The most telling moment in Millie Bobby Brown’s InStyle fashion shoot comes while she’s standing atop a ladder in a pink cascading Valentino couture gown assuming a series of model-like poses as the camera clicks away. She’s been working it for a half hour or so, when the far-off look on her face disappears and her self-proclaimed inability to sit still takes over.
“I think we’ve got it,” she announces, hopping off her perch and heading to wardrobe, the scent of teen spirit wafting in her wake as everyone starts moving on to the next frame.
Not many 13-year-olds get away with literally calling the shots in a room full of New York City fashion creatives, but confidence is not something the fledgling star lacks.
Brown grew up as the third of four children in the southern English coastal town of Bournemouth, where her parents realized early on that she was a natural-born performer. While her siblings favored cartoons, Brown opted for musicals and watched America’s Next Top Model on repeat. She started auditioning for commercials at age 8 and eventually landed bit roles on shows like Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy.
Her big break came last year when she bounded onto the scene in Netflix’s ’80s-inspired sci-fi hit, Stranger Things, in which she holds her own against Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder as Eleven, a wunderkind with psychokinetic abilities who can throw grown men into walls with her distinctive steely stare. She’s already nabbed a SAG Award for her role as part of the ensemble cast, and the series received 18 Emmy nominations for its first run, including outstanding supporting actress in a drama series for Brown.
Given that Season 1 ended with her character presumably trapped in the underworld called the Upside Down, questions have persisted about her return. Fear not: Brown confirms over a plate of French fries that she will be back and is more excited than ever, in part because she has more than the 40 or so lines she had last year. “It’s a lot darker and more emotional and emotionally challenging for me, 10 times more than the first season,” she says. “Everything is explained.”
Brown also just wrapped her first feature film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in which she plays the lead opposite Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler. She loved the experience, but not so much the big-screen pacing. “I had the time of my life, but it’s very different,” she says. “The other day we did 75 takes for one scene, and for Stranger Things we sometimes do it all in one take, so it’s very interesting.”
Along with her experience, her social circle is also broadening. She’s done solo TV appearances on Ellen and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, had powwows with the likes of Meryl Streep and Barack Obama (both of whom she calls “very sweet”), and even gone from fangirl to friend of Miley Cyrus. “We text and FaceTime often,” says Brown. “She’s fabulous.”
Now Brown is getting used to having her own admirers. “I can’t walk down a street or outside this hotel without somebody asking for a picture,” she says. “But there’s also the fact that I kind of asked for it, you know? I can’t blame it on my fans. I will never say no unless I’m in an airport and need to catch a flight or I’m at dinner with my family, because that’s just quality time. But other than that, no, I’m fine with the fame. I accept it. All I want to do is model, act, and sing, so if fame comes with that, then so be it.”
A triple threat if there ever was one, she says she’s not quite ready for Broadway but enjoys honing those ANTM skills. “Modeling is very close to my heart,” she says. “I feel like just taking pictures is amazing. You’ll feel if you did a good job in that shoot—or if you feel like you haven’t, then you haven’t. But some pictures turn out to be iconic, and it means so much.”
Not surprisingly, the fashion world loves her right back. (A young, bubbly pixie on the rise who can wear clothes well? What’s not to love?) She has been courted by brands such as Coach and Louis Vuitton and is currently the face of Converse. This past January she appeared in the first campaign for Calvin Klein’s couture line, By Appointment, under the watchful eye of new chief creative officer Raf Simons, one of the industry’s most revered designers. She was playing Monopoly with her family in a cabin in the woods when her agent called to tell her she got the gig. When asked if she knew of Simons’s work beforehand, Brown’s reply is the verbal equivalent of an eye roll: “Of course. I mean, come on.”
Off duty, she favors pieces from Topshop and her Converse kicks, but for any professional appearances the selection process isn’t as casual. She works with a stylist to find “age-appropriate” looks that are then run by an extensive list of guardians. “Everything I wear has to go through every person on my team,” she says. “It has to go through my mum first. If she approves, it’ll go to my agents, and then, obviously, the last stop is my dad—and if he doesn’t like it, then I’m not wearing it. It’s as simple as that.”
Her steady references to her family are a charming reminder that she’s still a kid, albeit one with an outsize future. “You know, I’m just a 13-year-old like any other 13-year-old, so I just plan on living my life and take it step-by-step. Hopefully, in five years’ time I will be in college. No, let’s say eight years … unless I get a really good movie. Then it’s, ‘See ya, college!’ ”
Photographed by Anthony Maule. Fashion Editor: Ali Pew. Hair: Blake Erik for Statement Artists. Makeup: Lisa Houghton for Streeters. Manicure: Jin Soon Choi for Artists & Company. Set design: Bette Adams for MHS Artists.