In the world of Stranger Things, nothing is ever as it seems. When a demure, unassuming young girl with a buzz cut has special powers that allow her to throw a van in the air or save someone who’s falling from a cliff with her mind, you know you’re up for almost anything. One of the show’s standout supporting actors, Amy Seimetz, hides a similar cache of surprises up her sleeve.
You may recognize Seimetz from her role as Becky Ives, Eleven’s estranged Aunt who holds the camera’s focus easily in her brief yet effective arcs across the show’s two seasons. But apart from her role there, Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan also write and direct every episode of Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, a critically acclaimed, serialized reboot of the Steven Soderbergh film of the same name about the life of high-end escorts in Chicago. The professional hedonism of the infamous midwest city depicted by that show is a long way from the supernatural happenings of Stranger Things‘ Hawkins, Indiana, but Seimetz is an artist with many talents.
Fresh off the world premiere of Stranger Things 2, Seimetz spoke with Digital Trends about how her experiences on the Netflix mega hit, musings on the show’s upcoming third season, and how season 2 of The Girlfriend Experience will shake up TV conventions.
Digital Trends: How did you first get involved with Stranger Things? Did you have any idea it would become such a phenomenon?
No, that’s what was so fun about doing it. The Duffer brothers had seen me in a few movies, and were big fans of Upstream Color, which I had acted in. Then the casting director was like, “Oh, I know her.” She happened to cast my show as well … so when they brought my name up, she was like “Oh, I can talk to her and see if she would do it.”
“[The Duffer Brothers] were like you are the only actor that would argue that she doesn’t want a close-up.”
Honestly, that’s kind of my favorite part to play is the supporting role. One, I don’t have very much time. When you write and direct, you have very little time. [Laughs].
But two, because you can do some weird things with supporting roles that you can’t really get away with when you have to carry the whole thing. You can come in, and not have the weight of the entire production on your shoulders.
The first season, we had no idea [the show would be a hit]. It’s so remarkable that everyone is responding to it in the way that they have. It’s so interesting to watch as it evolves and as the kids evolve.
One of the things that brings people deeper into the world of Stranger Things is the aesthetic. The Duffer Brothers and the costume designers do a great job of creating the ’80s aesthetic. How deep does it go on set? Do you ever feel like you’re actually in that era? You’re an ’80s baby.
As soon as they put me in the costume and did my hair, I sent this photo to my entire family, and I’m like “Oh my god, I look like my aunt and my grandma,” specifically during this era. Sometimes when you perform, you don’t know what path you’re going to take, or what character you want to portray.
As soon as I got in the costume, I knew I was so doing an impersonation of my grandma … she was a very complicated lady, and not the warmest. Sort of a brassy lady. So, as soon as I got in costume, I knew I had to do a Grandma Seimetz impersonation. [Laughs]. I definitely called upon childhood to bring forth Becky.
What about the set? What sort of nuanced attention to detail is taken to make sure viewers feel like they’re in the ’80s?
Chris [Trujillo], the production designer, I’ve known him for years — he’s just so good…. I haven’t seen the most recent episodes, but what’s on the television in the house when I was shooting was 1980s Family Feud. Even down to the details in the set dressing that they all come up with are things that aren’t even in the script … sewing patterns from the ’80s, magazines from the ’80s. It’s like a treasure trove of walking into the Ives house, digging through, trying to figure out what is set design and what is not, especially since the house that we shot it in was one of the few that were not a set. It was a house they found in Atlanta.
I have to say, for me, your character Aunt Becky and Eleven were part of one of the most emotional episode arcs of the entire series. What was it like filming those scenes with Millie Bobbie Brown?
Oh my god, she’s a genius. She’s so cute. She’s so mature, and so smart. Sometimes you forget you’re filming with a kid, because she’s so honest, so professional, and so hilarious.
Obviously, in this show, she’s not exercising her comedic abilities, but she’s so quick-witted and a blast to work with.
As a director yourself on The Girlfriend Experience series, what’s it like being directed by the Duffer Brothers in Stranger Things?
They’re extremely collaborative. Even though they’re very specific in what they want, how they see things, how the camera moves, and all of that stuff. In terms of motivation, they’re super-laid-back, and their sets feel laid-back. But they definitely have a vision for exactly what they want, and that shows in the show. When I go on to act, I have to take my director’s hat off, because otherwise there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. [Laughs].
So, have you ever wanted to tell them, “Hey, we should do this,” and had to hold back because you’re not the director?
I said, “I don’t know how to direct television.” [Steven Soderbergh] said, “That’s great.”
Yeah. I think there was one time last season. I always think in terms of editing, that’s how I direct. I shoot for the edit, as opposed to shooting just to cover the scene. I remember one scene we were covering last season, and I forget what happened, but they were like, “OK, now it’s time for Amy’s close-up.”
I remember going, “You’re never going to use that.” [Laughs]. They were like, “I think we need your close-up.” I’m like, “I promise you. Do it. Shoot it. But, I’m telling you, you’re never going to use it.”
Then, five minutes went by and they’re like, “Yeaaahhhh, you’re kind of right.” They were like, “you are the only actor that would argue that she doesn’t want a close-up.” Why shoot it if you’re not going to use it?
Your serialized version of Steven Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience has received excellent reviews for its take on the world of upscale escorts. How did you get involved?
Soderbergh asked myself and Lodge to do it. He called me on the phone and asked me if I wanted to direct television, and I never met him. [Laughs] That is not how things happen, but when you get to know Soderbergh, usually he doesn’t like to do things how things usually happen. He’d seen a film I directed and then he’d seen some films I acted in too, and asked me if I wanted to direct The Girlfriend Experience.
I said, “I don’t know how to direct television.” He said, “That’s great.” [Laughs]. He wanted the whole thing to run like an independent film, which is why he brought Lodge and I on. He wanted us to basically run the whole show, write the whole show, and bring these bizarre and interesting territories not just visually and story-wise where independent films go, but also the whole production in general being scrappy and run by auteurs who know what they want. As opposed to how a lot of television is sort of by committee.
In trying to find new ground and new territory of how to do it, We were both like, “What if we write separately, you direct seven episodes and I direct seven episodes.”
It’s a limited series, and since its inception, we always wanted it to be a new character every single season, and so on top of that, Lodge and I really wanted to do something completely different, and wanted to shake up the format of TV, and allow it to be something we hadn’t seen before.
The first season, when Steve asked Lodge and I to do it, what Steve likes to call it is an arranged marriage. [Laughs] So, we wrote together on the first season, and that’s what came out of our collaboration as writers together.
In trying to find new ground and new territory of how to do it, we were both like, “What if we write separately, you direct seven episodes and I direct seven episodes.” In turn, that would push it into something new, but also for future filmmakers that come on to direct the show, it gives them ground to feel like they don’t have to play by the rules.
This show focuses heavily on the power dynamics of sex between men and women, especially successful and powerful ones. The new season will debut on November 5, in the middle of numerous scandals involving powerful men in Hollywood allegedly harassing people sexually. Will the new season of The Girlfriend Experience touch on these scandals?
I wrote it before any of this stuff that’s coming out. Obviously, it’s been permeating for quite some time, and being a woman, you experience the complexity of dynamics in power and how power shifts and where sexuality comes into play. For my episodes this season — I can’t speak for Lodge’s episodes — in Bria’s storyline, played by Carmen Ejogo, I definitely touch on the complexities in sexual relationships, the power shifts, and the blurriness of consent. Where does female agency and consent begin, and when is it abuse. It’s not a comment on what’s going on in Hollywood right now. It’s just a general discussion of women’s agency.
Before you go, I have to ask. Will we see Eleven’s aunt back for Stranger Things 3?
I don’t know that. I don’t even know what happens with the rest of this season. [Laughs]. They’re very tight-lipped about the whole thing.
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