ByMatt Kranis, writer at
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis
Matt Kranis

Netflix may have taken a risk when it gave the greenlight to Stranger Things, but the final results have been amazing for the streaming service. With its throwback '80s feel and sci-fi adventure style, the show's become a runaway hit which we expect to grow even more with 2017's Season 2. It doesn't hurt that Stranger Things also features a charismatic cast of young actors who've taken over social media and proven just how awesome they are both on and off screen. And while they're all great, actor Gaten Matarazzo's probably the fan favorite of the bunch.

As you guys surely know, Matarazzo's Dustin might not have been the main character, but he brought plenty of comic relief and fun throughout the show's offbeat adventure. Some fans have chalked up that natural talent to his theatrical family, citing actress Heather Matarazzo from The Princess Diaries movies and Welcome To The Dollhouse as his mother.

But there's one major problem — the young star's mom is Heather Matarazzo, but it's not the Heather you guys know.

Heather Matarazzo, Actress

Heather Matarazzo in 2001's 'The Princess Diaries' and today.
Heather Matarazzo in 2001's 'The Princess Diaries' and today.

Heather Matarazzo's a pretty recognizable actress, best known for playing quirky characters across both indie fare and Hollywood features. Like Gaten, her breakout role came at a young age, starring in director Todd Solondz's coming-of-age comedy Welcome To The Dollhouse when she was just 13 years old. She played Dawn, an unpopular seventh grader trying to get by despite school bullies and crappy parents. With a little tweaking, she probably could have been a character in Stranger Things.

But the performer might be best know for her role in the Princess Diaries movies as Lilly Moscovitz, the best friend to Princess Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway). Just like Dustin on Stranger Things, Lilly provided plenty of comic relief throughout the movies, always there with a joke or some quirky dialogue to help cheer up her friend.

It makes sense that people would just assume the actress is Gaten's mother. There's clearly surface similarities between some of her most popular characters and Stranger Things's Dustin, and we can't blame fans for assuming the Heather in question is also a star. But a little digging reveals the truth behind this common mix-up.

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Heather Matarazzo, Stage Mom

Gaten Matarazzo's mom isn't a famous actress, but she's pretty dedicated to raising the young actor and the rest of his siblings. Matarazzo calls herself a "Broadway stage mom" on Twitter, and before her son hit it big on Stranger Things dedicated much of her time to helping his Broadway career, which has included stints in Les Misérables and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert: The Musical. A 2009 piece for recounted the mom's daily routine during Gaten's Broadway days:

Almost every day after school, Heather travels with Gaten up to NYC for a show. He gets his homework done in the theater, gets to perform 4 nights a week, and then comes home. ... It seems completely do-able after talking with Heather and seeing smiley Gaten playing with other kids on an average day.

On top of that, she's helped Gaten's sister Sabrina and brother Carmen also find some acting work, with the siblings earning small roles in a number of TV shows and commercials. Thankfully, she's not a crazy stage mom, but rather one that's encouraging her kids's interest in the performing arts.

Theater Family Shaped Gaten's Skills

Matarazzo's performance as Dustin is pretty impressive, especially considering it's his first major role in a TV series. But the actor's Broadway experience has no doubt shaped and sharpened his skills. After all, if you go out in front of a crowd every night of the week to perform you're bound to become a pretty decent actor. And of course, he couldn't have done it without the support of his mom.

In fact, Matarazzo probably wouldn't even be an actor today if it weren't for growing up in a theater family. As the young star told IndieWire:

"I started doing theater, musical theater, because of my sister. She’s a singer, she’s an actress too. And the reason I started doing this — thank you Sabrina — was, 'I want to be like my sister.' And so I just started acting from there."

Dustin is absolutely adorable.
Dustin is absolutely adorable.

Gaten Matarazzo might not be related to a famous actress, but in the end it's clear the support of his mother Heather and the rest of his family has helped the young star become a huge success. We're pumped to see more of Dustin in Stranger Things Season 2, but even more excited to see where the actor's career takes him next.

Stranger Things Season 2 is set to hit Netflix in 2017. What do you think will happen to Dustin next season? Let us know in the comments below.

[Sources: Heather Matarazzo Twitter,, IndieWire]


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