When the Duffer brothers’ sci-fi epic Stranger Things (2016 to present) first landed on Netflix, it became a cultural phenomenon and turned its 12-year-old star, Millie Bobby Brown, into a household name. Her face was plastered across billboards, edited into memes and the character she played—a telekinetic pre-teen called Eleven—inspired a host of Halloween costumes.
It must have seemed surreal to the now 16-year-old actor who, until then, only had a few credits to her name. Born in Spain and raised in the UK and US, she had appeared as a young Alice in the fantasy TV series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (2013), a haunted child in the supernatural thriller Intruders (2014) and made cameos in episodes of NCIS (2014), Modern Family (2015) and Grey’s Anatomy (2015).
With Stranger Things, she took home, along with her co-stars, the Screen Actors Guild Award in 2017 for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series, received two Emmy nominations in 2017 and 2018, and has now amassed more than 35m Instagram followers.
Through social media and her work off screen, Brown has become one of the most influential voices of her generation. She’s spoken about her experiences of being bullied and, in 2018, was named UNICEF’s youngest-ever goodwill ambassador — a role that allows her to raise awareness of child rights, lack of education and the impact of violence, bullying and poverty worldwide. In 2019, she also launched her clean-beauty line, Florence by Mills, whose products are vegan and cruelty-free.
Fresh off her feature film debut in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), is there anything the multi-hyphenate star still has left to do? Produce, perhaps, but she’s doing exactly that in her current project: Enola Holmes, the Netflix mystery movie in which she plays the resourceful younger sister of detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill). When their mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears, Enola is determined to track her down using the cryptic clues she has left behind. Directed by Harry Bradbeer and based on the beloved book series by Nancy Springer, it’s a zippy coming-of-age story that, fittingly, marks Brown’s own coming of age as a creative.
We speak to the actor about being treated as an equal on set, growing up in the public eye and her very relatable quarantine self-care routine.
Enola Holmes has given you your first leading role in a film as well as your first producing credit. Did you always know that you wanted to do both?
“It all started with the book by Nancy Springer. My older sister, Paige, read it first and then I read it. I had a gut feeling I wanted to bring it to life and I was like, ‘How do we get this done?’ Then, my incredible dad said, ‘We’re going to find a way.’ We took it to [the studio] Legendary [Pictures] and explained the premise and why this story needs to be told. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young female British lead [in a film]. Obviously, we have Hermione from Harry Potter, but she wasn’t the lead. So, we wanted to make something that would inspire young girls.”
Were you ever intimidated by the scale of the project?
“I was excited, but there’s obviously a set of nerves that come with that. I had an amazing team around me and my family saying that we could do this together. On set, I definitely felt like I was being taken seriously. My age and my gender weren’t defining the words coming out of my mouth. I was listened to and I really appreciated that. It means a lot to me when I get to walk on set and feel supported but also looked at as an equal.”
As a producer, were you involved in every single part of the process?
“I was involved in the casting process and the writing. [The director] Harry Bradbeer and I spoke endlessly about what we wanted for this film — energy, emotion and eccentricity were the three things we lived by. Also, I was in an office. I’d never been in an office before [laughs].”
What drew you to Enola as a character?
“She’s brave, vulnerable, honest and witty. Plus, she’s a people person. Her story is about how she is afraid of being alone, and in the end, she finds her purpose in life. That’s the story of growing up. I’ve gone through that. It resonates with me in so many ways.”
The film has some astonishing fight scenes. How much training did that require, especially considering you had to do them in a corset and ball gown?
“I trained for a really long time with the stunt department, focusing on choreography. There are moments when you think, ‘I could do without this giant wooden thing wrapped around me,’ but I definitely got used to it. It’s surprising because you forget you have it on, and then at the end of the day when I can bend my back and move my arms properly, I’m like, ‘Wow! This is crazy!’”
Helena Bonham Carter plays your mother. What were your conversations like during filming?
“It was wonderful working with her. We talked about the relationship between Eudoria and Enola and asked questions that we didn’t fully know if we could answer yet, like, ‘Do you think Eudoria was affectionate?’ and ‘Why does Enola idolise her so much?’ [Helena Bonham Carter] is obviously a legend, so I watched her and studied her. I was impressed by every take. She’s so versatile and I aspire to be like that. I’m following in the footsteps of these incredible women that have had amazing careers and are still going, and I was just very lucky to be in her presence for nine-and-a-half hours a day.”
What message would you like young girls to take away from the film?
“As young girls at work, in schools and online, sometimes we aren’t seen as equals. In schools, especially, you can be belittled and made to feel as though you’re not good enough, or as good as the boy sat next to you. This film empowers young women to speak up for what they believe in.”
You’ve grown up in the public eye. Do you see moving behind the camera, in producing roles, as an opportunity to take back the narrative and have more control over the projects you work on?
“Absolutely. I’ve grown up in the public eye and, at times, it can be very challenging. As I’m working and doing what I love, I’m still finding myself, so having lots of people watch and criticise that can be overwhelming. But this experience changed my perspective. It helped me to not be afraid. This film gave me the strength to say: ‘I’m putting myself first in every situation.’”
Where have you been quarantining and how have you filled your time?
“I’m in Georgia right now and I’ve spent my summer here. It’s hot so I’ve been spending lots of time outside, making music, reading more scripts, baking lots of things and finding new hobbies. I’ve been gardening, painting and tie-dyeing, too. I got a puppy at the beginning of quarantine, in March, so taking care of it has been fun, but difficult — I’m not going to lie. There were moments when I was like, ‘Why did I do this?’ But now, I have a beautiful full-grown pup who is very good.”
You launched your beauty line, Florence by Mills, over a year ago. What can we expect next?
“The reaction has been amazing and fans have really understood the message behind it, which is: be true to who you are and don’t cover up anything. There are more products coming and we have product development meetings about what we’re going to do next. With Florence, we like to scour social media to find new trends because the makeup and skincare realm is always evolving.”
Has self-care been an important part of your routine during lockdown?
“It’s very important to me. It’s very humid outside so my skin is my everything right now [laughs]. I give myself facials once a week, do face masks, chill out and watch reality TV with my mum.”
Your fans are also excited for the fourth season of Stranger Things. Do we have long to wait?
“I want everyone to be healthy, so as soon as our sets can be safe, we’ll go back to work. Netflix is incredibly mindful of that, so I’m sure they’ll tell us when it’s the right time.”