the story of how caleb mclaughlin's life got flipped upside down
Actor, positive force, Demogorgon hunter: "Stranger Things" star Caleb LcLaughlin has achieved more than most in his 15 short years.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Acting Up Issue, no. 349, Fall 2017.
Having just had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 15-year-old Caleb McLaughlin is doing great. No wonder really, because as well as making delicious lunch decisions, he's killing it career-wise. Though the New Yorker scored his big break as young Simba in The Lion King on Broadway at just ten-years-old, it was a year ago that his world really turned upside down when SAG Award-winning series Stranger Things emerged from the depths of Netflix and brought welcome terror to everyone's lives. His character, Lucas Sinclair, is the eye-rolling sceptic of a D&D-playing band of brothers living in Hawkins, Indiana circa 1980. At first untrusting of Millie Bobby Brown's other-worldly weirdo Eleven, he ultimately drops the sarcastic one-liners, dons his monster-slaying Rambo gear, and saves the day. With season two due for release around Halloween, just days after Caleb's 16th birthday, he's spent the interim stuck in the 80s with the role of young Ricky Bell in The New Edition Story, and coming to terms with his newfound fame.
Since his life became all about evading giant monsters from other dimensions, Caleb can't seem to leave the house without being recognized. "It's not weird, it's just different for me…" he tells us. "Some people even cry when they see me!" On the subject of tears and fears, turns out it's not always acting, sometimes the kids of Stranger Things are genuinely scared during filming. "You know the scene where the Demogorgon finally tries to get us? When we have Eleven in the classroom and she disappears?" he asks. "We had this person behind the director making Demogorgon sounds, but when we were filming they played the sound right behind us with the volume up really loud. We all jumped so hard. They couldn't use the take because Millie screamed as well and she was supposed to be almost dead."
When it comes to dream roles, Caleb is keen to move from supernatural to superhero, with sights fixed firmly on future incarnations of Spiderman and Black Panther. For now he's being his own sort of superhero, sharing his impressively mature outlook on life with fans. His Instagram followers (all one million of them) have jumped on board with the #embraceyourface and #beyourbiggestfan hashtags he started with the hope of promoting positivity in a digital world of deep-rooted insecurity. Though wise beyond his years, he's certainly not planning on trading in battling monsters for a grown up day job any time soon. "Don't let anyone tell you to not be yourself," he advises us, full of sincerity. "Stay a kid as long as you can. You're a grown up for most of your life, so embrace being young and have fun!"
Text Frankie Dunn
Photography Zachary Chick
Styling Mark Jen Hsu
Photography assistance Danielle Alprin