His real name might not be well known but everyone knows the fragile but determined little Will Byers from Stranger Things who Noah Schnapp has played since the age of 11. But such early stardom hasn’t gone to this head. Today Schnapp is an enterprising 17-year-old, committed to managing his career in the best possible way. Not just as an actor: in addition to attending a very prestigious business school, he is also an entrepreneur.
For those born in the second half of the seventies, like this writer, Stranger Things may seem to have been directly inspired by peeking at our nostalgic posts on Facebook. And yes, only those born in the second half of the seventies still use Facebook. That world we grew up with – small American provincial towns as likely boring as they are exciting and exotic to us, kids with bowl haircuts always riding their bikes, secrets hidden in the attic, monsters under the bed and that cave in the woods that scares us more than we should – the Duffer Brothers, creators of the series, have succeeded in the difficult task of taking all that aesthetic and narrative baggage to create something new.
Credit to the success of the series, now heading into its fifth season on Netflix, is also due to the cast that launched a long line of new, very young, talents. Among them is Noah Schnapp, born in 2004, who was lured onto the path of acting after seeing Annie on Broadway. At eight years of age, his acting teacher sensed the boy’s talent and advised him to find an agent. Good call, given that at just 11 he was then cast in the hit series Stranger Things. In the show he plays Will Byers, the first among the group to get a taste of the Upside Down, another dimension infested with demons.
“Yes, but since then my character has grown a lot,” he says: “In the first season he was torn from his world, from the people he loved, from his friends. Once you come back from such an experience, well, you’re no longer the same. It’s as if the monster was still a little bit inside him, you can see it in the little things, in his daily life. In this fourth season, while his friends stayed in Hawkins, he was in California surrounded by new characters. He’s a fish out of water who has to deal with a world that is totally new to him. This time he doesn’t have to face the Demogorgon or the Upside Down, but his new student life.”
Speaking of school, in his real life Schnapp was recently admitted to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the most prestigious business school in the United States if not the entire planet. What he says next is surprising. “Acting comes first for me: it’s my job, my passion and my priority. But at the same time I have always wanted to have new experiences and expand my knowledge. So, in my opinion, the next step is to do business, enterprise. Being able to attend a school like this is a great opportunity for me.”
When I hear these words I think that, oh well, of course, business, doing business… but we’re talking about a teenager. It’s a long leap from imagining these things at a school desk to making them a reality. Schnapp takes care to silence the ‘boomer’ in me.
“I’m working on several fronts at the moment: I’m investing in some companies; I recently became a consultant for an app called ROLL which allows fans to subscribe to see the photos and private content of the celebrities they follow. And then there is my big project TBH, To Be Honest”.
At 17 my greatest contribution to society was learning to skateboard but I find the courage to ask him what TBH is: “It is a gianduia, cocoa and hazelnut spread.
“I know what you’re thinking: it’s as good as Nutella, but there is no palm oil. Do you know what this means? It has a totally different impact on the environment. I managed to combine my love for Nutella with sustainability.”
It’s a stark contrast to the kids who starred in the films that Stranger Things references. Corey Feldman of The Goonies, Drew Barrymore of E.T. – The Extraterrestrial, kids who, after they became famous, found themselves within arms reach of drugs and alcohol or in venues such as Studio 54 in New York. That, for better or for worse, is the Hollywood we grew up with. Schnapp seems to be of a completely different kind: he is mindful, has a nose for business and already seems to be able to manage his career in the best possible way. “I want to make smart choices about my future and my job. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who love me – my family, my friends – who know how to advise me and support my every choice. Personally, I feel very lucky to have fans who love me, and it is important for me to continue being a positive role model for them.”
I thought of asking him which was his favourite Goonie, Data or Mouth, but perhaps it is better to postpone. Also because Schnapp, cinematically speaking, grew up with other references. “Even though I feel like I grew up in the eighties, my first movie loves were the whole Marvel Universe,” he says. “I’m crazy about Spider-Man, or Avatar, which I think is the first movie I saw in the cinema. That’s my background.”
You see, I tell myself, after all that he is still a kid.
“Ah, and everything that Tom Hanks does. He is my point of reference when it comes to acting. In my first film, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, I was lucky enough to work alongside him and it was an unparalleled working experience.”
Damn, Noah Schnapp: slam dunk.
Words: Federico Bernocchi
Photography: Tyler Patrick Kenny
Creative Direction: Luca Stoppini Studios
Fashion Direction: Charles Ward
Hair: Kennedy Trisler
Grooming: Rania Zohny