At a small cafe in New York City, Stranger Things star David Harbour moves about unscathed and unbothered. It’s the same thing when we sit outside along with the lunch crowd on a set of stairs along a buzzing street, talking about a broad spectrum of topics including Stranger Things 3. No one stops. No one stares. Maybe it’s the speed with which people move in the city or the impressive beard that blocks his familiar face, but Harbour profiles as a regular guy in public. And after meeting him, it’s clear that that is exactly his preference.
Plucked from the comparative obscurity of life as a steadily working character actor to play Jim Hopper, the adult anchor of Netflix’s surprise juggernaut, Harbour has handled the mid-career change with uncommon candor and a desire to come off as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Though it wasn’t always so easy.
Across our forty-minute conversation, we discuss the early days of Stranger Things mania when Harbour admits that his ego was well-fed, but also the need to separate himself from the character as it became productized and memeable. We also explore season three (in as much as one can ahead of the full season drop on July 4), prepping Black Widow, and processing Hellboy. There are also nuanced dives into the nature of criticism, pop culture entitlement, and filming in Atlanta amidst a national debate about women’s reproductive rights. Throughout, Harbour doesn’t bullshit and he doesn’t do glib actor speak. This regular guy thing seems legit.
What keeps you energized?
I love the Duffer Brothers. I think they’re terrific writers. They do something where they develop story and character on each page. Sometimes I have problems with things that are like sort of an indie nature that are just all about character and there’s very little story. Then I have problems with the bigger budget stuff where it seems like it’s all about story and you lose character. I feel like they just really find a balance between both of those things. Which is extraordinary. Also, the other thing is Hopper gets to be human. He gets to go through stuff. He gets to change. This season, in particular, is a big departure. I mean, he’s bigger than he’s ever been, and he’s in a bad place with Eleven. He’s just in a weird place. Then he really does some wacky things that you wouldn’t have expected from this guy from season one. I like the development of that.
The fact that they let us spin out these characters into all sorts of different realms, it’s not something that shows normally let you do. You’re sort of a commodity in a show — people expect you to be that thing that they love. We are so beloved that, when you break that model, it can make people uncomfortable. They can get mad about that. But I think that, in a way, their writing is so good that they actually stretch your idea of character and they stretch your idea of people. So it’s like it’s always fresh. I’m playing Hopper for three years, but I’m playing Hopper in a different state a year later. He really does go through a lot of changes. So that keeps it fresh. I mean there’s a whole new model that I have to work with. A whole new arc.