Who Plays Eleven on ‘Stranger Things’ and How Did She Get Famous?

Stranger Things helped reenergize Winona Ryder’s career and gave many other stars of 80s movies a boost, including Matthew Modine, Sean Astin, Cary Elwes, and Paul Reiser. Among the faces, the show introduced the breakout 15-year-old British actress Millie Bobby Brown.

Stranger Things wasn’t her debut, but it was her star-making role, with Brown netting two Best Actress in a Drama Emmy nominations for her performance as Eleven, making her one of the youngest Emmy nominees.

Eleven has become arguably the lead and certainly the emotional anchor of the show, and her career stands only to get bigger from here. Here’s how she got to where she is today.

Millie Bobby Brown’s life before Eleven

Millie Bobby Brown
Millie Bobby Brown | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Brown is multi-national: She was born in Spain to British parents, who agreed to move the family to the United States specifically so Brown could pursue acting. 

“It was like a bug,” she said in an interview with Variety. “I know this sounds crazy, but once I find something I want to do, nobody’s stopping me. If I don’t know how to sew, and I really had that passion to sew, that’s it, I’m going to sew. That’s also with acting. So here I am.”

Brown scored mostly small roles, her first being young Alice in ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, a short-lived spinoff of Once Upon a Time. Another prominent early role for her was on NCIS in 2014, when she played a teenage girl who killed her psychiatrist mother. Already she was becoming known for emotionally challenging parts. 

She continued making one-time appearances on established shows including Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy, before landing Intruders, a paranormal drama show that ran for one season on BBC America. 

Then the Duffer Brothers came calling.

‘Stranger Things’ happens to Millie Bobby Brown

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Brown had gone to live in England when she got a call from the Stranger Things producers, she told IndieWire.

“It really came out of the blue, to be honest. I was in England, and I didn’t get a lot of auditions there. So I did the first audition — a very emotional audition — and they said, ‘Come back for a callback.’ And I was like, ‘Okay!'”

When Brown was told she would have to shave her head, she was totally fine with it, although her mom had to be convinced. “My mum’s reaction was like, ‘Oh my God, nooooo!’ [laughs] ‘I don’t want you to do it! Please don’t do it!’ And me and my dad were like, ‘Mum, it’s okay! It’s just my head!'”

She was, believe it or not, 11 at the time of the audition. Almost before anyone knew it, Stranger Things and Brown, in particular, were all the rage. But the producers knew they found someone unique when Brown let loose with that icy glare. 

“That this little person had such fierce power — that’s what took me aback. That same day the Duffers and I knew she was the one,” said Shawn Levy, a producer and sometime director of the show. 

Millie Bobby Brown will be around as long as she wants

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The media spotlight can be intense for a person of any age, but especially so for someone going through adolescence. Although Brown projects a wise-beyond-her-years quality, she’s had to weather a few controversies such as a meme alleging she was a homophobe and concerns that she was being sexualized too young. 

Through it all, Brown has kept her head and expanded her career beyond Hawkins, Indiana. She starred in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which didn’t do as well as the studio hoped, but she’ll appear in the sequel, next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. She’s even co-producing her upcoming movie Enola Holmes

Another actor who became famous because of Stranger Things, her onscreen adoptive father David Harbour, will be watching whatever Brown does, hopefully for a long time. 

 “I do feel that when I’m in the nursing home, I would like to be able to watch movies with her in her 30s and have her become Meryl Streep. She has the potential for that to happen,” he told Variety.