Lucky for us, Joe Keery wasn’t a very good high school student.
“I think I had a C average,” says the likeable 24-year-old, better known as complicated dreamboat Steve Harrington in Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. “I just chose to focus on theater instead.” During his senior year, the Massachusetts native applied to DePaul University on a whim. Keery found his niche in the the theater department, and he appeared in locally filmed shows Empire and Chicago Fire. But it’s his work as Stranger Things’ impeccably coiffed hero that gave him his big break.
“I could kind of sympathize with him, even though there’s a scene where he’s sort of a bully,” he says. “I thought it was a really interesting project—I instantly got what they were going for. I loved the aesthetic right away.”
Despite his newfound fame, Keery has stayed in Chicago and can easily rattle off some of his favorite haunts: Breakfast at Humboldt Park’s Flying Saucer, lunch at Lula Cafe, jazz at Green Mill, horror movies at The Logan Theatre. Even his memory of getting his big role is a classic: He was working as a waiter at DMK Burger Bar, and he went into the alley to take the call from his agent when she gave him the good news. “I did a little celebration dance,” he says, “and then went back and kept waiting tables.”
Keery—who plays guitar and drums for the local psych-rock band Post Animal—will next be seen in horror movie The Charnel House, which was filmed in Cleveland earlier this year. The humble Keery even took a Megabus there: “It was definitely a bumpy ride,” he says with a laugh. We’re thinking the ride’s going to be a lot smoother going forward.