Trying to pin Millie Bobby Brown down is not an easy task. The fourth season of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, which made Brown a household name, was just released this month. The second instalment of her film franchise Enola Holmes will be out later in the summer, and she is currently shooting and executive producing the film Damsel. Brown is developing her own story for the film A Time Lost, and she is attached to the Netflix movie The Girls I’ve Been, in which she plays a con artist.
Add on a beauty and skincare brand Florence by Mills, which she launched last year, a UNICEF ambassadorship, and a recent college degree, and it’s no wonder finding a window for a chat isn’t easy.
I catch Brown in her wood-panelled office in London, where she is having a day away from the set of her latest film Damsel – a medieval fantasy in which Brown plays Princess Elodie.
The film follows the princess, who, after being betrothed to a prince, discovers that she is going to be sacrificed to a dragon by the prince’s family. Cue lots of battling the bad guys, slaying fire breathers, and an all-round feminist blockbuster. So far so Brown.
“It’s a very empowering story about a young woman defying society back in medieval times. Very on brand for me,” she laughs. “I’ve always done really exciting roles where these women are defying societal norms in different periods so this is a really exciting job for me.”
It’s remarkable to think that Brown only turned 18 earlier this year. Born to British parents in 2004, she lived her first four years in Spain, the next four in Great Britain, and then, when she was eight years old, the family moved to the US. She had a few roles before, aged just 12, she was cast as the telepathic Eleven – the lead role in the cult science fiction series Stranger Things in 2016. She has been a regular on our screens since.
“I have been Eleven for nearly seven years and every time I’ve finished the job, I’m like, oh my God, what could you learn from a girl that has telekinetic powers?” she laughs. “ Well I learn this, this, this, and this while being Eleven. A lot.”
Her meteoric rise has enabled her to pick and choose roles that suit her mission – to empower women and to ensure that women are represented in film in all the right ways. “I like to bring real stories to life. I like to bring women’s voices to light,” she says. “I have to relate to the character more than anything because sometimes a character makes a story.”
Feminism is at the forefront of everything she does. Brown explains that she wasn’t really aware of sexism in the work place until all of a sudden, she was.
“It kind of all started happening around me. And I thought, oh my God, ‘Why is she so nervous to come to work? Or why is this male journalist asking me what I wear instead of how I act?’ And I was becoming really aware of it and getting really overwhelmed by it. I started reading up on feminism, on how we can change the world for the better, so that female actors get to enjoy being in the spotlight, enjoy being recognised for the work they do, equally the same as the man in the film.”
A fine example of this is how she has managed to single handedly dethrone Britain’s most famous detective Sherlock Holmes and position his feisty, little sister Enola Holmes as the number one Holmes sibling among a new generation of young moviegoers.
Brown was first introduced to the Nancy Springer book series The Enola Holmes Mysteries by her sister, and it wasn’t long before they decided to create a movie franchise. Brown was 13 when she started work on the film as producer and spent years learning how to make movies before it finally streamed on Netflix in 2020. Later this summer, the second movie in the series will be released.
“Pre-production is always really fun because you get to just hang out with the cast and talk about their characters. You get to hang out with the director, change the plot, you get to hang out with the script supervisor, change the script. And that’s really all I did. I hung out with the costume designer, designed the costumes, added, took away, you know, vice versa. And then in filming, I’m in the film. So I go off and I watch the scenes back through with the director and then you go and do the scene again and then you go back and watch it back. So it’s a process. And then when I come home, I go through all of the dailies, which is everything that we have filmed that day and star the takes that I like the best. And then the next day comes at 6:00 AM. Again, you do the same thing. It’s a process. I mean, you know, maybe next time not being in it as much so I have time to do everything,” she laughs.
Her work ethic and self-belief is much attributed to her dad. “He always instilled in me that I am capable of doing anything if I put my mind to it, and so I always focused on things that were maybe a little bit too hard to do.”
Her dad was also instrumental in the creation of another film she is working on. A conversation she had with him during a long car journey was the inspiration behind the story A Time Lost – a story based on the death of her 12-year-old friend.
“I met her right after Stranger Things came out in 2016. We met because she was a fan of the show and I had a shaved head, and she had no hair. It was a really lovely bond that we had together. We formed a really close friendship,” she explains. “She was a very, very, sweet human being.”
“I lost my grandmother and I thought to myself, you know, how do I heal from this? And so a story was born kind of within that as well. I think it is a part of my healing process.”
Her friend loved makeup too, explains Brown, so she created a makeup brand and paid homage to her. That brand is Florence by Mills.
“For young girls, skincare is so important and I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t have anyone to help me handle my skin and get to know it. And so Florence by Mills helps young girls and boys understand their skin and what to do with it.”
Brown is lively, animated, and she laughs easily. Wearing a black t-shirt and oversized glasses, she looks relaxed and refreshed – makeup free and pausing only to sip from a cup of tea – which her dad brings in, accompanied by a couple of chocolate biscuits.
Articulately spoken and intelligent in her words, Brown is wiser than her years. But perhaps that’s because she was thrust into a professional environment, working with multi-million dollar budgets, whilst her peers were still scooting around supermarket carparks in shopping trollies, and drinking beers at parties.
“Obviously my teenage years were different. I mean, there’s so many things that I couldn’t do. Not that I was ever really interested in going to parties at all actually, but just things the average teenager might do. There were certain things that I definitely missed out on, and then suddenly I turned 18 and I was like, oh my God, how lucky am I that I missed out on those things?”
Those things she says are not the things that are going to be defining moments in life. Instead graduating high school, enrolling in college at 17, and being honoured as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, will be.
Speaking at the UN was an experience that she says, “was one of the most brilliant and most magical days of my life.” Her role, she explains, is to give young people “a seat at the table” and enable them to make decisions for their future. Shortly after being appointed an Ambassador, she enrolled herself in college to study Human Services – a subject that educated her on how to ensure communities get the support they need – whether that be shelter, food, education or other basic necessities.
“My parents were shocked when I came home and said, ‘guys, I’ve enrolled in college.’ But I just thought this is really important for me. And this is something that I’ve chosen to do. And this is something that I’ve done myself. I just thought, I can’t be a UNICEF ambassador and not know what I’m actually doing. I have an education unlike so many young girls and boys out there who can’t receive an education. So I need to use it and I need to actually do something with it and help those people.”
Brown has an incredible 48.6 million Instagram followers but she has found it challenging at times to ensure boundaries are not crossed, whether that’s with obsessive fans, the social media trolls or the tabloid journalists that follow her every step.
“It was always really primarily social media and the media that would give me the most anxiety. Being followed and having articles written about you when you are young is overwhelming,” she says.
“You have 5,000 adults telling you that you didn’t look good or why do you look too good? Or that you gained weight and I’m like, did I gain weight? Now I’m going to go on the scale and obsess over that for five weeks,” she says.
“It’s really hard to watch young actors go through that again. It has to stop. These people are literally virtually bullying people every day. And why do you think we don’t want to walk down the street anymore? Why do you think we walk down the street and are shaking because we’re terrified of you because we have anxiety because you give us anxiety, you know, it’s, it’s like going to school and being bullied again. It’s horrible.”
Brown tells me that she has been off social media since last summer. She no longer has the apps on her phone and just works with her team to ensure she can still engage with the fans who she loves to connect to.
She talks a lot about her family, who work closely with her and are her support network, she says. And she mentions, on a couple of occasions, the support her boyfriend Jacob Bongiovi – son of rocker Jon Bonjovi – also provides.
For Brown it seems like she has already achieved so much when the majority of 18 year olds are just starting to think about what career they might want to take. And she is aware that her role in the public eye is one of responsibility. Her unabashed feminism, and fight to provide young people with the resources, education and opportunities she has had, is something she should be proud of.
She mentions the contributions of Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg to the youth movement and, listening to her talk, it gives me hope, that in this chaotic and disillusioned world – there are strong young women who are fighting with every inch of their being to make sure that the next generation don’t repeat mistakes of the past. I, for one, am very excited to see where Millie Bobby Brown will go next.
Photography: Paola Kudacki
Fashion Director: Sean Kunjambu
Styling: Anya Ziourova
Producer: Alexey Galetskiy @AGPNYC
Makeup Artist: Misha Shahzada
Hair Stylist: Tina Outen
Set Designer: Jakob Burstein
Fashion Assistants: Sterling Ungphakorn & Madi Bauman
Casting: Jill Demling @Creative Casting Agency