They’re definitely not in the Upside Down: The Stranger Things cast on Sunday won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, and one of their own used the victory to champion acceptance and the power of storytelling.
“This is unreal,” said David Harbour (Chief Jim Hopper), taking the stage with his co-stars, including Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown, and Gaten Matarazzo.
The actor went on to thank Netflix and the show’s crew before alluding to the hostile political climate. “In light of all that’s going on in the world today, it’s difficult to celebrate the already celebrated Stranger Things,” he said, “but this award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe like me that great acting can change the world, is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper, and through our art to battle against fear, self-centeredness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture, and through our craft to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired, they are not alone.”
After the audience showered him with applause, Harbour continued: “We are united, in that we are all human beings and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting, and mysterious ride that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 Midwesterners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no home. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are lost amidst the hypocrisy and the casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy.”
Harbour said the cast would carry out their mission “with soul, with heart, with joy,” adding, “We thank you for this responsibility.”
Once the cast made it to the pressroom, Harbour explained the genesis of his speech. “I did not think we were going to win but I did know that if we did win, I’m very bad at improvisation, so I did not want to go up there with nothing to say,” he said. “So I figured I’d write this speech, and it’s gone through many iterations. I’ve had a lot of feelings and thoughts since last week and I wanted to express it in some way that dealt with what we do through our art and also the craft of acting.”
He continued: “I feel like in our society now it’s important to remember that acting is a craft and this is a guild and it is something worthy of study and it’s something worthy of hard work and dedication and it’s not about how popular you are. It’s not about how many likes you get on things… I see some trends in our society going a certain way and I think acting, at least for my life, has been a very important [mode] of self-expression. It’s very worthy of a guild, so I wanted the speech really to be about that.”
The actor added that his speech changed after the protests against the immigration ban at airports across the U.S.
Harbour received praise from the child actors who portray characters at the center of the Duffer Brothers’ hit show. “It is so incredible to be in such an incredible category with so many talented incredible shows. I really want to thank everyone,” started off Brown. “I didn’t get to say it on stage because David Harbour just rocked it, but I just want to say thank you so, so much to every single nominee in that category.”
“It’s a great opportunity to be here and the great thing about it is that we’re in our first season,” shared Matarazzo. “We are in our first season of this show and we just won this award and it’s the whole cast and it’s like, they called our name and I’m like, ‘How the hell…? What?’ And David’s speech was just amazing and I could listen to that 100 times. Phenomenal job, David.”
The cast’s breakout Netflix drama began with the disappearance of a little boy (Noah Schnapp) in a small Indiana town in the 1980s, an incident that leads the townspeople (and his pint-sized friends) to uncover a government conspiracy involving a little girl named Eleven (Brown) and — avert your eyes! — a terrifying monster.
The plot and tone of the show evoked the films of the ’70s and ’80s, a quality creators Matt and Ross Duffer acknowledged in their first blog entry for EW in July. “We grew up particularly obsessed with the movies of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, as well as the novels of Stephen King,” they wrote. “Although their stories have a wide range of tones, we think they share something essential in common: They all explore that magical point where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.”
The ensemble cast — Harbour, Ryder, Brown, Schnapp, Matarazzo, Cara Buono, Joe Chrest, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Caleb McLaughlin, Matthew Modine, Rob Morgan, John Paul Reynolds, Mark Steger, and Finn Wolfhard — received the award.
Click here for a complete list of winners at the SAG Awards.
Stranger Things beat PBS’ Downton Abbey, fellow Netflix series The Crown, and HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld, but McLaughlin didn’t see it coming. “I was like, I was waiting for The Crown, Game of Thrones, all of the great competition that we had,” he said in the pressroom. “And then I just heard the ‘S,’ and I knew it was us and I just started jumping.”