Gaten Matarazzo, of Little Egg Harbor Township, learned something about the world of Hollywood casting when he auditioned for a child’s role in the new Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

Matarazzo, 13, originally read for the role of Mike, the leader of a pack of four boys. He was told he did a good job, but was asked to read for a different part, for a character named Dustin.

“This character, he’s very quirky and kind of lovable. He’s a very smart kid, but in some ways, he’s kind of goofball, a glass-half-full kind of a kid, a science nerd,” Matarazzo said. “I saw this character and said, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s kind of just like me.’”

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Matarazzo was the first of the four male child actors cast in the “Stranger Things” original series, which stars two-time Oscar nominee Winona Ryder. All eight episodes of the first season can be watched on Netflix starting July 15. Dustin appears in all the episodes.

“He’s kind of the comic relief. It’s a funny role,” Matarazzo said.

Casting directors often look for child actors who are similar to the fictional roles they’ll play, so that they can act more naturally.

“They kind of morphed the character around me instead of having me morph around the character,” Matarazzo said. “These directors did a really good job because each character has their own special element, but each character is similar to the actors who play them. The directors did a remarkable job doing that.”

Matarazzo bonded with the boys he acted with in the series, some of whom were from England and Canada. He made a new best friend in Finn Wolfhard, who plays the character of Mike. He knew Caleb McLaughlin, who portrays Lucas, from the world of Broadway.

Matarazzo, who has never taken an acting classes, is somewhat of a theater veteran. He appeared in the Broadway musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” in 2011 and 2012 and was in the national touring company of he “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” in 2012 and “Les Miserables” in 2013 and “Les Miserables.” He returned to Broadway in “Les Miserables” in 2014 and 2015.

In the Netflix series, a mother, played by Ryder, faces formidable forces in order to find her missing son. His young friends and his older brother also try to find him. There should be scenes in the series of Dustin and his friends riding their bicycles and playing Dungeons & Dragons.

“There are three different storylines in the show. They all kind of morph together,” Matarazzo said.

The Duffer brothers, Matt and Ross, wrote and directed “Stranger Things.” They also were co-executive producers for two episodes and writers of four episodes of last year’s “Wayward Pines” series on Fox-TV.

To film “Stranger Things,” Matarazzo lived in Atlanta from October to March. His mother, Heather Matarazzo, was with him the entire time. He had a tutor for his school work, was off on the weekends and had breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Matarazzo had two auditions in New York, a half-hour Skype interview from home with the Duffer brothers and an audition in Los Angeles before landing the role of Dustin.

The teen found out he was cast in the show while he was riding in a car from Newark Liberty International Airport, Essex County, headed home after the Los Angeles audition.

“They are like, ‘Hey Gaten ... we like you, and you just got cast. We would like to offer you the role of Dustin,’” Matarazzo said. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool.’ We had the driver up in the front, and I was talking to the director, so I wanted to keep cool a little bit, but my mom was going, ‘Oh my God.’ I thought she was hyperventilating.”

The teen had to keep his casting a secret from July of last year through September. His only advance preparation was to grow out his naturally curly hair.

Matarazzo had seen Ryder, the most well-known cast member, in films, but didn’t really know who she was before his involvement with the series.

“She’s a terrific actress and super nice. She is great with the kids and just a nice person, a good person. She gave good advice,” Matarazzo said.

Matarazzo’s other film acting credit is for an appearance on NBC’s “The Blacklist” with James Spader in February 2015.

“It wasn’t a big part in the episode. Most of my dialogue was just me repeating the same thing over and over again because my character had a few screws loose,” Matarazzo said.

Stilll, Matarazzo said that experience helped him for his “Stranger Things” role.

“I got to realize that each scene takes hours to make. I was like, ‘I’m only in two scenes. It will be quick.’ It took three days to do two scenes. It helped me realize what the hours were going to be like and how I’m going to work with the other actors and the director,” Matarazzo said.

“I would go to auditions for Broadway and TV and do the same thing. I didn’t know how different each one was,” he said.

On Monday, Matarazzo was in Los Angeles for the series’ screening and premiere party. He is waiting to hear whether the show will be renewed for a second season, which will determine whether he can cut his hair.

Contact: 609-272-7202

Twitter @ACPressJackson

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Staff writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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