
And I’ll always love that core original group of kids. Season five is the last season, so it’s very emotional. It’s something that I’ve yet to process.
What were you an obsessive fan of when you were younger?
Star Wars will always hold a place in my heart. I was definitely convinced I was a lot like Han Solo but I think I’ve ended up being more like Chewie.
My Father’s Dragon is out in select cinemas and on Netflix from Friday