Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard isn’t worried about ‘staying relevant’

The young actor holds his own alongside Julianne Moore in Jesse Eisenberg’s nail-biting directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World.

Success in Hollywood is fickle, even for the stars of hit TV shows. The most surprising ups and downs often come when child actors try to transition into more adult roles. For every Kristen Stewart or Zendaya, there are hundreds of forgotten faces and names that will never work again. The few who manage to break free from their commercial roots seem to choose projects for artistic merit rather than mainstream appeal. Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard seems to understand that naturally.

Since winning hearts as the affable leader Mike Wheeler on the hit Netflix series, Wolfhard has managed to maintain a solid film career between seasons of Stranger Things. He starred in the hugely successful Stephen King adaptations It and It: Chapter Two, as well as The Addams Family and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. This year he’s downsizing with a bang, landing his first major indie film role in Jesse Eisenberg’s heart-pounding family portrait When You Finish Saving the World.

“It’s not at all about staying relevant for me,” Wolfhard said in a recent video interview with IndieWire. “I’m not against doing commercial stuff, and that’s not my statement, ‘I’m only going to do indies.’ I’m not one of those people. But for me it’s a script-by-script basis. If I get a script that I really like and find something that I can relate to in the story or the character, then I do it.”

The new film stars Wolfhard as Ziggy, a clumsy and aspiring online musician who stands his ground against Julianne Moore, who plays his narcissistic and demanding mother, Evelyn. Written and directed by Eisenberg in his directorial debut, the film feels like a cross between The Squid and the Whale and Eighth Grade, blending the former’s bitter intellectualism with the latter’s chilling youthful awkwardness. Neither Ziggy nor Evelyn are very sympathetic characters in the traditional sense, and most of the film’s tension comes from their painfully bouncing off each other.

“The character strikes this odd balance between wanting to hug him and wanting to smack him in the face,” Wolfhard said. “Someone could read this script and just interpret it as a super obnoxious, arrogant kid, and that’s it. For me, my goal was to play that character, humanize him and just make him seem dumber and younger than anything else.”

The similarities to The Squid and The Whale, the Noah Baumbach film that launched Eisenberg, are striking. Moore’s Evelyn is a darkly feminist take on the role of Jeff Daniels, giving a refreshing take on the distant parent character with impossible expectations and a reluctance to show affection. It’s so easy to hear the dialogue in Eisenberg’s voice that the parallels feel intentional. As a fan of “The Squid and The Whale”, Wolfhard also reacted to this.

When you're done saving the world

“When You’re Done Saving the World”


“It’s one of my favorite films,” he said. “I asked him about it. I said, ‘Do you think if you had written that when you were my age you would have played it?’ And I don’t remember if he said yes, but I have a feeling he would have. That’s a role he would have played at that point.”

Moore and Wolfhard play beautifully together, each reflecting the other’s least attractive qualities, even if they struggle to connect. As an avid film buff, Wolfhard was both excited and nervous to be working with such a legend.

“I was very obviously intimidated because she’s Julianne Moore, so I was just excited to meet her. We went to lunch one day and it was so nice and normal and I stopped stressing about it,” he said. “I was scared because she was so…I would have done anything. If she had told me to stand there, I would have said, ‘Okay.’ And I wouldn’t have said anything. If she had bossed me around, I would have. But instead, she created this environment where she just made me comfortable enough to try things in front of her… and it made me feel good because I really felt like she trusted me.”

Wolfhard is no stranger to building confidence on set, having grown up with his Stranger Things co-stars over their years on one of the world’s most popular TV shows. Recently, he happily endorsed Noah Schnapp when he became public, following a powerful story of his character Will’s unrequited love for Mike in Season 4.

“I’m incredibly proud of Noah for coming out so publicly. I think it was so incredible and brave,” he said. “As for Mike and Will’s relationship, I always found it kind of funny, especially last season where Mike was just so clueless. I would imagine Mike will totally accept Will and I really want Will to have a really happy ending. And I think he will. What’s going to be great about season five is that the Duffers are trying to thread that needle by trying to get each character to have their perfect ending. So I’m excited to see what happens in the end.”

He may be hoping for Mike’s happy ending, but the rest of Wolfhard’s career is just beginning. Stranger Things will come to an end after its fifth season, which will not be released until 2024. If Wolfhard’s recent performance is any indication, we’ll be seeing a lot more from this young talent.

“I’m just happy to be a free agent,” he said. “I had very good job security because I was like, ‘I’m going to go back to Atlanta next year and do Stranger Things.’ That won’t work anymore. And so I’ll have a lot more freedom to choose what I want to do or work on what I want to work on. So I think it’s going to be kind of a thing, only time will tell. But I like making films like this, little films about characters I care about.”

A24 will release “When You Finish Saving The World” in select theaters on January 20th.

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Lindsay Lowe

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