Shawn Levy interview: ‘Stranger Things’ director and producer
“I have never quite seen this organic wave of positivity for a specific episode of television, and a specific piece of my work,” describes “Stranger Things” director and executive producer Shawn Levy. The episode in question is the tense and heartbreaking fourth installment of Season 4, titled “Dear Billy.” The story focuses on Max (Sadie Sink) as she confronts the looming threat of Vecna, with a little help from 80’s siren Kate Bush. It’s ignited a passionate fan reaction which Levy admits has been “insane” to witness. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
It was clear from the first outlines of Season 4 that Max would play a central role in the narrative. “Dear Billy” puts her front and center with some of the most emotionally poignant material of the series. Levy welcomed the opportunity to deepen this character. “It’s like, okay Sadie Sink, it’s time to step up,” describes the director, “because we know what you’re capable of and now you get to show the world. It was really thrilling to unveil the full potential of the amazing young actress.”
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Levy especially enjoyed directing Sink during the scene in which she reads a goodbye letter, a nearly three-page monologue, to her deceased sibling at his grave. He says that the actress arrived at the moment already emotionally charged, allowing him to grab multiple camera angles at once in just a few takes. “We had a sense that this particular episode… was a chance for both of us to do special work,” confesses Levy. “That if we showed up and if we did our jobs there was a chance to make something really memorable.”
That “specialness” continues when Max is confronted and nearly killed by Vecna in his “mind lair.” The sequence is incredibly tense: Max faces certain doom as Vecna’s clawed hand comes in for the kill, happy memories of her past flash across the screen, and her friends frantically scramble to save her with her favorite song, “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. But for all that action, Levy is keen to describe the ways that he would “bring the heart in” to the scene. “I’ve always known that the actual superpower of the show is its heart,” he reveals. He explains that this moment from Episode 4 “could only be great and memorable if it was emotional.”
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Viewers have certainly decided the work was memorable, as fan mentions of “Dear Billy” dominate his social media feeds and the episode has even rocketed Bush’s anthem into the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. “I can’t escape that episode,” Levy exclaims, “but I don’t want to.”
Levy earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture as a producer of “Arrival.” He is also a three-time Emmy nominee as a producer of “Stranger Things.”