It’s hard not to fall in love with Stanley Barber. That’s due in large part to the equally lovable Wyatt Oleff who brings the quirky character to life in Netflix’s new teen drama I Am Not Okay with This. The series hails from Jonathan Entwistle, who struck angsty gold with another adaptation of Charles Forsman‘s comics for The End of the F*cking World. But with that adaptation comes an opportunity to flesh out the characters and add a unique spin to them. That’s exactly what Entwistle and Oleff do with the stylish and offbeat Stanley Barber.
While on the Pittsburgh-based set for the Netflix series with a select group of journalists, we were able to chat with Oleff (just days before his 16th birthday) about reuniting with IT co-star Sophia Lillis, how he informed his take on the character of Stanley, how Stanley relates to Lillis’ Sydney, and just what kind of superpowers he’d like to have. And since we also got a chance to watch Oleff rehearsing and performing the fantastic martini-making montage while on set, we definitely had to ask him about it.
So you know how to make a martini now?
Wyatt Oleff: Not really. The Anthony Michael Hall version, yes.
Can you give us some context for the scene that we were just seeing? We hear it’s a montage scene.
Wyatt Oleff: It’s a montage scene. I don’t know how much I can tell you, but I will say it is getting ready. It is a getting ready montage. I’m not going to say for what. I think that’s a good tease.
How much fun is it working with Sophia again?
Wyatt Oleff: When we filmed IT together we weren’t really directly performing with each other. We were more in the same scene. But here we get these full-on scenes where it’s just us interacting. Through that summer that we had we have this great chemistry together that I hope people really see on screen. That’s just us being us. We goof around a lot and I feel like that’s how we’ll always be. I think that really just works well on screen. I play more of the comedic role this time, which is more fun for me to play. I get to just play off of her looking at me like I’m an idiot, which is just how it normally is. So it’s perfect.
In the graphic novel Stanley’s a stoner. Is that your persona still?
Wyatt Oleff: That’s not what defines Stanley in this version. He is the kid who is so uncool that he is cool. He just doesn’t care what anyone thinks and he does what he wants to do. I think that’s great because he dresses however he wants, acts however he wants. He doesn’t care what other people think. He’s cool to himself. I think that sends a really good message to any people watching who are afraid to be themselves. Hopefully he’s a good inspiration to some people.
He sounds like Farmer Ted from Sixteen Candles.
Wyatt Oleff: A little bit. Yeah.
How does it feel to be entering the Netflix-teen cannon? It’s so expansive!
Wyatt Oleff: Yeah. It’s weird because I’ve never really been a part of something this big, I guess, or in this case… It’s completely different from what I’ve been in before. Being a part of that “Netflix family” is really cool because I already have a couple friends in there. So it’s fun to be like, “Oh, hey, I’m a part of this now.” I hear Netflix has good parties at some events.
You already described your character’s personality a little bit. How does that factor into his relationship with Sydney, with their friendship?
Wyatt Oleff: Sydney is just kind of angsty. She’s a teenager. She’s like the embodiment of that angst that you feel. Stanley, he’s not over his angst but he’s an old soul. He’s very wise for his age and he doesn’t think like the rest of teenagers do. That’s what Sydney is completely fed up with, is just people acting the same and being dumb and stuff. Of course, Stanley does dumb stuff too, but in a way that’s endearing and just shows her that he doesn’t care what other people think. He has this different personality from everyone and she can tell he wants the best for her.
How much of Wyatt is in Stanley or vice versa?
Wyatt Oleff: In terms of my relationship to Sophia, annoying her is my number one goal. I think that comes off in the character, maybe unintentionally. Maybe unintentionally with Stanley, but very intentional with me. I get old soul a lot. Sometimes whenever I go out for roles, they’re like, “We love him, but he looks a little wise for his age.” I used to get that when I was younger. Not as much now. But it’s funny. Some people would describe me as that and it’s funny to see that come back around.
What do you think is going to surprise viewers most about Stanley?
Wyatt Oleff: I think just the way he cares about people. Again, I don’t want to reveal anything, but in his introduction he seems very carefree but you can tell throughout the series how he connects with people and what those connections mean to him.
We’ve heard that there’s a really collaborative spirit on set between actors and Jonathan. So what have you brought to your character that wasn’t on the script originally?
Wyatt Oleff: One thing I figured out with my character that I talked to Jonathan about, a couple of days after we started shooting, was that Stanley’s almost always smiling. Especially in the first couple episodes, I’m always smiling, because he’s always the one who’s trying to cheer her up, trying to make her feel better, trying to be a goofball. I try to make him always smiling because he just loves to smile. He loves to be with people he enjoys to be around and he wants to show that as much as possible.
How does it feel to be in this Stranger Things, these superheroes, but by way of John Hughes’ style? How is that for you as an actor?
Wyatt Oleff: I respect so much of Stranger Things. The concept, the acting, the writing and everything. It’s so brilliant. It’s really interesting to be a part of that supernatural aspect, but it’s in no ways that similar to Stranger Things. Stranger Things has more of an 80s vibe. This is maybe 70s, maybe current day. It’s all over the place. I think that’s obviously one thing that separates it, but also just some of the costumes, obviously the writing, the cinematography and the directing. It’s all different and these characters are, I’m not going to say nothing you’ve ever seen before, but this combination of the supernatural in these characters feels new. Especially, with that John Hughes vibe. It’s like, where are they going to take this? I think that’s exciting.
We got to see a little bit of the montage scene. I saw a guitar in the room. Does music play a big part of Stanley’s personality, hobbies?
Wyatt Oleff: Stanley, he does love his music. The guitar in the room actually, I discovered, has a missing string so we can assume that he’s definitely played it a fair amount, but he does love music. He has a very interesting taste of music and he tries to push it on to other people as much as he can. He just loves to jam to his own tune.
How does Stanley fit into the city? We’ve heard a lot about blue collar, working class, rust belt. Stanley seems like his own kind of character. So does he fit into that city background at all or is it just not even on his mind?
Wyatt Oleff: Well, again, I don’t really want to give too much away. Stanley doesn’t have a very positive opinion about where he lives. He tries to make the best of it, obviously, by being around people he likes to be around, which is not many people. So he’s hoping for a brighter future and to get out of wherever he is.
You said the guitar told you that Stanley used to play it a lot and then it broke. Are there any other items around that inform what you think about him?
Wyatt Oleff: He has a Rubik’s Cube in his room. That was actually something I kind of brought to Stanley. I brought a Rubik’s Cube to set and I know how to solve it. I was doing it and Jonathan and Christy were like, “Whoa, that’s cool.” Then Christy was like, “I want to write that into the show.” So he’s got a Rubik’s Cube in his room now. It shows you that he’s bored with his life. He tries to have a lot of hobbies but he’s just looking for the next stage of his life.
How quickly can you solve it?
Wyatt Oleff: I only know a beginner method. So I can do it in under a minute and a half.
That’s very fast. Can you do it behind your back?
Wyatt Oleff: No. The no-looking seems… I’ll learn that in five years. We’ll see what happens.
I don’t know what Stanley knows about her powers, but how does react to her learning these things about herself?
Wyatt Oleff: The powers are in a way representing teenage angst and how you bottle up your emotions and stuff. I think that’s what Stanley tries to help her with, is her emotions and just becoming a young adult. Just trying to get through this ugly phase of your life. He’s just there to care for her. That’s what he mostly wants to do.
If Stanley could have a super power, what would he want? And that question can go to you too. That can go to Wyatt as well.
Wyatt Oleff: Okay. I feel like telekinesis is so versatile that technically you can make yourself fly. Technically, if you could control particles you could make yourself invisible. There’s so many things that you could do with it that it seems broken. Psychic powers in general.