Even more than perhaps its potent 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things became a phenomenon thanks to the endlessly charming chemistry of its young cast. The latest chapter of the kids-fightin-evil sci-fi series adds a triple scoop to that formula with what I’d like to affectionately call the Scoops Ahoy Crew. Season 3 finds antagonist-turned-fan-favorite Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) whiling away his summer working alongside Robin—played by Maya Hawke, who is going to be a huge deal after this season, trust—at the Starcourt Mall’s ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy. When strange things start acting up in Hawkins again, Robin and Steve team up with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and pint-sized firecracker Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson) to suss out the possible conspiracy happening beneath the Starcourt.
When Collider visited the set of Stranger Things season 3 last year, we sat down for a roundtable interview with Keery and Hawke—just one level above the actual Scoops Ahoy display—to discuss Robin’s role in the show, the best bud relationship between Steve and Dustin, why Priah Ferguson will absolutely be the breakout performer of season 3, and Steve’s journey from season 1 bully to fan-favorite babysitter.
Question: Since we’ve never met Robin before, what can you tell us about her?
MAYA HAWKE: Well, Robin is working at the mall with Steve. She grew up in the same town, but she’s sort of a part of a different group of people at school. Like she’s a little bit of a, more of a…god, everything that I’m going to say is going to be how he’s described and it’s really painful to take a person and try to give them verbs. She’s funny, and she’s sarcastic and brave, and really, really smart. As the season has progressed, she figures things out and does things that are almost unimaginably intelligent. She plays music, and learns languages and she’s really intelligent and creative and funny, but has always been excluded at school, and isn’t one of the cool kids.
Do these two characters like each other?
JOE KEERY: I think it’s kind of, where we jump off is we just work together.
HAWKE: Yeah. We jump off just working together and it evolves throughout the season. What I’ve gotten is we have a friendship that begins kind of as like a buddy comedy sort of, the discomfort of being with somebody you don’t know that well, and having to work together. Then it progresses into a friendship.
What’s it like to be on the mall set? I have a sense that probably some of the younger cast might not have as many experiences going to malls as you guys might.
KEERY: I think we have the biggest amount of time, longest amount of time in this mall out of the cast. It’s pretty crazy, this mall used to be, I think this was kind of the mall to go to in this time period. So there are people who work on the show who are local to the area and have said that “Man, that Waldenbooks was a Waldenbooks back in the day when this mall was like this,” so it’s pretty crazy that they’ve kind of rehauled this entire thing to really resemble what it was like.
Dustin and Steve are basically best buds now. Can you talk a little bit about that dynamic?
KEERY: I think kind of where you see them at the end of season 2 is sort of the beginning of the relationship. It’s kind of funny to think about when you’re that age, a couple years is such a massive difference. If you think about the amount of time that separates them, it’s pretty cool that they can have such a close relationship. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Steve, in a lot of ways, is immature and Dustin, in a lot of ways is so mature. So they kind of have this thing where they meet in the middle. The relationship is almost kind of sometimes like an old married couple, which is kind of a fun thing to play with him.
HAWKE: Also, even from the outside, the way that you two feed off each other and make each other laugh, and know each other’s sense of humor at this point enough where you can improv and play. There’s a banter that is really special and rarely seen.
KEERY: I feel like he’s such a natural. Don’t you think he’s such a little natural?
HAWKE: He’s such a little natural.
KEERY: He’s so prepared and so, yeah, just makes it really fun to, exactly what she was just talking about, to be able to play and have a sense of levity when we’re shooting.
Maya, joining the cast, they know each other so well, what was your experience with it?
HAWKE: You know, I think that I came in really excited to join and to play and to become a part of it and I was lucky because the group of people that I came into…like, Dustin and Steve and Erica, have not spent that much time together. So it was sort of a new family. I simultaneously got to have all this energy of people knowing each other and loving each other and getting to come into that, and really being very held by it. Also have this new group that needed its own new identity, and that I got to contribute to equally.
KEERY: It’s funny, because the way the show’s set up there’s usually three different arcs of story that’s going on simultaneously. The group that I was with, there have been people on the show who I have never had any scenes with and have been on the same show. So it kind of is like you get to create these own little pockets, and this year I feel like, I mean in terms of the stuff with Gaten, I worked with him like half the year last year, and even my relationship with him was still pretty new, so the fact that the four of us all got to work together in this thing was I think a totally brand new bond, which was really fun. It’s awesome.