Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 3.
You don’t have to wait until November to see the Terminator back in action. The third season of Stranger Things features a killing machine who could fight Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 to a standstill. The moment he enters the frame as Soviet hitman Grigori, Ukraine-born actor and bodybuilder Andrey Ivchenko is a dead ringer for the title character of James Cameon’s 1984 sci-fi classic. And Grigori wastes little time proving his mettle, thrashing Hawkins’s top cop, Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), and executing one of the season’s most popular new characters, Russian scientist Alexei (Alec Utgoff), in cold blood.
Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer went to great lengths to hide the fact that Hawkins has its very own Terminator, swearing Ivchenko to secrecy during shooting and keeping his appearances in trailers to a minimum. “I’ve had to keep the secret since I started shooting in Atlanta,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “So it’s been over a year now! I had to fly back and forth to Atlanta frequently, so I would have to tell people, ‘I’m working on some stuff, but I can’t talk about it.’ Finally the silence is over!” We spoke with Ivchenko about his own history with the Terminator and whether Grigori is really dead at the end of Season 3 ... or if he’ll be back.
Yahoo Entertainment: It hasn’t exactly gone unnoticed online that Grigori is Stranger Things’s answer to the Terminator. Is that what the Duffer brothers told you when you got the part?
Andrey Ivchenko: Obviously, this character is influenced by the image of the Terminator. The whole show is about '80s movies, TV shows and music, you know? But at the same time, the Duffers [the series’ sibling creators, Matt and Ross] gave me freedom to work around the core. The core was the Terminator, but as you come to understand my character, you see that he's not a machine — he's a human being. I didn't want to make him to be a robot even if this guy is a killing machine. But in the impromptu dialogue with Hopper, I tended to smile a little and stuff like that.
What are you own memories of the Terminator movies? Are you a fan of that franchise in general?
Yes, absolutely. I mean, I'm a fan of the first and second one; I think after the second one, it went a little bit sideways. American movies came to the former Soviet Union a little bit later, so the first time I saw The Terminator, I didn’t even know about Arnold Schwarzenegger before that. I discovered Schwarzenegger as a bodybuilder and Schwarzenegger as a movie star approximately at the same time. I was 15 when I got introduced to bodybuilding; I started to pump and I got hooked right away.
About a year after that, The Terminator came out and at the same time, one of my friends who traveled abroad quite often brought these bodybuilding magazines, and this massive guy was talked about on every page. My friend was like, ‘His name is Arnold Schwarzenegger.’ I couldn’t even pronounce his second name, but he influenced me to pump harder, and to build my body the way he did. Later on in my life, people were comparing me [to him] so much, so it's going to become inevitable. Finally a part where I can actually play to what people compare me to, you know? [Laughs]
So once you became an actor, you found it difficult to find roles that interested you because of the Schwarzenegger comparisons?
Yeah, absolutely. I guess I have this hard look with my face and my body, so it became challenging to play, you know, good guys. And Arnie became a good guy in Terminator 2, but for me it still shifted more towards the first Terminator.
In your own head, do you think of Grigori as the “good guy” of Season 3?
To be honest, in my head, any references to the Terminator were very minor. I served in the Soviet Army, and I understand that mindset, so I think of Grigori more as a patriot. Those guys are extremely devoted to what they do, and that’s how I imagined Grigori. He’s a soldier and goes as far as giving up his life to complete that mission.
Because of your own experience in the Soviet military, did the Duffers rely on you to help with the realism of the Russian soldiers?
It’s funny, but on the Duffers’ side, it was very minor concern about me playing this part. The conversations were about how to do a particular scene; like if I’m moving through the house of mirrors and they wanted me to do something different in my movements or where I looked. They were very focused on what they were doing. They really trusted me with my choices, which was a huge honor that I obviously couldn’t screw up.
Like you, I grew up in the '80s when the Soviet Union was the enemy in movies like Red Dawn and Rocky IV. It is a little strange for you to play that kind of role now?
Let me tell you this: I love the '80s. I think the '80s and maybe the beginning of the '90s was the best era in kind of everything. So it wasn't weird to me to do this character because I'm in love with that era. It's funny, but when I watched Rambo and he’d be fighting the Soviets, and I was rooting for Rambo! Even though I was technically in my country, I was rooting for Rambo. I wanted him to kill Commies. You know what I mean? The Duffers recreated the '80s almost identically to what it was. In my opinion, nobody can come close to them.
That mirror sequence at the carnival funhouse is a definite highlight. What was that scene like to shoot?
It took a whole day, about 12 to 15 hours. The mirror room was outstanding, the way they built it. It was very complicated to film there because when you stepped in, you don't really see where the mirror is and where the hallway is. You see your reflection everywhere, and you don't know where to go, so they lined up this tape along the hallways. If you see reflection of this tape in the mirror, you know that's the mirror and you can see the hallway and where to walk. But we had multiple walkthroughs with the cast and with the camera guys, because it was very complicated for them to orient themselves in that mirror maze. When hair and makeup were coming in between the takes, they’d need to have a guide because they didn't know where to go! They were always bumping into the mirrors.
Did you have a stunt double or did you do all the fighting yourself?
David and I tried to do the majority of the fight ourselves, and we were beaten up. For the battle at Starcourt Mall, we filmed for three days and it was 12 hours every day. So you can imagine that after 12 hours of doing this, even though we were wearing protection pieces, we got bruised. But we also had stunt doubles, and they were the best. These guys were, like, hardcore you know? They made us look really good.
It’s clear that Grigori is the better technical fighter, but Hopper just comes at him like a bear. I thought they made fights that should be one-sided seem more believable.
Obviously Grigori has military training, and is very tactical about it where as Hopper is fighting like a farmer. The idea was that Hopper starts to figure out how to fight me. That’s why he’s much better in the final battle.
Speaking of that last fight, we’re meant to assume that Hopper dies in the climactic gate-room scene, even though there are lots of theories that suggest otherwise. He also tosses Grigori right into the cannon — any chance that he survived?
I would assume, right now, he's dead. But who knows? As of of now, I haven’t had any confirmation of whether I’m alive or dead. Anything can happen, especially on Stranger Things.
Do you have any theories about how Grigori might have survived?
This is just my personal theory: Hopper throws me into the cannon while the cannon is shooting the laster to open the Upside Down gate. And that gate is slightly open, with a significant crack in the wall. So when he throws me into the cannon, I could easily be transported into the Upside Down. That could happen, you know? I could wake up in the Upside Down.
Have you gotten any hate on social media from the #JusticeforAlexei crowd?
Yeah, that’s the scene that’s brought the most heat. [Laughs] Alec [Utgoff] and I hit it off right away, and that scene was fun to shoot because of all the obvious Terminator references. A lot of people [on Twitter] have said, “Why did you kill Alexei?” But there have also been a ton of people who have said, “You made me hate you so much, which means you did your job very well.” People have also been coming up to me when I’m out somewhere and they’re like, “Your part is so great.” It doesn’t matter if people like you or hate you — they feel something towards your character, and that’s a positive moment.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is very active on social media. Would you be excited if he reached out to you?
It would be one of the biggest highlights of my career. So many people have tagged me in the different Twitter and Instagram posts comparing me to him, and also tag him. But there’s been no reaction so far. He’s a busy guy, so maybe his assistant will point it out to him and he’ll reply. I feel like he’s more focused on the next Terminator movie, but maybe after that he’ll pay attention.
Maybe he’ll invite you to be in the next Terminator!
Well, I don't know about the next Terminator movie. We'll see how it goes, and what this new one's going to be. My guess is they will be done after this one. They can write more Terminator, but it will not be a continuation of this franchise — it’ll be something else. But what do I know? They have their own ideas. So maybe.
Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.
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