You know Caleb McLaughlin. Not “Hey, what’s up?” levels, of course. But you know this 21-year-old actor and musician – if it wasn’t for his heart-rending role as the smart and strategic Lucas Sinclair in the Netflix series Stranger things, then for his lo-fi, boppy singles released in the past two years. And if not his music and acting, then you have to meet his face splashing across social media, billboards and 5th Avenue signs in Puma’s new Forever.Classic campaign.
McLaughlin stars alongside contemporary generational icons Angus Cloud, Iris Apatow and Zaya Wade in the campaign, a celebration of creativity and self-confidence that emphasizes individuality. The creative team wears a uniform consisting of Puma’s most iconic pieces, refreshed for the zeitgeist, heritage livery and cool for the reigning class of young Hollywood.
“The campaign celebrates the creators who push fashion and culture forward, so I’m grateful to be part of such an inspiring group of people,” says McLaughlin.
When we run into each other at a campaign event in New York, days after the phone call for the interview you’ll read below, McLaughlin ditched Lucas Sinclair’s eclectic ’70s outfit and replaced it with a sporty set he wears with confidence: a white a sweatshirt and flared jeans that puddle around his sneakers (Puma, of course). He looked less like the eternally radiant 15-year-old who first became a national treasure thanks to Stranger things in 2016 and more like a young man who found not one but several channels where he can direct his creativity.
He’s gracious, grounded, and excited to be here, shooting at an arcade basketball game set up at a party, comparing the time frame of growing up in New York to my current life in Los Angeles (on the other hand, I grew up around Los Angeles, and now I live in New York). As we chat, photos and videos from the campaign flash behind him on a giant, two-story-tall LED screen in the Puma store: the giant Caleb in the background, poised and composed, posing in his Puma cut. Easy-going smiles and an attitude that says, “I know what I mean.” Life-size Caleb, foot in front of me in the foreground, honest and confident, looking the same.
What was it like working with Puma on the campaign?
I’ve always heard so much about Puma and how they are true hosts who love their partnerships. Now I could experience it myself and it was a great experience. Shooting with them that first day with the other guys was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed myself.
Puma is one of those timeless brands that have been around forever. Are you a longtime fan?
Yes, I’ve been a fan for a minute! Longer than I can remember. I wore a lot of Puma growing up, and so did my family. It has a classic look.
How would you describe your personal style?
Neat, classic… whatever suits my vibe and what I’m comfortable with.
Part of this campaign is to highlight how you “found your way” in the industry as an actor, so to speak. How would you say you found your way from realizing you wanted to be an actor to where you are now?
I feel like when you’re in the industry you’re trying to figure out how to fit in. But it’s more about being yourself, being comfortable and fitting in, and your spirit is in tune with who You If. This way you can move around it.
What inspires you as a creator?
My goals, my morals, my family, mine fans. I feel that I am always motivated.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
I just made a movie last year called Shooting stars. It takes place in Cleveland; is a LeBron James biopic about his team and their growing up in high school, going to St. Mary’s Academy. It’s about their time in high school and their relationship and being one of the best high school basketball teams that ever lived. I will play Drum [Joyce III] this year and will come out later this year. This year comes another scary movie, directed by Lee Daniels Release.
Is there anything you can share Stranger things season five? Or is there anything you’d like to see Lucas perform this season?
Yes, this season is the final round. You will see Lucas for the last time. But I can’t really say much about next season; I know I’m filming this year. I just want to see more of Lucas and what he left behind from where we left off in season four because it was traumatic. So I want to see some purpose for Lucas’ character arc; I wouldn’t want to just leave him without ambition for next season, amidst all the amazing things happening in the world. Stranger things. I want to see some ambition and motivation from him.
As a viewer, I’d like to see that too. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Esquire?
Yes, I also dealt with music! I’ve released two singles in the last year or two, but I have a few more songs this year. Stay up to date.
Trishna Rikhy is Associate Editor Style Commerce at Esquire. Previously, her writing has appeared in Vogue Runway, PAPER Magazine, V Magazine, V MAN and more. She lives in New York, but you can probably find her wherever there is a cup of the strongest coffee.