At just 18, Millie Bobby Brown has already learned the power — and the perils — of fame. The Stranger Things and Enola Holmes star wants to use her massive platform to raise up young women and girls.
BY: Emily Zemler
PHOTOGRAPHED BY:Jem Mitchell
There’s a small plaque outside Wentworth Club that details the posh suburban London establishment’s dress code: No blue jeans. No T-shirts. No cutoffs. It says nothing about pajamas, though, which is exactly what Millie Bobby Brown is wearing when she arrives.
The 18-year-old actor, in her pj’s and a well-worn pink cardigan, comes bounding through the club’s imposing entrance with her boyfriend, Jake Bongiovi. Jake — who, for the record, is not dressed in pajamas — is present only as Millie’s driver and a silent observer. “He’s not even here,” Millie, who seems very much a first name type of person, says as we claim a table on the outdoor patio of the club’s restaurant. It overlooks the verdant golf course, although Millie doesn’t golf. She picked this spot, not far from the house she recently moved into, because it’s inaccessible to prying eyes.
“I like quiet places,” she explains of the setting. “Places that I’m familiar with and that I feel comfortable at.”
Stella McCartney dress. To create a similar makeup look: UBU Eyeshadow Palette and Work It Pout Plumping Lip Gloss in Sunny Hunny by Florence by Mills. Photographed by Jem Mitchell. Fashion stylist: Joanna Schlenzka. Hair: Shon Hyungsun Ju. Makeup: Ciara O’Shea. Manicure: Michelle Humphrey. Set design: Lydia Shirreff. Producer: Chebabo & Co.
This is the second time Millie and I have spoken. The first, three days earlier, was over Zoom due to a COVID case on the set of Damsel, a Netflix film she’s starring in and producing via PCMA Productions, the company she launched with her family a few years back. Both times, she’s been in pajamas.
“If they have a dress code, I’m not going,” she says of her style choice, clearly unaware that Wentworth Club, which looks like a miniature version of Windsor Castle, does, in fact, have a dress code.
I’m describing Millie’s outfit not because what she’s wearing actually matters, but because it affirms the easygoing way she presents herself. Despite being the star of Stranger Things, one of the biggest TV shows in the world, and having more than 55 million Instagram followers, Millie seems amiable, open, and immediately likable. From the outset, she confirms she wants our interview to be a “super-open conversation,” and she lives up to that declaration.
Over the course of three hours, the actor reveals herself in a way that requires both a level of trust and an obvious interest in offering fans a glimpse behind the curtain. By the end of our duo of conversations, Millie seems to have opened up about everything, including such mundane details as her dislike of men carrying umbrellas and her current TV binge, Love Island. ”We’ve covered everything,” she agrees, as we get up from the table. “You know more than Jake knows about me.”
Millie, who now splits her time between London and Atlanta, was born in Spain to British parents, Kelly and Robert Brown. The family lived in Spain for the first four years of her life and relocated to England for the next four years, before moving to Orlando. The craft of acting found its way into her heart by chance. She remembers singing the unlikely holiday tune “Grown-Up Christmas List” in a show, alongside much older students (she was the youngest one onstage), and instantly realized how happy she was while performing.
Del Core dress. Mame Kurogouchi turtleneck. Alexis Bittar and Dinosaur Designs rings. To create a similar makeup look: What’s My Line? Eyeliner in Rolling, Out of This Whirled Marble Bronzer in Cool Tones, and Glow Yeah Hydrating Lip Oil by Florence by Mills.
“My parents were like, ‘Well, it is a job. And if you commit to it, you have to commit to it. You can’t audition and then give up,’” she recalls, her accent flipping back and forth between British and American. “So I was like, ‘I don’t care. Whatever it takes, I want to act.’”
She was convincing enough that the Brown clan quickly relocated to Los Angeles and Millie, then eight years old, began auditioning in Hollywood. Her first onscreen role was as young Alice in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Millie subsequently landed parts on NCIS, Modern Family, and Grey’s Anatomy. In 2014, she starred in BBC America’s Intruders, playing a young girl whose mind gets possessed by a serial killer. Although she auditioned for funny parts too, she was always cast in the intense roles. For Millie, acting was not only life-affirming, it was a way to figure out who she wanted to be.
“I enjoyed being different people because I always struggled with self-identity and knowing who I was,” she says. “Even as a young person, I always felt like I didn’t quite belong in every room I was in. I also struggle with loneliness a bit. I always felt quite alone in a crowded room, like I was just one of a kind, like nobody ever really understood me. So I liked [playing] characters that people understood [and] people could relate to because I felt like no one could relate to Millie.”
Then came the show that changed her life: Stranger Things. Shortly before she filmed a self-tape for the Duffer Brothers, who created the show, she had a disastrous audition. A powerful casting director said she wasn’t going to make it in the industry because she was “too mature.” Millie, then just 10 years old, was in tears.
“I always knew that I was mature and I couldn’t really help that,” she says. “Going back to what I said earlier about being kind of very lonely in who I was and feeling like no one was quite like me in school and no one was as mature as I was, [hearing that] was really hard because I thought [maturity] was a good thing. And then being told that it wasn’t, that I wouldn’t make it in this industry, it was so hurtful. I got really down about that. My parents told me, ‘Just do this one last audition on tape and then you can go outside and play with your friends again.’ So I said, ‘Okay, yeah, I should do this one because it looks cool.’”
Alexander McQueen dress. To create a similar makeup look: Mark My Words Lip Liner in Fierce, Cheek Me Later Cream Blush in Pretty P, and Get Glossed Lip Gloss in Mysterious Mills by Florence by Mills.
Three months later, Millie was cast as Eleven, a young girl with psychokinetic and telepathic abilities. On the set of the series she found her clan, a group of fellow actors who made her feel less alone. As Eleven, Millie realized onscreen representation could empower the viewers, a sensibility that has since carried into her work and, in part, led her and her parents to launch PCMA Productions.
“At first it was really fun,” she says of acting. “And then I was like, ‘Gosh, I could really do things with this. I could really change the world with this.’ There was something about acting that made me feel powerful, impactful, and like I could inspire people.”
In 2019, Millie’s powerful connection with Gen-Z fans led her to found Florence by Mills, a beauty brand (named for her great-grandmother) intended for a younger consumer. Initially, she thought it would just be a diversion, but as it has grown, the brand has provided a means for Millie to develop products for people her own age and to genuinely inspire her fans.
It’s really hard to be hated on when you don’t know who you are yet.”
“I don’t know anything about beauty and skin care,” she notes. “That’s why I created this. I’m going to take you on this journey with me, so we can learn more about botanicals, serums, fruit and vegetable extracts, enzymes. Things that are so important for your skin, but we don’t know about because we’re young. Everything’s antiaging, everything is depuffing. We don’t know what that means.” She adds, sincerely, “I need to know more. And I know our generation needs to know more.”
Since the first season of Stranger Things premiered in 2016, Millie has become hugely famous. So famous that she can’t even go shopping without security. Inevitably, there is a dark side: Millie doesn’t have social media on her phone. Someone else handles her Instagram and Facebook pages, the only social platforms she hasn’t deleted, and she went to therapy to handle the constant bullying she has faced online. It’s hard to escape the fact that people are obsessed with everything Millie says and does. The actor has been inappropriately sexualized for years, something she’s tried her best to ignore, but the effect of trolling and harassment has been severe. Before she deleted Twitter and TikTok, Millie had been constantly bombarded with hateful messages, angry threats, and even NSFW missives from adult men.
Now Millie only speaks directly to fans via blog posts that read like diary entries on the Florence by Mills website. It works because, as she says, “Nobody can comment.” Still, over the years, Millie has struggled to understand why being herself generates so much vitriol.
“It’s really hard to be hated on when you don’t know who you are yet,” she says. “So it’s like, ‘What do they hate about me? ’Cause I don’t know who I am.’ It’s almost like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try being this today.’ [And then they say], ‘Oh, no, I hate that.’ ‘Okay. Forget that. I’m going to try being this today.’ ‘Oh, my God! I hate when you do that.’ Then you just start shutting down because you’re like, ‘Who am I meant to be? Who do they need me to be for them?’ Then I started to grow more, and my family and friends really helped. It helped to be able to understand that I don’t need to be anything they said that I need to be. I just have to develop within myself. That’s what I did.”
She pauses, acknowledging there’s still work to be done: “That’s what I’m doing.”
During the pandemic lockdown, Millie recorded an album and tried to stay as creative as possible, making things that were “so bad, but so fun.” She writes frequently and likes to craft, even if what she makes has no apparent use, like a trio of bedazzled Mason jars. One day, fueled by boredom, Millie and her brother, Charlie, who works as a cinematographer, re-created the “Cool Rider” sequence from Grease 2, which she refuses to post online because it’s “the worst thing.”
In 2020, Millie found herself in what she calls an “unhealthy situation” with TikTok star Hunter Ecimovic. It took all her strength to walk away, which she did in January 2021. Instead of succumbing to the residual trauma, Millie transformed it into an intensely felt performance in season 4 of Stranger Things. You can feel the ferocity in her showdown with Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), as well as the final moments between Eleven and her manipulative father figure, Papa (Matthew Modine). As Eleven walks away from dying Papa, it’s easy to draw parallels.
“I felt very vulnerable,” she recalls. “Also, no one on the set knew I was going through this. So it was kind of nice to be able to just deal with that myself and no one else knew. Then it was harder when the whole world knew.”
Last summer, Ecimovic, whom Millie confidently defines as a “blip,” went live on social media and made outrageous, harmful claims about the actor. By then, Millie was already dating Jake. She looks back on the situation with a sense of thoughtful reflection.
“It was a year of healing,” she says. “When you get publicly humiliated this way, I felt so out of control and powerless. Walking away and knowing that I’m worth everything and this person didn’t take anything from me, it felt very empowering. It felt like my life had finally turned a page and that I actually had ended a chapter that felt so fucking long.” She adds, “Ultimately, all I wanted to do within my career is help young girls and young people out there know that I, too, go through things. I’m not this perfect person that is selling skin-care products and [who is] in Stranger Things. I absolutely have made wrong decisions.”
Millie is not the sum of her headlines. She’s an online college student at Purdue University studying human services, a program in which “you learn about the system and how to help young people.” Her family’s production company is credited on Enola Holmes and its upcoming sequel, Enola Holmes 2, out this fall, as well as Damsel. She’s written two screenplays with her sister Paige, including one based on her grandmother’s life. Florence by Mills is rapidly expanding as a global brand. Millie also continues to work as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, with a focus on menstrual health and education for young women. She knows she has tens of millions of people hanging on her every word and she is ready to acknowledge that responsibility.
“Of course, people can look at it as pressure or scary, but I think that’s the most exciting part of my job,” Millie says. “People are all looking at me, ‘What are you going to say, Millie?’ I’m going to say, ‘Young girls deserve an education. Young people everywhere deserve equal rights. [You] deserve to love the people that you want to love. Be the people that you want to be and achieve the dreams that you want to achieve.’ That’s my message.”
Fashion stylist: Joanna Schlenzka
Hair: Shon Hyungsu Ju
Makeup: Ciara O’Shea
Manicure: Michelle Humphrey
Set design: Lydia Shirreff
Producer: Chebabo & Co.