“Well If I came face to face with my screen avatar Vecna, I would say ‘ take me with you!’,” remarks the charmingly soft-spoken Jamie Campbell Bower, very unlike his growling and menacing ‘Vecna’, the Big Bad of Stranger Things 4 as we catch up on a post-midnight zoom call given our time differences (he in Los Angeles and I’m in London).
The 33-year-old British actor and musician who has been labelled the go-to villain for pop cultural franchises says, “I am happy to take that,” with a loud laugh. From the powerful Volturi Vampire ‘Caius’ in the Twilight Saga and the young Grindlewald in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, a part he reprised in the second spinoff film, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, to the malevolent and callous supervillain ‘Vecna’, Bower is bewildered by the ‘Vecna Fandom’ that has spawned.
“There are parts of it that still baffle me; there is something called the ‘Vecna Thirst’ that perplexes and concerns me the most. As far as the reach and how people have loved the show, it’s amazing and I feel blessed to be part of it,” says Bower.
Spoiler Ahead: Bower, who is introduced in Season 4 as just another orderly in Dr Brenner’s (Mathew Modine) lab and an aide to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) until the big reveal. The orderly is none other than the psychopathic and troubled Henry Creel who is also the first resident of the lab and ‘Vecna’ pulling the strings in the ‘Upside Down’ on a mission to annihilate humanity.
Campbell admits it was nothing short of a challenge to immerse himself in his character. “I remember going to Barrie Gower’s studio (head of the make-up department) and telling someone I have to play three different people, literally three different versions of myself and was told it was the opportunity to show my range.”
But it’s a challenge Bower set himself up for. From buying posters of horror films, dolls from Nightmare on Elm Street, HellRaiser, and Office to spending hours watching movies, re-reading the script and even creating a ‘mind map’ to understand ‘Vecna’ whom he describes as a “resentful sub-human being with a strong sense of belief.”
“The process of getting the job was an interesting one. I was given two sets of sides from Primal Fear and Hell Raiser and then dummy sides from the show. There was this burst of creativity where I put up pictures from the show, the world itself, and the characters from pop culture in general. I knew this was a person who had sat in deep resentment for a long time, a very toxic place to be. But, had also had this human experience as well, which I found interesting. It was basically drawing these lines together of his human experiences and the need to change the world which he finds terrifying. I relished the opportunity of bringing him to life. All of us are in the pursuit of finding truth and beauty in equal measure but, for me, darkness offers a lot of truth, stillness, and to tell people it’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Voicing ‘Vecna’ and wearing the entire prosthetics for his scenes, the actor admits that it was tedious with over seven hours of make-up and far from practical, “Let’s say even normal bodily functions were difficult at its best.”
Though he maintains a tight-lipped silence on Stranger Things 5 with a “Not sure,” except that there would be a “lot of people meeting a whole lot of other people,” he did spill the beans on the fact that Eleven is likely to be his [Vecna] biggest nemesis in the forthcoming season. However, he is all praises for the world the Duffer Brothers [Matt and Ross] have created.
“The first season for me held a special place, it felt like a bunch of creative people had come together and made something that they loved, and that’s what I enjoyed. So often now, what I watch, listen to or consume sounds very manufactured, almost like a bunch of people camping with the idea that it would make them money. But, with this show it always felt like it’s a beautiful idea with these gorgeous references and stunning visuals and the universe is just expanding as the seasons progress.”
An artist and musician as well, Bower was lead vocalist and guitarist for London Punk Band ‘Counterfeit’ and has now embarked on a solo career as a singer-songwriter—he is currently working on a piece inspired by Dante’s Inferno and hopes to contribute musically for the show.
Bower says, “As I was preparing for the show I started writing a lot more orchestral music, it’s just something I love to do. I have sent Matt and Ross [Duffer] some of my demos, just something to creatively share. In fact, when I was I was working with Shekhar Kapoor in Will in 2019, I started painting. There is always something interesting that happens when you are creating something. I would love to do a piece for Stranger Things if they ask me.”
When asked what would he do if like his reel self he found himself in ‘The Upside Down’, Bower retorts seriously, “I often find myself in the upside and I embrace it,” further adding that as an artist, he finds creative expression in exploring the dark side, “Darkness offers me a lot of truth and stillness, it’s okay to tap into the dark; it’s nothing to be afraid of really.”
Playing a man haunting his own family, Bower will be seen next in The True Haunting, opposite Erin Moriarty (The Boys), based on Edwin F Becker’s 2011 novel chronicling the paranormal experience of Ed and Marsha Becker.