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SYFY WIRE Gaten Matarazzo

Prank Encounters' Gaten Matarazzo talks Season 2's spooks and Stranger Things' 'most disturbing turn' yet

By Nivea Serrao

First days at a new job can be nerve-wracking — and that's without the possibility of being sucked into some kind of demonic ritual or coming face to face with an unfrozen-yet-still-alive cavewoman who attacks everything she sees. However, that's just what a few unsuspecting "marks" end up encountering when they appear on the second season of Netflix's Prank Encounters.

Each episode of the series revolves around two complete strangers, both of whom think they're working a one-day-only temp job. Only as time passes, they slowly get immersed in the fictional premise the producers have created, until it starts turning into a scene straight out of a horror film. It's only when host Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things) appears that they learn every other person they've been interacting with — except for each other — is an actor.

"That was one of my biggest concerns... They said 'We want to go above and beyond. We want our pranks to be intricate and supernatural and action-packed, and full of visual special effects and really intense situations,'" Matarazzo told SYFY WIRE ahead of the season premiere about what he was pitched, and his initial doubt about how anyone might get sucked into the show's premise, which varies from prank to prank and episode to episode. "But I guess when you're put into a situation and you don't have a preconceived notion of what that situation might be like, and it ends up going south, your flight or fight kicks in. And you're not really thinking anymore. You're more acting on your impulses."

Of course, human impulses lead to all kinds of unexpected scenarios. And as the exclusive clip (below) reveals, not everything always goes according to plan, and sometimes there are variables not even the show's producers or Matarazzo himself can account for. So ahead of the second season premiere on April Fools' Day 1, SYFY WIRE caught up with Matarazzo to learn just what it takes to prank two complete strangers and just all the things that can go wrong in the process.

But first, check out this SYFY WIRE exclusive clip from Prank Encounters Season 2.

With the first season of Prank Encounters already out and people being more aware of the show, did you find it harder to scare people?

I definitely found myself more nervous going in, because the thing is, it also made it harder. We didn't really have the opportunity to have me get involved in the pranks as much, which we should have taken advantage of more in the first season when we had the opportunity. Because when we were filming the first season, it wasn't even announced that I was going to be working on a prank show. What'll happen now is I'll be out in public, with my family or with my girlfriend or something, and people will think they're getting pranked.

My girlfriend had an audition one time and I took her up to New York for it and we were just going to spend a day there. She was reading [for the part] and I was in the waiting room and somebody was there and they thought that it was a fake audition and there were hidden cameras around and he was honestly upset with me. And I didn't do anything! It was very funny. So that's always in the back of our heads more, the awareness [that] people might have of the fact that they might be on the show now that they know this show exists.

Was there a prank either last season or even in this one where you wish you'd been involved in it more?

Yeah. There are some great ones that I just wish I could have just been in it. One of my favorite ones is the one I did get to be involved with, which was the birthday party that went south when it turned out that the gentleman who lives at the home did not have a 9-year-old daughter at all. That was definitely fun. So I'm glad if I got to do one, it was that one.

If I had to pick another one, I might want to have been involved in the Camp Scarecrow one, which would have been fun if I got to play a counselor. But it is hard because a lot of people do recognize me from my work outside of Prank Encounters and even sometimes my work outside of Stranger Things. So it's hard to make that a reality.

Prank Encounters Season 2

Were you at least able to get involved in coming up with the scenarios for the pranks this season?

More or less, for sure. That's what my producer tried with the show that has actually helped out a lot. It's a really interesting perspective. It keeps you a little bit more mindful about the production as a whole, rather than just your one job in it, which I think is good because if I didn't have something else to focus on, I wouldn't really be doing much on the show other than telling people they're on a prank show, which is fun in itself.

And I get to basically sit back and watch the pranks go down from a control room and then wait until I get to do the fun part. So that's always really fun, but getting to be aware of other people who are working on the show and the writing and what's going to be going into the mechanics of it all is a really interesting perspective.

Speaking of the mechanics of it, as a viewer you know what you're watching is very much a scene from science fiction or a horror movie. Have the marks themselves ever figured out that this is a set-up?

Oh, yeah... Because we always have two people that are being pranked, there are two different situations going on that are both being covered at the same time by a live camera, being dealt with by live improv actors trying to do their best, and only one control room keeping an eye on both situations at once. So during filming, there's a lot of times in which if the focus needs to be put on the other person that's being pranked, we'll just need to be in the other room with the other mark, letting time pass without seeming weird to them.

[There was one time] where we were waiting in a guest living room in this beautiful mansion in Georgia that we were filming at and we had our mark in the living room. It was me and one other actor who was playing my manager and the only eyes we had on us were the hidden cameras in the room and we had to wait there while our antagonist for the prank was over dealing with our other person in the other room. And so [the mark] was waiting [and] looking around and I could tell she was thinking something was up... She looks at us and we had talked to her for about an hour leading up to that point, and she looks at me and she goes, "Am I being pranked right now?"

I was petrified. It's the first time I had ever been in [a prank] and of course, that's going to happen! [So] you just play dumb. And so me and our actor were just like, "What? I don't know what you're talking about. What do you mean?" And she [was] like, "Like Punk'd?" And then she started explaining what a prank show was, and we just got her to explain to us the concept of a prank show as if we had never really heard of or seen it. It got her to divert her attention away from the fact that she thought she might've been on one. And it worked! She completely forgot and continued to believe that the situation she was in was legitimate until the end.

The best part of the series is all the ways in which people start to react once the pranks really ramp up. Was there a particularly memorable reaction from this season that you're excited for people to see?

Oh, yeah. We did a reveal and the prank wasn't going as smooth as we'd like. One of our marks wasn't really responding like we wanted to. When we're picking who we're going to be pranking, they'll go into [what] they think is a temp job agency. For this one, they believed they were going to be working with an exterminator for the day. We usually like to ask questions that would let us know how they might react to the situation, or if they were presented with a conflict. If they were to either run away or fight back. We don't want anybody that we think might kick into their fight response because if that was the case, people could get hurt. They could get hurt. Also, we don't want people to run away.

But sadly, this is what happened on this day. We revealed and this guy sprints out the door [and] down the street. He probably sprinted half a mile [in] less than a minute, where we just saw him darting down the street. [So] we got people in our golf carts and our camera crew was going out to follow [him]. Our main producer, Kevin, twisted his ankle on the way out to get him. And we revealed out there. From that point, he was very, very excited.

And lastly, I have to ask: Is there anything you can tease about this upcoming season of Stranger Things?

It's definitely high-action for sure. I'd say it's our darkest season, which is saying something because it's not a very light-hearted show. There are funny moments, but it's a pretty dark premise. This is definitely our season where I think it takes its most disturbing turn.

Prank Encounters Season 2 is now available on Netflix.