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Interview: ‘Stranger Things’ Star Sadie Sink Shares the Vulnerable Way She Tapped Into Max’s Headspace in S4

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers from Season 4, Vol. 1 of “Stranger Things,” currently streaming on Netflix.

Sadie Sink’s Max really goes through it in Season 4 of “Stranger Things.” After losing her brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery), in the finale of Season 3, the newest season starts with her being torn apart by guilt about what happened.

“She’s just asking herself all of these questions, and putting the blame on herself,” Sink tells Variety. “It’s not necessarily because she’s mourning the loss of their relationship, but more just convincing herself that, somehow, she’s to blame for all the awful things that happen in her life — and the domino effect that Billy’s death had on her family and everyone around her.”

On top of all of that, Max’s best friend, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), has left town; she’s broken up with her boyfriend, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin); and she’s having visions of an actual monster.

Here, Sink — now 20 — talks about how she got into the headspace of the season, shares her thoughts about what’s in those emotional letters Max wrote to her friends, and reveals whether we’ll see more of Max’s mom.

When the season began, Max wasn’t in a good place. How did you tap into the darkness she was going through?

I’ve been with this character for the most formative years of my life. So I really know her very well at this point. But we never get to tap into this kind of vulnerability on the show that often, because it’s so fast-paced that there’s so much happening. So having a storyline that taps into some of her more emotional sides and showcases some vulnerability — which we don’t really get to see in the previous seasons — that was super exciting. In terms of preparation, so much of the season had to do with internal thoughts, and the thoughts that eat away at you. You don’t share with anyone.

So in order to understand that a little bit more and get into her headspace in that way, I would journal here and there, just write entries as her. What I wasn’t planning on but what ended up actually really helping me in getting into that mindset was the isolation of lockdown. After lockdown, I had turned 18, so when I went back to shooting, I was living on my own. It was a new experience, and I was alone for a lot of the time. I think it helped me. In a weird way, there was a connection between me and Max this year with me living on my own and Max living in this intense isolation.

Obviously, Max misses Eleven since she has these superpowers, but I feel like she must also miss the fact that she had a true friend — and now she just has her ex and all his friends.

Yeah! I think what was so wonderful about Max and Eleven’s relationship from Season 3 is that Eleven is obviously unlike most girls that you see. Max is also unlike lot of girls that you see, so they kind of found each other and they just worked really well together. I like to think it was one of the first female friendships that Max has ever really had. So for that to kind of disappear, I think was just really awful timing. Max could have benefited from having someone like Eleven, who she probably would have felt comfortable opening up to. Eleven probably would have benefited from having Max while she’s navigating this new environment and bullies in her world. Having someone like that to push her through it would have helped. They both could have helped each other a lot.

“Dear Billy” is such an emotional episode and so well done on your end. But Billy wasn’t a great guy — he was very problematic. Do you think she has fully forgiven him?

It’s tricky, because he caused the most pain in her life for a really long time. And they didn’t have a brother-sister connection, or any solid relationship between the two of them. I think what’s really haunting her is the fact that she thinks that it was somehow her fault — that maybe she had thought before, “I just want him to go away.” So for him to actually leave, and for her to do nothing while she’s watching him die, she’s just asking herself all of these questions and putting the blame on herself.

She didn’t have an outlet, and she didn’t have anyone to tell her that it’s not her fault. No one was there, and no one quite understands it. So it’s a really lonely, lonely battle that she’s fighting.

We got to see a glimpse of her relationship with her mom. Is that something we will see more of?

I’m not sure. Not in Season 4. Any time on this show where we get a little glimpse of what the parents are doing, I think it’s very interesting because for the first season, the parents were nowhere to be found! They didn’t know what these kids were doing in their regular day-to-day home life. So anytime we get to see a relationship with one of the kids and their parents, that’s really exciting to dive into.

For Max specifically, I think it’s heartbreaking when you see this state that her mom is in, and how absent she is through all of this — Max does a really good job at hiding it. But not having a mother who’s able to recognize the pain that their child is going through because they themselves are in so much pain, it was kind of heartbreaking to see that dynamic.

Do you know what Max’s letters to her friends say?

I don’t! In my own downtime and daydreaming, I have an idea of what she probably will want to say to each specific person. I don’t know anything about what the plans are for Season 5, but I’m dying to know what’s in there. I want to have a scene where the letters are read. I think it’s so typical Max, for her to literally be looking death right in the eye but still, she is unable to tell someone face-to-face, how much they mean to her or have a sincere conversation with someone. The fact that she has to put it into letters and not even be around when when they were read, it was like, yeah, like that adds up. But I would love to see what’s inside of those letters.

David Harbour recently told me he knows the ending of Hopper’s story, because he kept asking and said he needed to know for how to play it. Do you know how Max’s story ends?

No, but maybe I should use that line! I don’t know, I kind of like not knowing where her storyline is going and just being surprised when I read it, because Max herself doesn’t know what’s going to happen to her. I guess, why should I? I genuinely have zero idea where they’re going with anything. So I will be excited to read those scripts!

Lastly, you starred in the Taylor Swift-directed music video “All Too Well: A Short Film.” How does the Taylor Swift fandom compared to the “Stranger Things” fandom?

I think the one thing that you have in common is that both fan bases are so incredibly passionate and loyal. For “Stranger Things,” they’ve been around since Season 1 and the age range is incredible. It’s just like a world wide phenomenon. And same with Taylor Swift! They’re really similar in many ways.

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