Q&A: ‘Stranger Things’ star Cara Buono joins Bowie Baysox to tease Season 3

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Stranger Things' Season 3 (Jason Fraley)

We’re less than a month away from Season 3 of “Stranger Things,” which hits Netflix on July 4.

Cara Buono arrives at the premiere of "Stranger Things" season two at the Regency Bruin Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)(AP/Jordan Strauss)
And if you can’t wait, you can join actress Cara Buono at the Bowie Baysox game on Saturday.

“I’m really excited to come down,” Buono told WTOP. “There’s an opportunity to meet and greet beforehand and I am throwing out the first pitch of the game, which I’ve been practicing for. I have an older brother who used to pitch in Little League, so he’s taking it upon himself to make sure I don’t embarrass myself. … There was a legendary pitch fail by Baba Booey from ‘The Howard Stern Show,’ so he’s determined like, ‘You cannot do that,’ so I’m in training.”

Whether she throws a strike or not, she knew the Duffer Brothers’ show was a home run.

“When I first read the script, I knew I wanted to be part of the show,” Buono said. “I thought we’ll at least get two seasons out of it. No one could have predicted the phenomenon it’s become. … I actually tracked down the Duffers after I auditioned for it. It wasn’t a known quantity, it was just an audition that I had, but I really had a strong feeling about the script. I said, ‘I really want to be in your show.’ … So when they offered me the role of Karen I was so delighted.”

Playing the mother of Mike (Eleven’s love interest), Nancy (Barb’s friend) and Holly (the cute little tyke), Buono made a key acting choice to ignore the kids’ antics in her basement.

“I had to figure out a way on my own to justify how clueless Karen is,” Buono said. “It was a thing about being a parent in the ’80s like, ‘Just go out and play,’ but she takes it to a whole ‘nother level when they’re harboring a child in their basement. I just made sure I asked the props in Season 1 to always give me a glass of wine. I justify it so by the end of the day, I’m a little bit drunk, I can’t hear what’s going on, I might be passed out. I just made that up for myself.”

Where did we leave off after Season 2 and what can we expect from Season 3?

“We think the Demogorgon portal has been closed,” Buono said. “The fact that it takes place in the summer this time as opposed to during the school year is going to be really fun and different from the first two seasons and will lend itself to a different kind of adventure, even more freedom for the kids. … It’s even more epic in a lot of ways on the scale of what’s going on in the town. I was really excited by the scripts I read. My jaw was dropping, so I think the fans are going to be really pleased and surprised and wondering what’s going to happen in Season 4.”

Why does she think the show is such a hit? Is it the ’80s nostalgia? The childhood banter?

“It’s a perfect storm of things,” Buono said. “For people who are nostalgic for that time, it really captures that period of time and therefore captures across generations. I get to meet a lot of the younger fans [and] they respond to the relationship among the kids. They’ve got their back, there’s a camaraderie. I think kids today yearn for that kind of freedom. We have scheduled play dates and everything is supervised, but [back then] there was a freedom to explore. Even though it’s really scary, the wholesomeness comes from the goodness of the friendships.”

On set, she’s gotten to watch the child cast grow up before her eyes, including Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers and Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler.

“When the show started, everyone was much shorter,” Buono said. “They were really little kids and truly all wonderful actors. For me, it hurts my heart because, like watching my own child grow, it’s sort of bittersweet, but it’s also them becoming young adults. They’ve always been really confident actors and naturally gifted. … Everyone is doing such amazing work — Millie’s got ‘Godzilla,’ Finn has got the ‘It’ franchise and ‘Goldfinch.’ They’re all doing amazing things.”

As for Buono, she’s had a knack for picking winning shows, starting with HBO’s “The Sopranos,” in which she played Christopher Moltisanti’s wife Kelli after Adriana’s whacking. However, it was her hardened demeanor after Christopher’s nose-squeezing death that sparked interest.

“There was something very presentational about that, wearing the dark sunglasses in the procession,” Buono said. “There was a joke in Italian families that the person who wails and cries the most at the wake is the most sad, but I think part of that was for Tony’s benefit from his P.O.V. He was supposed to see her in a certain light as kind of holding it together and I think the sunglasses was just to sort of hide too much of being distraught.”

Like many pundits, she views “The Sopranos” as the birth of the TV’s Golden Age.

“I think that was a watershed moment in TV,” Buono said. “I remember getting that call and literally falling down crying. I couldn’t believe I was going to be on that show. I was so sick to my stomach the night before, I didn’t sleep, just trying to keep it together. When I met everyone, they calmed my nerves and said, ‘Welcome to the family.’ …  … James Gandolfini was the leader of that group and he made everyone feel like they were his peer and there was never a hierarchy.”

She followed it up with AMC’s “Mad Men,” playing Don Draper’s girlfriend Dr. Faye Miller.

“I remember getting that offer and just jumping up and down,” Buono said. “I was so excited. I remember Jessica Paré and I started the same day. We both got our hair cut, she went brunette and I went blonde because we’re opposites. A lot of people were rooting for Faye to marry him, but I think it would have just been too healthy and too the right thing for him to do.”

She said her character actually predicted the breakup early on.

“In the first season, my character says, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be married before the end of the year,'” Buono said. “She already had his number … When she said, ‘You only like the beginnings of things.’ To be with Faye would be to be in a real relationship that would go on. That takes work.”

She said she was surprised by the show’s global appeal.

“I went into Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and I was surprised how many people recognized me from the show and wanted to talk about it,” Buono said. “The show had just ended and they were all so mad about how he dumped me! I was like, ‘Wow, it even transcends all the way over here.”

Today, she’s no longer a late season add-on but a main character from the ground floor.

“Up until ‘Stranger Things,’ I was always added to existing shows. I was added to ‘Sopranos’ at the end, I was added to ‘Mad Men,’ to already existing hits. It’s kind of like transferring high schools your senior year. You never know how you’re going to be accepted. … I feel incredibly lucky that I’m on these shows and every day I think, ‘How did that happen?'”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Cara Buono (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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