Warning: Major spoilers for the end of Stranger Things Season 4, Part 1 below!
Well, cat’s out of the bag: Henry Creel – or One, whichever you prefer – is Vecna (you can read a full breakdown of the big reveal here). And Jamie Campbell Bower, the actor playing both Henry and Vecna underneath all those prosthetics, is finally able to talk about his crucial role in the penultimate season of Netflix’s hit.
Bower chatted with IGN about bringing the character to life, what it was like in the Vecna suit, and why Henry was immediately drawn to Eleven.
Show creators Matt and Ross Duffer, better known as the Duffer brothers, are notoriously tight-lipped about the secrets of the series’ future. So, how was the role initially described to Bower, given that penchant for secrecy? “It wasn’t,” he laughs.
Bower was given two “sides” – basically, pages to read from for an audition – when he was first approached for the show: one was from 1996 thriller Primal Fear, and the other was from Hellraiser, one of the Duffers’ primary inspirations for Season 4. Then, before learning anything about Vecna, Bower made what he calls “mood board” or “mind map” for who he thought this mysterious character was.
“Christopher Lee was on there as Dracula,” Bower says. “I had Pinhead, obviously, on there. I had Freddy Krueger on there. I had the most recent version of Dracula. I had some characters from, god, some of the wild ’80s vampire movies. Voldemort was on there as well. And a lot of fire.”
This period of knowing very little about Vecna/Henry/One went on for about a month, according to Bower. It’s not until the actor met with the Duffers that he learned more about Stranger Things’ new big bad.
“I knew very, very little, but somehow managed to piece enough together to be able to formulate the reality of who this person was,” he says. “So call it fate, luck, intelligence, stupidity – god knows how it happened, but it happened.”
As the Duffers previously revealed, Vecna was created with about 90% practical effects with the help of makeup artist Barrie Gower. That meant a long makeup and prosthetics process for Bower: about seven and a half hours, to be exact.
Depending on the day, Gower says they’d start the process between 3am and 4am to begin shooting at around 10am, and then they’d go on to shoot for about 10-12 hours before spending another hour getting Bower out of the suit. The whole thing weighed about 40 pounds. “It isn’t a lot, but after a 10-hour day, you start to feel it,” Bower laughs. It forced him, too, to amp up his performance quite a bit more.
“On a more practical level, rather than an emotional level, I found that I had to give more,” he says. “The suit moves with the face quite well, but it’s not as foldable. You’ve got a few centimeters or a centimeter or two between your actual skin and what’s able to be seen, so the idea of the eyebrows particularly, you have to make sure that I was really sort of giving it in the facial expression and not what I would maybe give facially if I was just not in a suit. But I think what was great was that underneath it all is the intention of this real hatred and this real resentment, and that was coming through.”
The Duffers previously told IGN that one of the reasons they wanted to use practical effects for Vecna, instead of computer-generated ones, was that they wanted their actors to have something tangible to interact with on set. And some of those actors were, well, pretty terrified upon seeing Bower in Vecna mode.
“I am pacing around often, beforehand, saying some pretty vile things under my breath about whoever’s in front of me, and just vile things in general pretty much up until action when I’ve got to say the actual lines,” he says. “The poor actor playing Chrissy (Grace Van Dien), she was terrified. Sadie [Sink]’s really tough. She’s a tough person, so she was kind of all right. Goal Millie [Bobby Brown] cried. The first time that Millie saw me, she burst into tears. It was in the rehearsal, and she literally just burst into tears.”
Inside Vecna’s Head
On an emotional level, Bower doesn’t see his performances as Henry and Vecna to be all that different – to a point, anyway. Henry already had a resentful, screwed-up view of the world before he was turned into a gross Upside Down creature, and once that transformation does happen after his battle with Eleven, that villain arc is taken to a whole new level.
“I think with Henry, there is still a bit of humanity in him,” he says. “You might be able to kind of calm him down and talk him round, but once she sends him to his demise, as it were, or into his moment of change, I think humanity is gone. It’s just full-on hatred, full-on resentment that’s already added to this feeling of ‘the world’s a fucked up place enough as it is.’ “
And before that big moment of change happens, we see his relationship with Eleven progress from inside Hawkins lab. Obviously, Vecna’s intentions are to manipulate her and use her to escape, but Bower also says that Henry sees himself in her. After all, she is as powerful as him, which he’s never seen before, and has been ostracized in Hawkins lab, just like Henry was in his family.
“I think, whilst she is the key for him to be able to escape, I think there comes this feeling of truth in when he says ‘Imagine what we could do together, we could really reshape the world,’ “ he says. “It’s funny, when I was developing it, I was like ‘Oh, he just wants to sort of go off and have a really nice life doing nothing, being away from everyone with Eleven.’ But I think, ultimately, he would want to take over the world with her.”
There’s also a common theme with all of Vecna’s victims: they all seem to be weakened, in some way, psychologically. Max, for example, is still dealing with Billy’s death, and Nancy is still dealing with Barb’s. Bower thinks that goes back to Henry’s upbringing, particularly when he went into his parents’ minds – especially his father’s, he emphasizes – and saw the things they had done in their pasts, and what they were hiding from the world.
“He goes after people efficiently with guilt and with shame,” he says. “When we go through these periods of guilt and shame, it does weaken [us], because it becomes an obsessive thought and it’s an uncomfortable feeling. And so I think it’s him seeking rightful revenge, is what I would call it.”
Well, we’ll see if Vecna gets that revenge when Stranger Things Season 4, Part 2 arrives on Netflix on July 1.