While it was abundantly clear that Sadie Sink was a star-on-the-rise well before Stranger Things Season 4, having left a lasting impression with her work in the prior two seasons and in Taylor Swift’s short film adaptation of her hit song “All Too Well” last fall, it’s undeniable that this season has taken her career – and her popularity – to new heights.
The quality of the fourth episode of season four, “Dear Billy,” was already above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from most Stranger Things episodes before its final moments – in terms of the episode’s epic, emotionally involving storytelling and high-stakes spectacle – but that closing set piece, set to Kate Bush’s brilliant “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” took things to another level, representing the series at its rawest and most resonant, and while one could thank the great song for that scene’s impact, much credit must go to the tremendous talents of Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield.
Having grown with this character for six years, joining the series when she was only 14-years old, the 20-year-old star took all she’s learned from the show this far and expertly employed that intellect in what is now one of the defining moments of the series as a whole, and, as such, Emmy buzz has started to form around her for her wondrous work here. In the midst of what is sure of blisteringly busy time for the young thespian, Sadie took the time to talk with us about what this now iconic moment meant to her, how she dug deeper into Max’s psyche than ever before, and what the future holds for both Max and herself following this breakthrough for the character and her career.
Zoë Rose Bryant: First of all, congratulations on the staggering success of this season. And, building off of that, I wanted to ask at the start if you ever anticipated “Running Up That Hill” and THAT scene having the impact it did. Did it feel as monumental filming it as it did to us watching it?
Sadie Sink: I had no idea – genuinely no idea. SO much of the show is so epic, but I’d never had one of those epic moments for myself, so I didn’t really know what that scene would look like until I watched it within the timeline of all the other plot lines and what else was happening in the season. When I watched the final cut, I was like, “Oh WOW. This IS really epic.” And I definitely knew while filming was happening that it would be a really cool sequence, but I wasn’t anticipating that kind of fan reaction at all.
ZRB: Yeah, like you were saying, the juggling of the multiple storylines and the editing helps make it so memorable – along with the music of course – but I also think it was so impactful because it really represented a turning point in Max’s battle with depression, and I think that, for a lot of people, it symbolized finding that light at the end of the tunnel. I was curious what that moment meant to you, and what emotions you brought to it?
SS: It really is a huge turning point for Max, because she’s already in such a dark place in her life, and then she has to have all of her deepest, darkest thoughts and secrets spilled out right in front of her by Vecna/Billy. She has to literally be face to face with her fears, and THEN she’s also put in a position where her life is on the line. To see someone like Max, who has been in such a dark place all season, choose to fight and persevere because of her friends showing up, is so important. Seeing her friends makes her realize that there ARE people that love and care about her. So yeah, it is quite literally that “light at the end of the tunnel” that she sees and that inspires her to make a really big choice, and that is to fight and run towards that light.
ZRB: That’s really insightful. And I had read before how you said you wrote in a journal in Max’s perspective about everything that was going on this season, and I think you can really see that in how layered your character work is here. So I was curious – how did the “character creation” process here differ from how you’ve approached other characters you’ve played in the past, and what was it like really immersing yourself in Max’s mindset?
SS: With other characters I’ve played, I start from scratch, in a way. So it requires even more work sometimes. But for Max, it was kind of interesting, because I knew this character. I’d been playing her since I was 14. And when I was 14, it was very instinctual and also, the stakes were a little bit lower. It was still Stranger Things, but the stakes were a little bit lower. It wasn’t as dark as season four was. So I never really had to kind of do this [deep of work] with Max until this season. And that’s why I thought it was really important TO really dive deeper into her mindset and get it right. It was all kind of already there, just because I felt like I knew her so well at this point, but there were still so many little details I thought were worth tapping into, or just remembering for myself whenever I’m in a scene or something like that. But it was also fun to immerse myself even more into her world, especially when it’s dealing with these kinds of emotions and such careful content like this.
ZRB: And building off that, like you were saying with the emotional pull of this character, I’m curious what draws you to the scripts you choose and the characters you play, and what you really look for in new stories and roles?
SS: I feel very “new” in this industry still, and I feel like there are so many roles that I haven’t gotten to explore yet. So whenever I’m reading something, my motivations are definitely very character driven and director driven, because I want to do something that’s going to push me further than I’ve ever been before, or force me to try on a completely different identity that I’ve yet to explore yet. As I continue growing as an actress, I definitely want to see what’s something that’s going to challenge me and push me further and help me discover more about myself.
ZRB: That’s so exciting, and I think that’s a really relatable goal. And building off that too, looking ahead, what excites you most about Max’s future in Stranger Things, and what more you can explore in next season – and maybe in her relationship with Lucas, in regards to where that can go?
SS: I would love to see how she copes with this experience. This has probably been the darkest, most torturous experience she’s ever had in her life, on top of everything else that she’s already experienced. But, interestingly enough, I think her coping mechanisms from all of this would look a lot different based on what she’s learned, and everything she’s taken from this experience – the main thing being the power in friendship, and having people that you can open up to, and how it’s okay to be vulnerable, and probably even better for you in the end to let some of those thoughts kind of seep through the cracks a little bit, and open up in a way. I think that would really help her in the long run, just having an outlet like that. So, yeah, I would love to see what she takes away from this experience, and I think everything she’s learned would probably allow her to let people like Lucas back into her life in a way that she’s never let people in before.
ZRB: That’s so sweet, and I think that’s really inspiring to a lot of the viewers too – so they see that there IS hope, even after everything you’ve been through. Switching gears a bit, you’re such a “scream queen” between this and Fear Street, and you have such a huge standing in the horror community right now. However, I’m curious what other genres you’d like to tackle next, after Stranger Things and after the Fear Street trilogy. You’re very good at comedy as Max as well, but is that something else you’re interested in?
SS: I would love a good comedy I think (laughs). That’s also something I’ve never tried. I’ve never been in a comedic role before. I don’t even know if it would even work, but it would be fun to try it out. I also loved doing the more serious, grounded moments that Max had in season four, and I’d love to explore that world a little bit more and do projects like that. But yeah, in terms of the horror genre, there’s so much horror content out there right now, so there’s lots of options in that world, but I think after so many seasons of this show and the Fear Street trilogy, I’d love to kind of tap into something else. That being said, you never know when the right script is going to come along, and it doesn’t matter what genre it is in. But yeah, I’d like to kind of branch out of that.
ZRB: That’s so exciting. And speaking of branching out, you worked with Taylor Swift on that iconic “All Too Well” short film, and you worked with Darren Aronofsky on The Whale (releasing in theaters later this year), but I’m really curious what other dream directors you want to work with next, or are YOU your dream director?
SS: I think I still have so much to learn about acting at this point that I can’t even think about branching into another field (laughs). But yeah, there’s definitely lots of people that I would love to work with, and Darren was definitely one of them. Getting that opportunity was a really incredible moment, and an even more incredible experience. And then also, with Taylor, she was someone I’d always wanted to work with, but I never thought it would happen. I never thought our worlds would collide or our paths would cross in any way. So that was exciting. And then going forward, it all just comes down to reading the script, and if the character clicks with me, or if I feel like it’s something that would challenge me in a way. But yeah, I’m definitely still finding my footing, so there’s lots I don’t know. But it’s exciting, and as always, we’ll see.
ZRB: And best of luck on all of that and beyond. The last thing I wanted to ask is how you’ve had such a huge social media following erupt, especially following “Dear Billy” and “Running Up That Hill” and how iconic that episode has become. What’s one thing you’d love to say to those fans on social media?
SS: Oh, I’m so nervous and anxious when it comes to this stuff, so I don’t even know where I’d begin. I’m probably too scared to properly address it in any way or any form. But if I were to, it would just be with a lot of gratitude. When I came on as a new character in season two, I was 14, and I was an insecure ball of emotions, and it was such a successful show with such a passionate but intense fan base, so it was scary entering that world. But having grown with this character and gotten to the point where I’m now getting this love from the fans when it comes to this episode, I think it’s really rewarding as someone who was initially new to all of this and thought nobody would even like their character and thought it was just going to be a disaster. So, to have this kind of feedback for this was a really special moment for me, and I’m really thankful in general.
Sadie Sink is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Stranger Things.