Actor Brett Gelman, an alumnus of the UNC School of the Arts, has had to be secretive about two of his biggest projects to date — including “Stranger Things,” the third season of which will be released by Netflix on Thursday morning.
He has a recurring role as Murray Bauman, an intrepid, conspiracy-minded journalist out to expose the hidden truth behind the strange happenings in Hawkins, Ind. The series, set in the 1980s, follows a group of kids who discover an inter-dimensional gateway through which dangerous creatures emerge and which government agents try to cover up. The series emulates classic movies of that time period by such acclaimed directors as Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, as well as writer Stephen King and others, while also finding a voice of its own.
Gelman can’t reveal much about what his character does in season three.
“I’m in the trailer, so I can say that I’m in it,” he said with a laugh, “I can’t say how much.”
Last month, Gelman was in Winston-Salem to visit his alma mater and spend time with some of the current and former staff members who influenced him, including his mentor, Gerald Freedman, former dean of the School of Drama.
“It’s amazing being back here. I haven’t been back here in 20 years,” Gelman said. “I can’t believe that. I just realized it was 20 years.”
He decided to come back for a weekend trip to Winston-Salem while he was in Charleston, S.C., filming the new season of “Mr. Mercedes,” a drama based on the works of Stephen King. His thriving career as a character actor has kept him away until now.
“It’s so insane,” he said. “I’ve thought about coming back, but it was also a matter of being on the hustle all the time and getting caught up in that. I’ve always sort of been that way. I don’t have kids. ... It was just running, restlessness has kept me away, maybe.”
But he hopes to come back and talk with the students at some point when school is in session and perhaps teach a workshop.
“I don’t know what the workshop would be. How To Be Brett Gelman? And it would just be one class, it would be five minutes: ‘Don’t!’ And then a couple of questions and we’re out.”
Gelman described his experience on “Stranger Things” as “really great.”
“I’m excited. I’ve seen some of it, and it’s phenomenal,” he said.
He enjoyed collaborating with series creators Matt and Ross Duffer, who are known professionally as The Duffer Brothers.
“I mean, I think it’s the closest thing you can get to working with Spielberg in the ’80s, is working with the Duffer Brothers now,” he said. “And the Duffers have their own thing. I don’t think they’re just copying Spielberg or Carpenter. They have this wonderful, different type of boyish innocence than Spielberg did back then. ... Watching Spielberg, you feel it’s an adult remembering being a kid where the Duffers feel like they’re still kids in a way. And it’s really great and exciting to be able to do that stuff.”
Gelman is perhaps best known for his roles in such comedies as Adult Swim’s “Eagleheart,” NBC’s “Go On,” Amazon’s “Fleabag,” Comedy Central’s “Another Period” and FX’s “Married.” But he has expanded his roles in recent years and appreciates the opportunity to do dramatic roles on shows such as “Stranger Things.”
“I always fantasized about being the somewhat comedic character in a sci-fi/action adventure/horror type movie, basically in a Spielberg movie, and I’m getting to do that in this show,” he said.
But the secrecy of filming “Stranger Things” was nothing compared with his role in 2017’s “Twin Peaks: The Return” revival by director David Lynch.
“‘Twin Peaks’ is the most secretive thing that I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “You got only your pages, hand-delivered to your address, with a non-disclosure agreement that said if you say anything about your involvement in the show.”
Two years later, he said he can talk about some aspects of the show, but even then he’s not comfortable talking about everything.
“I think (Lynch) frowns upon people talking about his process, but I don’t know if I could talk about his process,” he said. “You show up to that set and, when you meet him, you immediately feel his energy, and that sort of inserts itself into that scene.
“He’s such a hero of mine, and it was such a dream of mine to be in something he did ... just to get to do a scene directed and written by him, I had been fantasizing about that for years.”