In July 2016, Stranger Things premiered on Netflix and became an instant classic, transporting viewers to Hawkins, Indiana, and dragging us deep into the Upside Down. This July, the show returns for a much-anticipated third season – this time around its 1985, and the town welcomes some new faces.

Francesca Reale plays new girl Heather, a lifeguard who finds herself mixed up in the supernatural goings-on – still waters are never a good sign within the Stranger Things world. Far removed from the suburbia of Hawkins, Reale was born and raised in LA, where she began her acting career with a series of television roles, including Netflix hit, Haters Back Off.

After Stranger Things, the actor will again team up with Natalia Dyer (aka Nancy Wheeler) in new film Yes God, Yes, which centres around sexual repression in the Church and female masturbation; a fitting subject for a year in politics where women’s bodily autonomy is becoming more and more threatened. “We’re still fighting as women, as hard as we can, for basic rights and the choice to do what we want with our bodies and to be comfortable with them,” Reale tells us below.

Hannah Holway: What can you tell us about your Stranger Things character, Heather?
Francesca Reale: I can tell you that she’s a lifeguard at the community pool, and it’s summer in 1985 in Hawkins. That’s about all I can tell you [laughs]. But it’s going to be so worth the wait, when everyone watches it they’re going to be like, “Thank God you didn’t spoil anything.”

HH: Were you a big fan beforehand?
FR: I was. I think the show is incredible and very unique in the way it’s created. I had auditioned for another role and didn’t get it, as it usually goes, but shortly after I got asked to audition for Heather. I was given about as much information as I’m giving you guys now! I submitted a tape with some slides from the movie Scream, as I didn’t actually get any material from the show to prep with. And then they cast me – I kinda thought they were kidding, or maybe they were just really desperate to cast this role [laughs].

HH: References to 1980s films, such as The Goonies, E.T., etc. are embedded in the series. Are you a fan of that cinematic era? Did you rewatch any films for ‘homework’?
FR: I was already a big fan of John Hughes’ films, like Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club. I actually didn’t watch a ton of 80s movies when I got the part, but I listened to a lot of music from that time. Music is so much more of a vibe, for me at least, to use as inspiration. I picked out playlists that I thought would be good for Heather.

HH: The buzz around the series was so huge in 2016, what was it like going into that?
FR: I was so nervous. Environments like that are always so nerve-wracking because all the cast has been working together for three years now, so they already have that connection and you never know if you’re going to fit into that. But I was lucky enough that everyone was so wonderful and welcoming and nice, it was kind of impossible not to have a good time.

HH: Yeah, it seems like a really welcoming team, and you once again work with Natalia Dyer in your upcoming film Yes God, Yes – what’s your character, Laura like?
FR: Laura is a very interesting character. She plays Alice’s [Natalia Dyer’s character] best friend, but their personalities are very different. Alice is kind of trying to find her ‘real’ self, whereas Laura is very concerned with what’s going to make her popular. I personally think she has a lot of anxiety and insecurity about herself, which is really important to see in a character; especially for a lot of young girls. There’s a lot of ways for girls to feel insecure in society; more so now than when I was growing up. I think this film is a perfect example of why being yourself is always the best option.

HH: It’s really interesting to see a film about female pleasure – something we don’t really see on screen. Do you think we’re at a place with cinema now where we can show these things and it’s not really groundbreaking?
FR: I think it’s always groundbreaking. Whenever people are bold enough to share the experiences of women and their sexuality and their insecurities so freely, without shame and in a positive way, I think it’s both behind the times – as we should’ve been here a long time ago – but also so innovative. We’re still fighting as women, as hard as we can, for basic rights and the choice to do what we want with our bodies and to be comfortable with them. I think Karen’s [Maine, director of Yes, God, Yes] movie will show that we need to be more comfortable when in comes to showing women being in control of their bodies.

HH: And it was a short film first, right? Were you involved in that too?
FR: I wasn’t involved in it, and I actually didn’t watch it when I first auditioned because I didn’t want to get my roles mixed up. I’ve watched it now and it’s just as funny, if not more… No, the feature is funnier [laughs].

HH: Were you and Natalia friends before working together twice, or was the casting completely coincidental?
FR: I actually hadn’t met her before we started working on the film. We hit it off straight away. It’s really rare to work with someone that you really click with immediately, and then it was just pure luck that I got to work with her again on Stranger Things. She was one of the first people I called when I got the role actually. She was so ecstatic for me and so supportive, wonderful and beautiful. I feel incredibly lucky to have her in my life.

HH: I was snooping on your Instagram and saw that you’re also friends with Riverdale’s Camila Mendes. How did you guys meet?
FR: We met in college during an acting programme. After college we both booked shows, me with Haters Back Off and her with Riverdale. We’ve both been travelling all over the place the past couple of years, but I’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to stay close. She’s phenomenal, too.

HH: Speaking of Netflix shows, Stranger Things was one that helped to propel the streaming service to the level they’re at now, where a Netflix film was nominated for an Oscar this year. What are your favourite shows to binge watch on there?
FR: Obviously Riverdale [laughs]! I binge every season when it comes out. I just finished Chernobyl, but it’s a very dark show so I needed to take breaks. Also The Society, which is very Lord of the Flies-esque. I actually just watched all of Parks and Reaction for the first time ever, I don’t know how I missed it before!

HH: I love that show – Leslie Knope is my spirit animal.
FR: Oh my God, it’s so good. I also feel very connected with April.

Stranger Things Season 3 comes out 4th July via Netflix.