If your summer this year will forever be synonymous with Netflix's Stranger Things, then you've discovered the wonders and dangers that lurk within the small town of Hawkins on the nostalgic new series. For our latest Q&A feature, we caught up with Mark Steger, the actor who plays The Monster on Stranger Things, to discuss what attracted him to the role, getting into the mindset of the creepy creature, the films that influenced his performance, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Mark, and congratulations on your excellent work on Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Mark Steger: Thank you, I’m glad it’s resonated with so many people.
How did you prepare—mentally and physically—to portray The Monster on the series?
Mark Steger: In my work, I’m was always driving my body to transformed states and mental preparation plays a role in that. I think about where this creature comes from: what's the gravity like there? What does it breathe? How did it develop? What does it need to survive? What is the nature of its consciousness? And of course there were conversations with the Duffers about their vision of the creature. The main reference they gave me was a shark that appears suddenly to feed. I took that and imagined that I was this being that was perfect, like a shark, at what it does. I spend time with these ideas before and during the shoot and manifest them in the performance.
Physically, most days I train with weights and either run or ride a bike. I have a personal stretching routine that’s based on yoga. When I’m actually shooting a film or television show, there isn’t always time to work out, so I do my best to keep warm and limber. Usually, though, playing a creature in a show like this is a tremendous physical challenge and takes a lot of endurance, so it’s a workout in and of itself. I’d joke with the creature crew on the show that we should sell versions of the suit as a workout apparatus, you wouldn’t need a gym membership.
What appealed to you the most about playing this character when you first met with the Duffer Brothers about the role?
Mark Steger: I was impressed by Matt and Ross’ vision for the Monster and their enthusiasm was infectious and refreshing. They showed me the cool design by Aaron Sims and we discussed how it would be executed with Mike Elizalde’s effects shop Spectral Motion. We also spoke about influences from classic ’80s films like John Carpenter’s The Thing, the original Aliens, and early David Cronenberg films. We have similar pedigrees as far as the types of films that inspired us. As it turns out, they used to make animated films when they were younger, just like I did.
In addition to that, I’ve always been interested in creating new life forms. I began working in Hollywood after spending almost 20 years doing experimental performance and movement in a group called Osseus Labrynt. I was the co-director and performer / choreographer. That work was an exploration of evolutionary metamorphosis through extreme physical actions. We would perform in really unusual environments like castle ruins, treetops, ships, factories, and the Los Angeles River. To me, it’s all a part of my interest in the history of life and the body.
What were your favorite movie monsters to watch when you were growing up?
Mark Steger: I’d have to go as far back as when I was a child, I was inspired by anything that Ray Harryhausen and Chuck Jones animated. While I wouldn’t call him a creature, Bruce Lee was a huge influence on me. His physicality and presence were unmatched and truly unique.
Also, when I was a kid, I’d spend the afternoons watching triple features at the local movie house. That’s where I was fortunate enough to see some of the classic Universal, Hammer, and Roger Corman horror films ON FILM. Watching Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and some of those other wonderful actors got under my skin and into my DNA. And of course the ones that I previously mentioned: John Carpenter’s The Thing, the original Aliens, and early David Cronenberg films. Ooh! And The Monster from the ID in Forbidden Planet!
In addition, I've had a lifelong interest in the natural world and life sciences. What could be more inspiring than watching an octopus in its natural environment and trying to imagine what it must be like to live that existence, with that consciousness?
How much creative input did you have on the appearance and movements of The Monster when Spectral Motion was working on the design?
Mark Steger: The appearance of The Monster was made to look as much like the original rendering as possible. But it was sculpted to my body form, so that influenced the appearance. The actual Monster suit that Spectral created, with all its sculpting and engineering and fabrication, was developed over several months. I’d go into the shop and try on parts of it as it was made and we would test it and evaluate how the monster moved and behaved. It was the most complex creature suit I’ve ever performed in and it was a real collaborative effort. It’s quite a marvel.
Looking back at your time on set, do you have a favorite or funny moment from working with the Duffer Brothers and that cast?
Mark Steger: Just working with all the young performers on the show was a delight, everyone was having such a good time. It felt like family and friends. Sometimes I’d talk a little smack with Millie, Gaten and Caleb. “You’re going down!” was a pretty common taunt from both sides. Or I’d walk by Charlie, Natalia, and Joe and I’d remind them that they were “breakfast, lunch, dinner.”
And the Spectral Motion crew members Mike Elizalde, Claire Flewin, Mark Setrakian, and I were always yukking it up. Not sure some of that’s suitable for a public forum…
With a second season of Stranger Things looking likely and some mysteries still left to be explained, are you excited about the possibility of potentially returning for season two?
Mark Steger: I’m not sure what’s in store for the future of the show, though I’d be happy and honored to return and play some more if I was asked.
With Stranger Things now available to watch on Netflix, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease, and where can our readers find you on social media?
Mark Steger: I’ll be in the new Dana Gould horror comedy, Stan Against Evil, on IFC in the fall. Also, later in the year, Incarnate will be released. It’s directed by Brad Peyton and stars Aaron Eckhart and Carice Van Houten. I play a character named Maggie. Heh.
I’ve also been working on an online, multimedia comic book called Gearbox. You can find it here: http://gearboxcomic.com.
I’m also writing and producing a horror film with my buddy Jimbo Matison. It’s about an ex-rock star who’s been living in seclusion in the mountains and has a newly formed band of millennials and a deadly, seductive alien move in next door on the same day.
Oh, and I’m writing the story for another film that involves artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness.
To learn more about Mark Steger, visit:
Mark's Reel: https://vimeo.com/user14590906