He’s the face you picture when you think of your high school crush. The “cool guy” with awesome hair and a teasing smile who breaks hearts on the regular. You probably sat next to him in a class once and wondered, with adamant jealousy, if he was dating anyone because you knew you’d never have a chance. Matt and Ross Duffer, the brothers/creators behind Netflix’s Stranger Things, brought your unrequited crush back into your life through your computer/television screen this past year. Steve Harrington [Joe Keery] charmed his way into the heart of Nancy Wheeler [Natalia Dyer] and millions of others watching as he transformed himself from a stereotypical, popular jerk into a redeemed “nice guy” with nice hair. Although his character faced the perils of high school popularity (plus a literal monster), Keery, the actor who brought him to life, says he didn’t spend too much time worrying about his social status during his time in high school. “I wasn’t really much of a ladies’ man...I dated one girl in high school for a long time,” says Keery. ”I had a few acquaintances that were kind of similar to Steve. When I read the original script I kinda had a pretty good idea right off the bat of who he was.”
Keery began taking in interest in acting when he performed in his high school’s plays, but didn’t take it seriously until his senior year. After graduation he enrolled at DePaul University’s acting program, found himself an agent and eventually sent in an audition tape for Stranger Things. However, Keery didn’t choose this career path all on his own. There are four women in his life who played a huge impact on who he is as a person and an artist.
“Probably the most important part of me is that I have four sisters,” says Keery. “Definitely without my sisters I would be a way worse actor and a way worse person, having a really big family is super important. It’s taught me a lot about being a better person. It’s pretty key to who I am now. They really get most of the credit.”
Although he says he wasn’t the “coolest dude” in high school, Keery appears to have found a unique sense of coolness in his adult life, even before he was cast as Steve. Not many 24-year-olds can say they went from waiting tables in Chicago to starring in a Golden Globe nominated show. Even less twenty-somethings can say they’ve performed in a band with six of their best friends. Before Stranger Things was even a possibility for Keery, he and his six roommates formed the band Post Animal. A psych-rock group that’s based in Chicago, and available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.
“Playing live music and playing live shows with the band kinda fills the live performance gap in my life,” says Keery. “[Playing live] is kind of a beast that needs to be fed.” Keery says he’s willing to give any instrument a try, but for now he just plays drums, guitar, bass and keyboard. Currently, he just plays the guitar for Post Animal. Obviously, with his filming schedule Keery has had to take a step back from performing with his band, but he says he still loves being a part of the group and still lives with his bandmates when he stays in Chicago. As the cultural phenomenon that is Stranger Things began to pick up massive traction, fans began to implore into the lives of the cast members, especially Keery’s. Articles began popping up all over the internet, heralding Keery as the “internet’s new boyfriend.” Basically implying that Keery’s sense of humor online makes him perfect “boyfriend material.”
Keery says he had no idea his online presence had such an impact on fans, but he’s honored to have been accepted by such a “fickle” form of communication. “I had no idea me and the Internet were dating,” says Keery with a laugh. “That’s cool. I’m cool with dating the internet...I’ll just try to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully I can stay okay on there.” In relation to his Instagram, Keery says he tries to keep things light because he doesn’t believe in taking himself too seriously. “I hate when people use Instagram as a marketing tool to promote their work,” says Keery. “I just think Instagram is kinda funny, and if other people get a kick out of it then that’s cool.”
Soon after Stranger Things premiered, an outrageous fan-theory emerged online. Fans of both Stranger Things and Parks and Recreation noticed “startling” similarities between two characters on the show. The theory claims that Steve Harrington from Stranger Things and John Ralphio [Ben Schwartz] from Parks and Recreation are father and son, respectively. The two met up for a skit on The Late, Late Show and the results are entertaining, to say the least.
“He’s [Schwartz] a really cool guy to know. I look up to him as an artist and how he handles himself and keeps himself so busy, but still manages to have time to hang out with a guy like me,” says Keery.
For Keery, the internet has not only boosted his recognizability, but the show’s as well. He says because people stream the show via Netflix rather than on cable it reaches a broader spectrum of viewers. “I feel very lucky that I got a chance to be on a T.V. show, let alone that a bunch of people saw it,” says Keery. Last season, Stranger Things left viewers with more questions than answers.
Is Eleven still alive? Will the Demogorgon return? What’s up with Will and those slugs? Did Nancy really choose Steve over Jonathan? “I am going to leak you the entire plot for season two,” Keery says with cheeky sarcasm. “I don’t even know the extent of the entire thing. It’s a work in progress. You can expect a similar vibe from last year...it kind of picks up right where it left off...what we’ve shot so far I’m really, really excited about.”
Meanwhile, on set Keery and the rest of the cast are enjoying their time in Georgia, where the show is filmed. Keery described being on set as a bit of a “waiting game” in between takes so every now and then he’ll find himself with some free time.
“I don’t have internet or any furniture in my apartment right now,” says Keery. “One of the things I love about this job is that I get to travel so much and see other parts of the country and meet new people...I spend my time walking around, working out and seeing what the city has to offer me.”
Co-stars Natalia Dyer [Nancy Wheeler] and Charlie Heaton [Jonathan Byers] often tag along on Keery’s adventures and the younger kids on the show have become like Keery’s second set of siblings.
“Being on set is great, we’re all just hanging out… and making eachother laugh,” says Keery. “Spending time with people for six months you’re bound to get close.” In addition to spending time with fresh-faced actors like himself, Keery also gets to work with a seasoned professional: Winona Ryder. Ryder and Keery didn’t film many scenes together last season, but Keery says she’s still an incredible actress to work with.
“She is this kernel of knowledge and experience. It’s like an acting class, same with David Harbour,” says Keery. “I definitely feel like I’m in very good company.”
When Keery has some time alone on set, he’s typically found hiding out with a book. Keery says he’s an avid reader, and isn’t picky when it comes to genres or authors. His favorites vary from “East of Eden” to “Where’s Waldo.” Keery says he also enjoys reading scripts for roles outside of Stranger Things, even if he’s not planning on auditioning. “It’s just important to know what’s around,” he says.
As for his future, Keery wants to try to develop some of his own content and continue acting, either on screen or on stage. However, he also wants something that most of us aspire to have at some point in our lives. “I’d like to probably in the next ten years have a homebase, and maybe a dog,” he admits. “I feel pretty fortunate and happy in my life right now so I just gotta keep the ball rolling. That’s all I could ask for.”
Check out Joe Keery's full feature in print in Rogue's Issue No5!
Photography by Samuel Ramirez
Grooming by Sharon Renee
Written by Savanah Yaghsezian
Styled by Britta Newton-Tarron
Stlye Assisting by Katie Ewing
Location by Georgian Terrace Hotel