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Stranger Things 2 features the return of all the fan favorite characters and the arrival of some new faces to Hawkins, Indiana, namely Dr. Owens, played by Paul Reiser (Red Oaks). Owens is brought to the small town to run the laboratory and control the supernatural situations at play.
In their initial season 2 pitch to Netflix, creators Ross and Matt Duffer actually referred to the character as “Paul Reiser.” Speaking to EW, Ross admits the character is an homage to Reiser’s traitorous Aliens character, Burke. “We want people to have those debates like, ‘Do you trust that guy or is he Burke?'” Ross says. “Paul was saying the reason James Cameron cast him is because he thought people would inherently trust him and it would be a twist.”
EW talked to Reiser about Things, Aliens, and how his teenage son got him the job.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Duffers told me that even before you signed on they called Dr. Owen “Paul Reiser.” Did they tell you that?
PAUL REISER: They did. Nothing has made me happier. That tickled me.
They said your son was a huge fan.
Yeah, it dropped on a Friday and that weekend my son, who was 15 at the time, said, “Have you heard of this new show?” I said, “No.” And he said, “It’s great.” I said, “When did it come out?” He said, “Yesterday!” So that’s how much he has his finger on the pulse. He’s my cultural touchstone. He told me and I sat down at my desk and I got a call from my agent and he said, “Have you heard of this show Stranger Things?” And I said, “Of course I have! What am I — an animal?” Literally, I heard about it five minutes earlier.
I met the Duffers and they were delightful. It’s unbelievable what they’ve done. These guys just seem like what they are — they’re young film enthusiasts who love those stories and love that style. When I met them last summer, they were still pinching themselves that not only were they hip, but that they even got to do it. So when they laid it out, I said, “Tell me where to show up and I’ll be there!”
Did they lay out the whole second season?
No. They told me who I was playing and they told me what they had in mind. It was sort of nebulous — is he a good guy or a bad guy? To be honest, I’ve only read a few of the scripts so I still don’t know and I’m not sure they know. I think part of what they were tickled by was, to whatever extent people know me from Aliens, they’re automatically going, “Oh this guy is no good.” I don’t know where they’re going with it but it’s a fun thing to play.
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Obviously, Burke is an iconic genre character. And I think this is toying with both expectations.
I have a certain thing in my head that I’m playing. I did a scene a few weeks ago with David Harbour, and it was a heated scene where he’s sort of holding me accountable. My lines were to the effect of, “Trust me. Everything is fine.” I said, “I don’t believe me and I am me!” It just feels like there’s such a well-worn precedent not just of Aliens but in life when a government guy says, “No, you’re fine. There’s nothing to worry about here.” It’s like, “Yeah, I don’t believe you.”
So Dr. Owens comes to Hawkins and you’re in charge of the lab and a cleanup of the previous incident?
The Duffers said he’s different from Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner.
There’s a little more humanity. Modine’s character had very few lines so he was this looming, powerful presence. My guy is much more hands-on and sort of among his many degrees is that he has a bedside manner that Modine’s character did not have. I know coming into this what this community has gone through and my job is to try and walk them through their mistrust.
What’s this been like so far?
It’s been great fun. It’s a huge production. It’s like making a movie every week. The production value is fantastic and the guys are great. It’s been nothing but fun and I just get to come in and out of there.
The secrecy this season is way higher. Has that been a challenge?
My son, who got me the job, basically said, “Well, what happens?” And I said, “I can’t tell you. They’ll kill me.” Then I said, “Here, sit it in the corner quietly and do not take a picture of this and don’t tell anybody.” I just showed him a script at home and I said, “Now I’m gonna hit you in the head ’til you forget it.”
Does it feel cool to be part of something that’s such a cultural hit?
It’s very cool. You never know when something will hit the nerve. We’ve all done things that we’re very proud of that don’t quite pop. I have the luxury to come and play in a sandbox that’s been set up and built and to have that anticipation. It’s funny — a lot of people ask me what happens and I can honestly say, “They haven’t told me. I don’t know.”