Nearly two years ago, at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts tea in Los Angeles, Millie Bobby Brown, who was then only 12, was the sensation of the party. Stranger Things, a clever, supernatural homage to 1980s pop culture, had just become a hit, and her character, Eleven, an otherworldly, possibly alien, androgynous girl with telekinetic abilities and a diabolical stare, was the breakout star of the show. Unlike the misfit Eleven, Brown, who was born in Marbella, Spain, and grew up in Dorset, England, is bubbly, charming, and has a gift for socializing. On the day of the BAFTA event (and at most other ceremonies during the hectic awards season), she was leading her teenage male costars in a kind of nonstop Millie Bobby Brown parade. The four boys, who were dressed in formal clothing that they constantly seemed to be squirming out of, were content to joke among themselves or hover around the buffet, but Brown had other plans. Again and again, suddenly and swiftly, she would round them up and march her posse over to, say, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, or Justin Timberlake. Cheerfully, forcefully, Brown, who was wearing an age-appropriate party dress and strappy sandals, would extend her hand and say, “Hi! I’m Millie Bobby Brown. So glad to meet you!”
She was on a quest to meet her biggest crush, Leonardo DiCaprio, but he wasn’t there that day. Luckily, nearly every celebrity she did meet was a huge fan of Stranger Things and, especially, Eleven. But even if they had no idea who she was, Brown was unfazed: The future was, simply, hers for the taking.
According to her father, Robert Brown, Millie, who is the second youngest of four children (three girls and one boy), popped out of the womb in a confident state. “She’s always been a personality,” he told me during the shoot for this story. Brown, who is now 14, started auditioning for commercials, movies, and musicals like Matilda and Annie when she was 8. Her first job was a commercial for Publix, the supermarket chain. In the audition, she had to hold up some cupcakes and say, “Mom, can I have these?” Afterward, the casting director remarked to her father, “Your daughter is something quite unique.”
“When I got that first job, I knew right away that I was born to do this,” Brown recalled. She is now taller than when Stranger Things debuted, but she still looks the same: curious, hyper-alert, and appealingly wide-eyed. She was wearing fitted jeans and a pink sweater, but was barefoot. “Where are my sneakers?” she asked no one in particular. The entire Brown family has left England and resettled in Atlanta, where Stranger Things is filmed. Brown had just started shooting the third season, after Netflix signed her to a deal for a reported $3 million.
Like every teenager, Brown is umbilically linked to her phone. She has almost 17 million Instagram followers, who closely monitor her every post. When she met Drake in Australia last November, where both of them were on tour (she was promoting the series; he was performing), the musician draped an arm around her shoulder for a picture that went viral. “He invited me to his concert,” Brown explained matter-of-factly. “And now we talk all the time. I ask his advice.” Perhaps he has advised her to use her celebrity to draw attention to certain issues. When she won favorite TV actress at the Kids’ Choice Awards in March, Brown wore a denim shirt with the names of the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting embroidered on the back. “I take my responsibilities seriously,” Brown told me. “I recognize that I have a voice, and I want to use it wisely.”
In 2015, when she auditioned for Stranger Things, Brown had no idea that it would become her launching pad. “I didn’t know anything about it,” she explained. “Every part of the show was top secret. I Skyped with the directors [brothers Matt and Ross Duffer], and we spoke about ’80s movies—E.T., Stand by Me, and Poltergeist. I flew to L.A. for a screen test, and the next day I got the job! I was 11. We did the show, and I went back home to England. I thought, Okay, it’s a little show. What’s next? And then we came to America for the premiere. Three days later, my whole life changed. People went crazy! My followers went up to 1 million in one day. Magazines wanted me. One of my goals was to be on the cover of W, and you see? Dreams do come true.”
After the first season of Stranger Things, Brown signed a contract with Calvin Klein and was nominated for an Emmy and a SAG award, while the show won a nod for a Golden Globe. (Last week she was nominated for a second Emmy.) Time magazine chose her for its Time 100, making her the youngest recipient to garner that honor. “I don’t think I’ve changed,” she said. “I’m not thinking, Oh, I know everything now. I still get nervous. I still get anxious.” That response surprised me: Brown has always seemed so confident. Was this sudden self-doubt part of becoming a teenager? “Maybe,” she allowed. “But I still love parties! Although, even back then at the BAFTA tea, when I met Justin Timberlake, I swear I could have fainted.” She smiled. “Ask me some questions,” she said, deftly changing the subject.
Lynn Hirschberg: Who is your girl crush?
Millie Bobby Brown: Paris Jackson. She’s got great style. She’s like a sister to me. And she plays the piano!
Hirschberg: What was the first album you bought with your own money?
Brown: Amy Winehouse. I was 6. I knew every single word to “Valerie.” My dad wouldn’t let me hear “Rehab”! There were definitely rules. Amy Winehouse was my go-to, but back then I sang “We Found Love,” by Rihanna, in the mornings. It got me going when I had to go to school.
Hirschberg: What’s your favorite Halloween costume?
Brown: I’ve never been very good at Halloween. I play characters all the time, so what’s the point of dressing up as another character? The last couple of Halloweens, I saw a lot of people dressed as Eleven. Sometimes it’s comforting. But it’s also very interesting to see a 40-year-old man wearing the look of my 12-year-old character.
Hirschberg: As a child, what was your favorite toy?
Brown: A microphone that had High School Musical on it. I could sing with Zac Efron! I watched High School Musical every single day. When I met Zac Efron, I could barely speak.
Hirschberg: What is the first e-mail you remember sending?
Brown: I always wanted to be on Ellen, and that was the first e-mail I sent: to Ellen DeGeneres. I explained my life story and how I needed to be on her show. I never got a response. Five years later, I was on Ellen! She found that e-mail and showed it to the audience. Very embarrassing. I had made lots of grammatical mistakes.
Hirschberg: In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, your first film, which will be out next spring, you play a girl named Madison. Was it hard to act opposite a monster that wasn’t there?
Brown: Godzilla was a tennis ball! I was always looking up. My neck hurt a lot, and I had to get dry needling. They stuck a really big, but thin, needle in my neck. Your muscle then spasms, and, eventually, you’re fine. After the dry needling, I had a great rapport with the tennis ball.
Hirschberg: Now that you live here, what do you like best about America?
Brown: I love red Jolly Rancher candy. Cherry. They’re very sour. I’m not allowed to eat them anymore, because they color my tongue. Eleven is odd enough without having a red tongue.
As she stuck out her tongue to show its clean non-redness, Brown had to stop talking: It was time for hair and makeup. Without knowing her affinity for Amy Winehouse, the stylist decided that Brown’s hair should be teased into a version of the messy, high bouffant that was the singer’s trademark. Brown was thrilled. Her father, who was sitting nearby with her older brother watching Liverpool, their soccer club, defeat Roma, was smiling at his daughter’s reflection in the mirror. “You know,” he said, “Millie is all confidence and swagger in the world, but at night, at home, she can turn into a little, shy girl. It’s a side of her that only her family sees.”
As the makeup artist added a cat-eye tilt to her round eyes, Brown stared at the transformation in the mirror. I asked her if she ever felt like a typical restless teenager—did she ever want to go crazy, be rebellious, run away? “I can be rebellious,” Brown replied, carefully choosing her words. “But not so much. I’ve never been grounded by my parents. I’m a very good girl.” She paused. “But I do believe in making noise, in being loud.”
To play Eleven, Brown had to cut off her long hair and shave her head, which is something that would be traumatic for any 11-year-old. Her baldness instantly set her apart from, well, everybody. “The shaved head was a big deal,” Brown admitted. “On the one hand, it was cool. When you’re bald, rain feels like a head massage. I’d walk in the rain, and people would look at me like I was crazy. I’d be smiling—so, so happy to have the water hit my naked head. But on the other hand, people stared at me, wondering whether I was sick. Some would even laugh at me, without knowing whether I was or wasn’t sick. It was hurtful, but their attitude taught me something about compassion. In the end, being bald was the best thing I ever did—being different changed my life. I wanted to embrace my baldness and, hopefully, inspire people. And, now, that’s become my message to the world.”