'Stranger Things' Star Caleb McLaughlin Talks New American Eagle Campaign, Making Music, and 'Stranger Things 4'

'Stranger Things' star Caleb McLaughlin talks about his new American Eagle campaign, working on 'Stranger Things' Season 4 during the pandemic, and more.

Caleb McLaughlin for American Eagle's 'Future Together. Jeans Are Forever' Campaign

Image via AEO, Inc.

Caleb McLaughlin for American Eagle's 'Future Together. Jeans Are Forever' Campaign

Today, American Eagle debuted their latest campaign, Future Together. Jeans Forever, which features their current headliners—Outer Banks stars Chase Banks and Madison Bailey and TikTok titan Addison Rae—alongside two newcomers to AE: actors Jenna Ortega (who you saw in Season 2 of You and is set to play Wednesday Adams in Netflix’s Addams Family series Wednesday), and Caleb McLaughlin, best known as playing Lucas in Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things, which has been working on its fourth season throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Future Together. Jeans Forever, American Eagle is looking to get young people optimistic and excited about our near future. With COVID protocols easing in many areas, it’s been good to get back outside—safely and responsibly. That said, there’s a lot of fun to be had with your friends, and one of the best ways for people to express themselves is through their personal style, which is something Caleb—an admitted sneaker lover—takes pride in.

McLaughlin recently hopped on the phone to talk to Complex about being a part of this campaign, how he’s been able to give back through American Eagle, and his plans to finally grab some pieces to help accent these jeans. McLaughlin also speaks on the importance of Concrete Cowboy, the music he’s been working on during the pandemic, and getting to see Stranger Things David Harbour castmate in Black Widow.

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Talk to me about American Eagle’s Future Together. Jeans Forever campaign. What was it about this campaign in particular that spoke to you?
This campaign is very important and exciting to me. The past year, as a people, we’ve been away from each other, we’ve been quarantined from each other. We haven’t been around each other. What this campaign represents and what it speaks about is just about getting people back together and excited to show off their styles and getting back into the world together. I think that’s really important. Things are opening up a little bit more, people are seeing their friends and family. I think it’s important for people to be together again.

I saw on your Instagram, you were helping give back as a part of this campaign. Talk about the importance of giving back to the community and this particular opportunity you had with American Eagle.
Oh yes. Chionesu Bakari is a program that I know. In a church that I used to go to in Brooklyn, there’s a program for a group of young men and they just kind of help cultivate their lives and everything. I wanted to give back to the church that I grew up in and that raised me. You feeling me? So when I got this opportunity to work with American Eagle, I wanted to give back to them and just show my support.

You also spoke on people being able to go out, being able to see the world more than they have since the quarantine began. I know you’ve also been busy, not only been promoting films, but you’ve been working. Have you had any downtime? What’s the last year and a half been for you in terms of not working?
Oh yeah. At the peak of COVID, I was home with my family. The first weekend I was hanging out with my family and then it got to the point of like, “All right. What should I do for myself? How can I make myself better?” I started working out a little bit more. I got into some things that I didn’t know I would love like anime. I mean, I was talking to a lot of my friends, just kind of sitting down and having like a self-reflection moment, just kind of really finding out who I am and what is my reason for being here?

Right. I’ve spoken to a number of people in your field, especially a lot of young Black creatives in the business, and I heard a lot about self-reflection and a lot of that turns into, “Do I want to start a production company? Am I trying to direct? Am I trying to make music?”
It’s funny, you mentioned music. During the quarantine, I was in getting into music. I’ve been working on music for the last three and a half, four years now. I’m going to be dropping soon, very soon, very soon. During quarantine, I ordered a whole set up of music equipment because I couldn’t get into the studio at the time.

Are you dropping a single? You got a project?
I think right now, the first drop is going to be a single. I’m talking with my music manager and a producer just to see what makes sense. But right now it’s going to be a single, but there will be projects in the future for sure.

I have to ask; I saw you with Ricky Bell on your TikTok. I know you played young Ricky in the New Edition series on BET, but it was dope seeing you doing the choreography to “Poison” with him in your video. Are you leaning on Ricky as a mentor musically? What’s your relationship with him like?
I’ve been talking to him about music [since] I did The New Edition Story. I grew up listening to New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe because of my parents. The reason why I love music is because of him, so I told him about my music and he was just like, “This is what you got to do, keep working on your voice.” Even back then, when I didn’t know I wanted to [make] music, he was like, “Man, you got a wonderful voice. Keep working on it. Never lose it. Don’t let your talents be wasted.” So I was like, “All right, bet.” I took his advice on that. He definitely inspires me and my music.

What newer artists are you gaining influence from?
Anderson .Paak. I love Masego. I love Brent Faiyaz, I love Daniel Caesar. Man. I’ve been listening to a lot SZA, Jazmine Sullivan. That’s really where my vibe is.

I was also looking at pictures from Concrete Cowboy. You and Jharrel Jerome specifically. I spoke with him a couple of years ago and I didn’t realize that he made music as well. Do you speak with other people in your industry about any musical aspirations that you might have? Would you ever link up with someone that you worked with on something for a project?
Speaking of Jharrel, before we even started filming together, we reached out to each other on the ‘gram. It was like, “Yo. I heard we’re going to be working together. Let’s exchange information. We got to hang out.” And I think our very first conversation he was like, “Yo, I’m doing music. I’m going to send you some stuff over, let me know what you think.”

And I said, “All right. Bet.” A lot of people rap. A lot of people want to be a rapper. So I was like, “All right, cool.” He sends it to me. I was like, “I’m a listen. I’m not sure if I’m going to like it or not.” But then he sent me his stuff, I was like, “Oh wait, he has good music. He can rap.” Once we were able to get together, we were chilling on set. We hung out a lot, even offset, and we would just show each other our music. He was showing me some of his beats and some of the other stuff that he did in the studio. I’m like, “Yo bro, we should collab.” He’s like, “Yeah, most definitely.” We haven’t done it yet but the time will come.

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What does Concrete Cowboy symbolize for you?
I feel like Concrete was a perfect opportunity not only just for me, but for the story. The story is so unique and a lot of people don’t know about the street cowboys and cowgirls. People [have] been seeing me play Lucas for years now and I needed to do something different. I needed people to see that I have range, that I can do something different and this was the story for me. And on top of that, I was able to work with amazing actors. So it was an actual dream come true.

Have you started to look at what life after Lucas might be? Are you starting to explore that stuff?
Oh, most definitely. I’m always exploring it. Even from Season 1, I was exploring it. Right after I finished filming Season 1, Stranger Things didn’t even come out yet. A month or a half a month later I went right into New Edition and I filmed the BETs New Edition Story, so I’m always looking for the next project, seeing what makes sense with me and my artistic expression and what I want to do, something that speaks to me. So I’m always looking for the next project. I’m not in a rush, but I’m definitely looking for what’s next for me and what makes sense.

I remember that summer when Stranger Things really started to hit. For as big as the series is now, it was definitely a word of mouth, slow-burn kind of thing at the beginning. Were you kind of surprised when you started seeing that people were taking to Season 1 of the show?
I mean, you never want to get your hopes up in the business. You can get your feelings hurt, but I felt that this show was going to be big. I felt like the show was going to definitely inspire and change a lot of people’s lives. But of course, you never want to be like, “Oh yeah. This show is going to be great. I’m going to… There’s going to be a franchise. People are going to love the show. It’s going to be compared to the ‘80s classics and everything.” So I just kind of took a step back. Once we finished Season 1, we were just like, “All right. We did it. We’ll see what happens when it comes out.” But I felt in my heart that the show was going to be great.

Let’s jump today; you’ve been working on Season 4 of Stranger Things throughout the last year and a half. The way Season 3 left off, I think it’s going to be interesting to see where everyone is and where the story is going. What’s it been like during this time while filming?
I’m excited for people to see the season. We’ve been filming it right now for the past year and a half, two years because of COVID. I’m really excited for everyone to see the season. It’s definitely different from the last couple of seasons. Storylines are insane. It’s going to be really exciting to see what people think about this. While I’m talking about this, I’m thinking about what we’ve been filming and I’m just like, “Wow. No one knows what is to come. It’s insane.”

That’s good to hear! What’s the dynamic of the group been like while working through COVID protocols? Has it been hard to overcome some of those hurdles on set?
Definitely, in the beginning. Last year when we came back, it was definitely challenging. We were separated. We couldn’t even be around each other for a certain amount of time, only when we’re filming. We had to keep our masks on. I mean, I still wear my mask so that really wasn’t an issue.

But it was just like, we were usually able to eat lunch together and we weren’t able to do lunch together. When we were sitting by our chairs, we were sitting in these little cubicles separated from each other. So it was very interesting, but now things have been lifted a little bit more. It’s really about still wearing our mask, but kind of staying six feet from each other, but it’s not too bad. I think also I’m getting used to it. So there may have not been a difference, but I’m just kind of getting used to the whole COVID situation and social distancing.

Caleb McLaughlin for American Eagle's 'Future Together. Jeans Forever' campaign

What’s it been like moving in everyday life with the mask for you? Have you hit the movies masked up?
You know what’s funny? I went to the movies two weeks ago and hadn’t been in two years or something like that. So it was great to be back in the theaters. It wasn’t many people there. I went with my family and we saw Black Widow. It was a great movie. I felt great. I was like, “Man. I miss being in the movie theater.” The smell, the energy, speakers. That’s the energy I miss.

Last year when everybody was panicking about the theaters due to the pandemic, I wanted to tell everybody to chill; even if you can rent Black Widow at home, people want to go to the theater for exactly what you said, to hear it on the speakers, see it on the screen. Now, your Stranger Things homie David Harbour’s in that film. I wondered, as a crew, do you have a group chat? And if so, have you guys been talking about the film with him in the group chat?
I don’t even have his number but-

That’s crazy. That’s funny, right? I don’t.

Wow. I’m shocked.
I don’t have it. I would have to DM him. I mean, we’ve never said, “Hey, let’s get each other’s number.” We have just never had that conversation. Maybe we just haven’t had a long enough conversation to say, “Hey, let’s talk more.” But when I see him, I’m going to give him a big hug and tell him how great of a job he did. He did an awesome job. He’s one of my favorite actors right now. I’m so glad he’s getting the flowers that he deserves. And I only think he’s [just started] to get the flowers that he [has] deserved. People don’t realize how good David Harbour is. Definitely one of my favorite actors right now, so I’m glad that people are seeing his talent. People are like, “Wow,” seeing him as David Harbour.

Honestly, you know what’s funny? I need to get his number next time. We’ll have that conversation, a long enough conversation, and be like, “Hey, let’s… Hey, you know what? Let’s get each other’s numbers and we’ll actually talk out offset and let’s get lunch or something.”

I’m going to say it’s probably a good idea to have it, especially the way he did his thing in Black Widow. Make sure you have that man’s number for whatever reason.
It’s funny, I just got Charlie Heaton's number this season as well. We talk all the time, that’s my guy, but it was just… I was like, “Wait. I don’t even have your number.” We had that conversation where it was like, “What do you do when you’re not on set?” He was like, “Oh, good. We’ll hang out.” I was like, “All right, I’ll text you... Wait. I don’t have your number.” And he was like, “Woah. That’s insane.”

You’re probably too busy sitting there looking at StockX and everything to figure out somebody else’s number. Have you copped anything recently? There’s been a lot of stuff dropping this year.
Oh, man. Sadly, no. I haven’t. I’ve been so focused on Stranger Things, but I’m doing that soon. Next week, exactly. I was like, “Yeah, I need to get my fashion.” I need to get back into my fashion game, you feel me? Because I haven’t been able to… When you’re in quarantine, you ain’t doing it for nobody. You dress up for yourself. The world’s opening back up, you’re like, “Now I got some people to stunt on.” Nah, I’m joking. 

You’re not wrong, though. I do think quarantine is a time where if you see something nice regardless of the season, if it’s in your size, grab it. You’ll figure it out at some point but you want to have the piece so when everybody is actually outside, “Oh yeah. Oh, you didn’t get this? I got this. Don’t worry about it.” Just a little something light.
Yeah. I actually was trying to on the SNKR app, I was trying to get the Ben and Jerry SB Dunks. You can’t get anything on there. If I see something that I really want then I’m going to try to get it, but then you have to go on StockX and you’ve got to bid. That’s why I’m going to wait. I’m going to just wait until I feel like I really want to spend something on sneakers. Probably like next week. Probably today because we’re talking about it.

American Eagle's 'Future Together. Jeans Forever' campaign

What can people look forward to from you for the rest of this year?
I’m going to be working with American Eagle from now on until Fall, so you’ll be seeing a lot of images, photos, and videos of me just rocking their fits and everything. I hope everyone enjoys it and gets as excited as I was filming in California with some of my peers. This brand is super dope. I love the fits, their jeans. The quality of clothing is amazing. So you’ll definitely be seeing me doing that from now until the Fall.

Keep us posted on that music, man.
I got you. Most definitely.

For more details on American Eagle’s ‘Future Together. Jeans Forever' campaign, head over to ae.com.

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