Natalia Dyer shone from the very first episode as the sweet, empathetic Nancy—and whilst it was unbelievably difficult to pick a scene-stealer of an entire cast of them, Dyer’s Nancy was consistently magnetic.
This article was planted instantly because from the very first episode, we fell deep for Natalia Dyer’s Nancy. It was hard to pick a scene-stealer from such a wonderfully talented cast—and hard to define, too. Winona Ryder’s devastatingly heart-wrenching performance as Joyce, Millie Bobby Brown’s astounding mic-drop as Eleven, and David Harbour’s softly intense Hopper were all supreme standouts. Everyone truly was—but Dyer was someone we couldn’t take our eyes off since the first episode.
Nancy’s a typical, Sandy Olsson type of girl. She’s anxious about school. She’s swept away by her heart-throb boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) to a point where she pushes her best friend Barbara (Shannon Purser) unwittingly away.
Dyer could’ve made Nancy very two-dimensional. She could’ve been that clichéd high-school chick. But she wasn’t. Dyer handled her awkward adolescent years with fingertip-delicacy. And despite her being ‘in’ with Steve’s popular crowd, her natural empathy (for example with Charlie Heaton’s Jonathan) was a constant. She tried. And she struggled with typical teen drama we could all empathize with. Dyer’s Nancy was so immensely likable off-the-bat that it’s with fervent confidence that we’d even go as far as to say you just can’t not like her.
Dyer’s angular face and big doe-eyes told a thousand stories without a single utterance.
Dyer has a classic, Audrey Hepburn-look about her that screams vintage. It’s helped by the costume and make-up department, but her strong jaw and expression-filled eyes are expertly toyed with by Dyer. Though Nancy isn’t mute like Eleven, Dyer possesses a subtlety and quiet emotion lurking behind her eyes that she masterfully commands. Not only has she boasted an incredible acting range, but she’s captured our hearts. Nancy’s just a girl. Nancy should be just a girl. And yes, the boys have seen horrific things, and so have Joyce, Harbour, etc. But there’s something that twists inside us when we think of someone like Nancy having to experience all that.
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And she doesn’t even get her friend back. The scene with the boys excitedly talking to Will (Noah Schnapp) in the hospital when he woke up was gorgeous and sweet. However, it was completely stolen by Nancy’s heartbreak. How could she not be happy at Will’s return? It’s her little brother’s best friend after all. It’s Jonathan’s younger brother. But what Dyer so beautifully conveys is that lurking sadness in the droop of her eyes. The set of her mouth. Will on that bed…it could’ve been Barbara. Maybe there’s guilt there too. Maybe a tiny tang of jealousy. But who can honestly blame her?
Even her posture is an excellent indicator throughout the series. Dyer first starts off shy, arms crossed over her hunched chest, a tiny smile never far from her face. By the end, she is a gun-toting, striding badass who nearly gets killed by the Monster—and then wants to set a trap and kill the thing.
Nancy’s allurement into the conspiracy made us fear for her meeting the same fate as Barbara—but she pulled through.
Nancy, though we could’ve initially mistaken her for it, isn’t just book-smart. Yes, she’s intelligent. But she’s also brave, conflicted, complex…she falters in her adolescence in her loyalty to Barbara and it costs her big-time. Yet these are all things the show allows her to do, allows her to make those mistakes—and treats us with Dyer’s nuanced reaction to it. If nobody’s heart shattered for Nancy when she find out about Barbara’s demise, you can stow your lie away. We’ve all been through the same troubled transition period as Nancy (…minus the monsters) and we all know what it’s like. To swoon over that bad-boy. To fray a friendship. To stare at the temptation of high-school popularity.
But Nancy pulled through. It was with genuine surprise and amazed joy when we saw her expertly shoot a gun beside a hapless Jonathan. It was with genuine horror when she got sucked in by The Monster and for a moment, we thought she’d died (and hastily clicked the next episode, hoping).
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Dyer’s performance in the finale was particularly radiant. With the silent sadness of Will’s return, there’s also that lurking conflict stirring within her as she stays with Steve. The entire journey, Nancy’s been sympathetic towards Jonathan’s behavior. When she so sweetly and with true integrity gives Jonathan that camera for Christmas, it’s an understated, beautiful scene between them.
Did Dyer go through any chemistry screenings? We’re not convinced she needed to…
It’s magical to witness young actors with such sizzling chemistry with another partner on-screen. But here, Dyer played the bickering sibling affection with Finn Wolfhard’s Mike to perfection. They argued in juvenile fashion over breakfasts, before their world turned upside-down and ultimately, with Nancy clued-in to The Monster, embraced their innate love for each other as they reunited. With Joe Keery, Dyer shifted frequently from mild discomfort to distaste to swooning, and it was a genuinely sweet teenage romance to see. Keery’s Steve was by no means a bad person, but he wasn’t the textbook definition of good, either. In fact, props to Keery and Dyer for portraying two characters who molded so well together—as they were molded by the society and hierarchy of high-school itself.
With Charlie Heaton, Dyer perhaps held some of her most memorable scenes—especially the shooting one. Heaton’s so good that he easily keeps toe-to-toe with Winona Ryder, but here Dyer—from the first episode—portrayed Nancy’s curious connection to Jonathan flawlessly. It was truly expected, that a romance would bloom between the duo—but we’re glad they didn’t toddle down that clichéd path. We’re glad that Steve isn’t the bad guy here—he did bad things—but Nancy pegged him right. He’s a good guy.
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Most spellbinding was her chemistry with Cara Buono. In matching someone like Buono’s caliber you have to jump pretty high, and Dyer shot out of the sky. Every scene with Buono was indeed among our favorites. The play of the typical innocent-schoolgirl-rebellion was fun to watch Dyer try and wriggle around it at dinner. But the standout scene for sure was Buono’s Karen begging Nancy to just talk to her if she needed to. The emotion on both ends was impeccably done, and when you write a review and you squiggle a star next to the name ‘NANCY’ from episode one, and repeatedly do it, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. And for sure, we’re banking on Natalia Dyer becoming a big name one day.