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Top 10 Surprising Roles by Stranger Things Actors

VO: Matthew Wende
Written by Josh Selinger Before their star turns on Stranger Things, the hit show’s cast lent their talents to a variety of roles that are drastically different from what fans currently know them for. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we're counting down the Top 10 Surprising Roles Done by Stranger Things Actors. For this list, we are focusing on roles embodied by “Stranger Things” season one’s principal cast, shot or performed prior to their overwhelming success on the celebrated Netflix series.
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Before their star turns on Stranger Things, the hit show’s cast lent their talents to a variety of roles that are drastically different from what fans currently know them for. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we're counting down the Top 10 Surprising Roles Done by Stranger Things Actors.

For this list, we are focusing on roles embodied by “Stranger Things” season one’s principal cast, shot or performed prior to their overwhelming success on the celebrated Netflix series.

#10: Caleb McLaughlin as Young Simba
“The Lion King (Broadway)” (1997-)


Before melting hearts as headstrong yet loyal Lucas Sinclair, Caleb McLaughlin made the network TV rounds, appearing on “Law & Order: SVU”, “Blue Bloods”, and “Shades of Blue”, proving himself to be talented, young dramatic actor. However, you may not have known that McLaughlin’s life in showbiz began on the broadway stage! This multi-talented tween boasts a royal set of pipes and showed off his singing abilities in the role of Young Simba in the Tony-award winning musical sensation “The Lion King”. McLaughlin was working on his roar night after night, in front of sold-out theatre audiences before exiting stage left and going off to co-star in Stranger Things.


#9: Finn Wolfhard as Jordie Pinsky
“Supernatural” (2005-)


Wolfhard burst into the pop culture conversation as lil’ leader Mike Wheeler, a confident, charismatic hero and role model for D&D-playing geeks of all ages. While he’s still just a kid, Mike is forced to grow up fast as he searches for his buddy Will Byers alongside Millie Bobby Brown’s enigmatic Eleven, who also happens to be his first crush. Wolfhard really sells his lead protagonist role, so it may come as a surprise that one of his first gigs as a working actor had the tiny talent playing the victim. Wolfhard’s second appearance on the small screen was on the long-running fantasy-drama series Supernatural, in season eleven. Wolfhard portrayed Jordie, the victim of a very bad babysitter.


#8: Cara Buono as Dr. Faye Miller
“Mad Men” (2007-15)


“Stranger Things” fans will recognize Buono from her role as Mrs. Wheeler, but this isn’t the first time that the celebrated actress has turned heads. Buono was featured on HBO’s modern mafia masterpiece “The Sopranos”, playing Kelli Lombardo Moltisanti, wife of Capo Christopher Moltisanti. She followed up the performance with an Emmy-nominated turn on “Mad Men”, portraying Dr. Faye Miller, a strong-willed ad strategist who finds herself wrapped up in an affair with legendary lothario Don Draper. A career-driven woman, Dr. Miller adamantly expressed her lack of interest in having children, which makes Buono’s maternal turn on “Stranger Things” all the more surprising!


#7: Gaten Matarazzo as Gavroche
“Les Misérables” (1985-)


Fan favorite Gaten Matarazzo immediately stole the show in “Stranger Things”’ first season, playing precocious-pubescent Dustin Henderson, who -- when tensions arise-- unexpectedly takes on the role of mediator and moral center within his close group of friends. Prior to his breakout performance, Gaten was showing off a certain set of skills that have yet to be showcased on the retro sci-fi/fantasy series. Believe it or not, Matarazzo is a theater actor, who’s been singing and dancing up a storm on the Broadway stage since he was a tyke. New York audiences will remember his tear-jerking performance as the orphaned Gavroche in “Les Misérables”.


#6: Noah Schnapp as Charlie Brown
“The Peanuts Movie” (2015)

Noah Schnapp plays an integral role on “Stranger Things”, though you wouldn’t say that his performance relies all too heavily on dialogue, making his voice-over credit quite the surprise. Before taking a trip to the Upside Down as Will Byers, Schnapp visited the home of Snoopy, Woodstock and the rest of Charles Schultz’s beloved Peanuts gang. Schnapp brought the celebrated Charlie Brown to life in the 2015 animated feature, marking the Peanuts kids’ first big-screen outing since the 1980s. A success with critics and moviegoers, the flick proved itself to be an entertaining watch for fans both old and new.


#5: Natalia Dyer as Clarissa Granger
“Hannah Montana: The Movie” (2009)


Before kicking-ass as big sister Nancy Wheeler, Natalia Dyer played another very important sibling; Dyer’s Clarissa was one half of the Granger sisters, two Montana mega-fans who also happened to be the daughters of the villainous Oswald Granger, a tabloid journalist committed to revealing Hannah/Miley’s secret double-life. 2009’s “Hannah Montana: The Movie” was Dyer’s on-screen debut -- and she was only twelve years old when she appeared. Dyer is nearly unrecognizable in her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, having matured into a talented young actor in the interim.


#4: David Harbour as Randal Malone
"Brokeback Mountain" (2005)


Prior to skyrocketing to fame as police chief Jim Hopper, stage and screen performer David Harbour made a name for himself as a critically-lauded character actor. The seasoned thespian has proved his talents as a team player through a slew of supporting roles in high-profile feature films and Broadway plays. While there are so many surprising roles to choose from, it was Harbour’s brief but moving performance as closeted cowboy Randall Malone in the Heath Ledger/Jake Gyllenhaal forbidden-love story “Brokeback Mountain” that shows his wholly-impressive range.


#3: Millie Bobby Brown as Lizzie
“Modern Family” (2009-)


Fans know her as Eleven, the strong, silent, Eggo-eating kid with psychokinetic abilities, but this isn’t the British breakout star’s first rodeo; Brown had previously wowed Anglophiles with her electrically-charged performance on the 2014 BBC series “Intruders”. A proven dramatic actor, you might be surprised to learn that she briefly showed off her comedic chops on the ABC television sitcom “Modern Family”. Brown played Lizzie, a young girl whose bike is borrowed by Rico Rodriguez’s Manny Delgado as he joins Phil and Luke Dunphy on a high-speed chase to catch a drone.


#2: Matthew Modine as Alec McCall
“Funky Monkey” (2004)


While it doesn’t look like celebrated actor Matthew Modine will be reprising his role as Dr. Martin Brenner on “Stranger Things”’ second season, his creepy, multi-layered performance will go down in history as one of his best. Modine has starred in a number of classics, so it’s difficult to imagine that the super-serious dramatic actor once played a goofy dad cracking-wise with a genius chimpanzee in this lowbrow, straight-to-video stinker. If we had to sum up Modine’s role in just one word, it would have to be “bananas”.


#1: Winona Ryder as Amanda Grayson
“Star Trek” (2009)


Winona Ryder ruled the 80s and 90s with iconic performances in both cult classics and blockbusters. Her portrayal of the distraught-yet-determined Joyce Byers has solidified her status as one of the most dynamic actors in the game. Ryder has taken on a number of unexpected roles throughout her storied career, but nothing surprises us more than her portrayal of Spock’s elderly mother Amanda Grayson in JJ Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” reboot. Instead of casting an older performer, Abrams chose Ryder, who required hours of transformative makeup and prosthetics. Winona rocking liver spots and grey hair is enough for her to secure her the number one spot on our list.
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