Latest: Breaking Baz: ‘Stranger Things’ West End Stage Actor Louis McCartney Is Headed For Superstardom, Says Show’s Director Stephen Daldry

EXCLUSIVE: Louis McCartney describes himself as “a West End baby” because before he was cast to play boyish-looking monster Henry Creel in the Stranger Things stage show The First Shadow, he’d never performed on stage in his life.

“They were coaching me how to speak properly, how to project my voice,” McCartney says of the countless recalls he endured during the auditioning process.

The key was: Could McCartney play “the sweet little by whose mum loved him” who also happens to be “a killer” who’s “psychiatric at heart.”

McCartney nails it all with one of the most breathtaking debut performances in the West End.

The show’s director, Stephen Daldry, remembers seeing McCartney out of the corner of his eye during an open casting call. The lad from Belfast was sitting quietly in a corner when Daldry remarked to casting director Jessica Ronane and dialect coach William Conacher, “Who’s that kid?”

It’s an instinct that has served Daldry well.

He knew Jamie Bell was right to play Billy Elliot in the movie. He knew without a doubt that Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby and Matt Smith were right to portray Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and Prince Philip, respectively, in the first two seasons of The Crown.

RELATED: Duffer Brothers Explain Origins Of ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’ In Featurette For Stage Play

Daldry smiles and tells me that he considers McCartney “a proper theatre animal.”

“It’s in his bones,” he says, marveling at the fact that McCartney has a performative ability of ”knowing how to respond and excite an audience.”

And ”bizarrely” — for someone who, until November, had never been on a stage before — “knowing how to control an audience.”

He shakes his head and gives a nod of approval: “He’s a proper star with proper star power.”

This is all true. Breaking Baz has a a simple method for determining star power on a stage.    

It’s to do with heat. All your senses are drawn to that person on stage — and they might well be the one way over there to the left of the top-billed star or the last dancer on the end of a chorus line. I knew little about Stranger Things before I saw an early preview at the Phoenix Theatre. I knew a little about Henry Creel, but I wasn’t exactly a know-all fan.

Louis McCartney, in white, onstage with ‘Stranger Things’ castmates (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

When McCartney strolled on stage, all sweetness and light, one couldn’t help but pay attention. He seemed such a kindly soul. An hour later, I was practically hiding under my seat.

Returning to see the show a week later, McCartney was even better. 

Later, I meet someone from a major UK film company on a film set and they happened to mention Stranger Things: The First Shadow and how they had worked with McCartney on another project and how impressed they were by what he did onscreen.

RELATED: First-Look Rehearsal Photos From ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’

Daldry makes a weird noise when I raise this. There are people “floating around Louis all the time,” he sighs.

“We have many casting agents coming in to see the show, so many film offers are coming his way,” Daldry says. “Right now we’re just lucky to have him until November. That’s the deal — he has a one-year contract. And come November, he’s going to be off in a second because everybody’s offering him almost everything.

“Look, this is what happens,” he adds. “He’s a proper discovery. He’ll fly the coop and become a superstar in a second. He’s got real power. He holds the house like I’ve never seen a house held. He’s lovely with the other actors, and he’s at the center of the company. He’s got star power.”

McCartney says that Jamie Campbell Bower, who played Creel in the Netflix show, was vital in his process of creating the character onstage — though, of course, not as vital as Daldry and writer Kate Trefry were.

“It was comforting because it was almost as if he’d given me his baby,” McCartney says of Campbell Bower.

RELATED: Breaking Baz: Vanessa Kirby Reunites With ‘The Crown’s Benjamin Caron For Noir-ish Drama ‘The Night Always Comes’ Ahead Of Starring In ‘Fantastic Four’ Reboot

“Basically, he asked me to nurture it in my own way but also to take inspiration, parental inspiration, from him. And it was comforting when we got talking about Henry and we both started agreeing,” McCartney says over breakfast in Soho, a stone’s throw from his theatrical home at the Phoenix.

Campbell Bower and McCartney talk about how smart Creel is — “too smart for his own good,” McCartney laments, because “when you’re too smart, you think too deeply about stuff and what your implications are on people, what people think of you. And at the crux of Henry; he just wants to do the right thing. And I think that’s the most heartbreaking thing about this character is, yes, he’s a killer, and he’s psychopathic at heart.

“But he was a sweet little boy and his mum loved him and he loved his mum very much, and it was a very happy family. And then it all went south.”

McCartney admits that he was “kind of scared” to play “such a pivotal, important character because the fans love Henry Creel.”

During the performances that I attended, I could see the audience getting so into it, vocally, when Creel’s the One reveals himself.

Why do they love him so much, I wondered?

“It’s just because there’s a weird fascination around things that scare you. And I think with Henry Creel, he’s so sweet that you get pulled in with these tentacles, but they’re sharp and writhing,” McCartney tells me. “There’s a backbone to him that he doesn’t let you see. And that’s just what we’re talking about. Sweet little boy, but underneath that is this dark desire to hurt, to kill, to be powerful. And I think that’s just cool to play — but also, I guess, to watch that or to see. I was a fan of Stranger Things before this, and I loved Henry Creel.”

In McCartney’s approach to Creel, there’s something of how Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann’s Manhunter and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, respectively. 

McCartney’s able to summon up the same kind of menacing presence.

Louis McCartney in London (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

Does playing Creel ever give the actor nightmares?

He shakes his head and tells me that his dad’s the screenwriter Michael McCartney, whose work includes A Patch of Fog, the 2015 thriller that starred Stephen Graham, Conley Hill, Lara Pulver, and Arsher Ali (so good opposite Gemma Arterton in Funny Woman, but that’s for another column).

“Growing up, my dad’s main push was for me to be creatively driven and focused but also not attached and just relaxed,” he explains.

And that has been a staple of his whole process, which is “to detach myself from the work. And especially with this character, I just think of it as a game. It’s an absolute playground when you step on that stage with Patrick Vaill as Dr. Brenner.”

We chat about how he’s been coping with the sudden rush of fame with him in London, away from his dad, his mum — who is a holistic therapist, “so she deals with chakras and spiritualism” — and an older brother who’s an ocean explorationist.

I mention what Meryl Streep once told me around the time of Kramer vs. Kramer and how she managed to keep herself down to earth. 

“We all go to the bathroom,” she told me then, matter of factly. It’s a great leveler.

McCartney remembers getting “this rush of imposter syndrome” when he was studying acting at university in Dublin.

“And I was really struggling with the whole process of finding the truth and being true to your character, and what does that even mean? I was 19. I had no idea what I was doing. And it’s like, you go there and you think you’re somebody and you get broken down,” he tells me.

And then the director of his course said to McCartney, “My poo smells too.”

He laughs, adding, ”And that was what actually broke the ice.”

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is epic but also so intimate.

McCartney says “our challenge was to make you feel for him” on a scale that’s accessible and to ensure that Creel doesn’t get lost in “the riff-raff of whatever.”

He says that’s down to Daldry and his creative team.

“The thing I love about Stephen is he lets you breathe. This guy has done so much stuff. He is a creative God. And he has all the power in the world. And he says to me, ‘What do you want to do next? Where do you want to go now in the staging?’ And that’s sometimes how we’d work out scenes. And he’d just be like, ‘I’ll let you have free rein.’ Obviously, if I f*ck up, he’ll say no.”

Phoenix Theatre in London, home of ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’ (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

In the West End there’s chatter about Stranger Things heading for Broadway, possibly in 2025.

“Broadway is an exciting conversation,” McCartney tells me. “Obviously everybody’s talking about it, and I’d be more than chuffed to do it. But the thing is, the future holds a million possibilities. And there’s some that I can’t decide on. There’s things that the third party will decide. And I’m just kind of open to everything.”

The producers at Netflix, Sonia Friedman Productions, the Duffer Brothers and the creatives continue to finesse the show. Much has been achieved since opening night in November; it’s a leaner, more exciting production, and McCartney and his colleagues are an ensemble to be reckoned with. 

No one will speak about the hoped-for Stranger Things Part 2 in 2026 or Part 3 in 2028 because nothing is set in stone as yet. Also, storylines might well be connected to the forthcoming Stranger Things spinoffs. 

All I do know is that we’ve not seen the last of the town of Hawkins onstage. More Stranger Things are coming … run and hide.

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