Inside Joseph Quinn's breakthrough year: “Gladiator II”, “Fantastic Four”, and more

Inside Joseph Quinn's breakthrough year: “Gladiator II”, “Fantastic Four”, and more

EW catches up with the "Stranger Things" fan favorite as he receives CinemaCon's Breakthrough Performer of the Year Award.

Joseph Quinn confesses he never heard of CinemaCon before being named one of its 2024 headliners, and yet the Stranger Things star was all over the Las Vegas-based gathering of movie theater owners.

Prior to accepting the convention’s Breakthrough Performer of the Year on Thursday, he came out on stage for Paramount’s big panel at Caesar’s Palace to present footage of A Quiet Place: Day One with his Oscar-winning costar, Lupita Nyong'o. He then appeared in a pre-recorded message from the Gladiator II cast that introduced the first-ever footage of Ridley Scott’s highly talked-about sequel to his 2000 classic.

“It’s quite nuts, isn’t it?” Quinn comments later on the Gladiator footage. “I didn't hear any boos, which is good, and no one was throwing anything at the screen. So that's a positive.”

<p>Ben Trivett</p> Joseph Quinn photographed in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

Ben Trivett

Joseph Quinn photographed in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

The 30-year-old London-based actor speaks with Entertainment Weekly over Zoom from his hotel room that same Thursday afternoon. Even though we’re both in Vegas for the event, itineraries are so surgically mapped out that it just makes sense for a virtual conversation from opposing hotel towers at Caesar’s Palace. And yet, despite his crazed itinerary, he seems so… chill that he’s about to be honored later that evening for a skyrocketing career that now includes his casting as Johnny Storm (a.k.a. the Human Torch) in Marvel’s high-profile Fantastic Four movie. "That's good!" he says upon hearing that observation.

The caliber of honorees receiving awards around him includes Nyong’o, Amy Poehler (Vanguard Award), Geena Davis (Viola Davis Trailblazer Award), Deadpool and Wolverine director Shawn Levy (Director of the Year), Dan Stevens (Excellence in Acting), Dennis Quaid (Icon Award), and Ariana Greenblatt (Rising Star of 2024).

“I've never been here before,” Quinn says of Vegas. “It's my first time, and awards are funny. I mean, yeah, it was an opportunity to come to Vegas and do that, I guess.” He lets out a brief chuckle, his slight acknowledgment of the surreality of his situation. “Yeah, I was excited.”

It’s hard to prepare for the moment your career takes off, and all of a sudden, even Doja Cat knows your name, but Quinn caught a glimpse early on at what that life could be like. During the height of Game of Thrones, he booked a bit part on the fourth episode of the seventh season, 2017’s “The Spoils of War.” He appeared as Koner, one of two guards at Winterfell who mistakes the returning Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) for a miscreant. Quinn remembers filming on set in Belfast to shoot the scene, with Danny Kirrane playing the other guard, Henk. “I remember that period in the industry,” he recalls. “Lots of people that were coming up, if you get a Game of Thrones part, it was very exciting.”

<p>HBO</p> Joseph Quinn on 'Game of Thrones' season 7


Joseph Quinn on 'Game of Thrones' season 7

As chance would have it, filmmaker Matt Shakman, who is now making The Fantastic Four with Quinn, directed that particular episode. “It’s a funny full-circle situation,” Quinn acknowledges. “When I was talking to him about the part [of Johnny Storm], we remembered our rainy Belfast days with fondness.”

Quinn worked consistently after Game of Thrones with roles in Starz miniseries Howard’s End with Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen (2017), the World War II-set horror movie Overlord (2018), the Helen Mirren-led Catherine the Great (2019), and the PBS/BBC One version of Les Misérables (2019). But it wasn’t until Stranger Things that he shot headfirst into the public limelight as Eddie Munson, the Dungeons & Dragons-loving high school metalhead who became a fan favorite overnight once the season 4 episodes dropped on Netflix in 2022. “I think if you're looking too much at, ‘will this be good for my career?’ then you're not risking very much,” he muses while reflecting on his trajectory. “I think you want to be in uncomfortable situations. I think that's the thing. You don't want to be returning to something that feels safe because I think that there's little risk there.”

Did Stranger Things feel like a risk? “Did you see the wig?” Quinn jokes.

<p>Ben Trivett</p> Joseph Quinn photographed in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

Ben Trivett

Joseph Quinn photographed in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

When thinking about Stranger Things, he more remembers the joy of working within the ensemble cast rather than the specific fan reactions to his performance. “The fact that we were all able to rob that bank felt very gratifying,” he comments. However, Quinn does appreciate the overwhelming viewer response: “If you're working on something and see people connect with it, that's a really lovely feeling."

One reaction he’s still wrapping his head around involves Doja Cat. After calling Quinn “fine as s---” on Twitter, one of the show’s stars, Noah Schnapp, posted screenshots on TikTok of the “Say So” singer’s private messages to him asking for help getting set up with the man behind Eddie Munson.

“That was funny,” Quinn now says of the situation. “That whole experience was quite odd, but it's fantastic. I admire her enormously as an artist. And if anyone is relating to something that I've put out there... I mean, that was obviously a very peculiar thing because I've never been used to something having that far reach, but she's an immensely talented artist and the fact that she liked my character was cool.” He seems just as excited that Jack Black called Eddie his favorite Stranger Things character. “Ok, I'm showing off now,” Quinn says when he brings up Black. “I just can't believe Jack Black knows who I am.”

In some respects, Quinn sees how his life and career changed as a direct result of Stranger Things, but he doesn’t want to focus too much on his star status. A Quiet Place: Day One (out June 28) — a prequel to the John Krasinski-spawned monster franchise set in New York City on the first day of the alien invasion — now marks his first big stateside film project after the hype of Stranger Things. That will soon be followed by Gladiator II (this Nov. 22), which stars Quinn as Roman Emperor Caracalla. Quinn credits his friends and family for keeping him grounded as his résumé bulks up. “I made sure that all of my family saw the Colosseum,” he says, referring to the gladiatorial arena on the set of Scott’s epic. “I think these experiences are very rare, and if you're able to experience them with the people that put you here, that's always a special feeling.”

Quinn seems to be having the time of his life on screen as Caracalla, though he downplays it. (“I dunno about that. Yeah, I guess so.”) Paul Mescal stars as Lucius, the grown-up son of Connie Nielsen’s Lucilla and nephew of Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus. In the footage screened in the room at CinemaCon, Quinn appears in a flowing white toga, golden laurel-leaf crown, and white powder coating his skin as he dramatically plunges his thumb downward to note the fate of the defeated gladiators. Did he end up channeling any of Phoenix’s performance? “Honestly, barely even thought about that,” he says. Perhaps any similarities just happened naturally, though he does note, “More is always more for Ridley. He always wants to play the chords louder and turn it up and go for the more brave or bold form of communicating it.”

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Ben Trivett</a></p> Joseph Quinn and Lupita Nyong'o in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

Ben Trivett

Joseph Quinn and Lupita Nyong'o in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

Quinn gives a lot of credit to Nielsen. For as cool and collected as he always seems to appear, Quinn remembers the nerves that came with the Caracalla role. “We all were very aware of the legacy of the first film,” he explains. “So many people get misty-eyed about it. So going anywhere near it again felt a little scary.” Then came his time on set, witnessing the sheer size of the Colosseum for the first time. “It’s bonkers, it’s nuts,” he continues. “That's the thing with working on a film like that, it changes your perspective on things. The fact that on a film of that scale, they built ancient Rome in Malta and to bear witness to that is truly awesome.”

That’s where Nielsen came in “to show us how to behave in the Colosseum,” he recalls. The actress appears alongside many of Quinn’s scenes, including in the CinemaCon footage. “I was very nervous about it, and she was a very calming presence,” he says. “She's a wonderful woman.”

The film isn’t even out yet — there's not a public trailer, either — but Quinn is already preparing to enter a different kind of arena. While Gladiator II marks what he calls “this other-worldly, once-in-a-lifetime rock ‘n’ roll blockbuster madness,” The Fantastic Four is more about a family of heroes: Marvel’s First Family. Quinn reunites with his Gladiator costar Pedro Pascal, who’s playing Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) alongside Vanessa Kirby as Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Ben Grimm (The Thing), and Julia Garner as the comics’ female incarnation of the Silver Surfer. “I'm really looking forward to establishing this familial dynamic with them,” Quinn says while pointing to Shakman's previous work developing characters.

“There are aspects of it that are very different to other Marvel films. There are aspects of it that are very much a singular thing and its own thing. That felt very compelling to me,” Quinn teases. “The script is brilliant. It's really brilliant.” He also mentions Chris Evans’ take on the Human Torch from 2005’s Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. “I remember really enjoying Chris Evans' performance as Johnny in the previous films, and it felt like this would be a really exciting opportunity,” he says. “You're going to make it your own, don't you?” he adds. “But it's, yeah, big boots.”

<p>Ben Trivett</p> Joseph Quinn photographed in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

Ben Trivett

Joseph Quinn photographed in the 2024 PEOPLE/EW CinemaCon Studio

The new Fantastic Four will also arrive at an interesting time in the lifespan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following lower box-office sales for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels, the industry is left wondering if those were just flukes or if people are losing interest in these flashy superhero titles. “Superhero movies are movies, and they’re movies about people,” Quinn says. “If we're invested in the people and the characters and the peril and the spectacle, then that's why people go to the theaters to watch films.”

In terms of Fantastic Four, he says, “We're not just in a penny; we're in for a pound with this one. We're going to go for it.”

That applies to all of Quinn’s roles at the moment, including the upcoming Alex Garland-directed Warfare, which the actor says will be “trying to explore this idea of a war film in a way that hasn't been done before.” Whatever the challenge, he’s all in.

Want more movie news? Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free newsletter to get the latest trailers, celebrity interviews, film reviews, and more.

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.