There are so many reasons to love Stranger Things, from the storytelling to the cast to the wonderful nostalgia of it all. It’s introduced us all to a fabulous young cast, made us wish we had a friend like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), gave us the opportunity to fall in love with Winona Ryder again, and turned David Harbour (who plays Chief Jim Hopper) into a leading man.
With all of its critical acclaim and award recognition, it’s a fun show to talk about and write about, so when Collider recently got the opportunity to hop onto the phone with David Harbour, fresh off of shooting his stint as Hellboy, for director Neil Marshall, I was thrilled to chat all things Stranger Things with the actor. During this 1-on-1 interview, we talked about how different it felt to shoot Season 2, after the huge success of Season 1, why he trusts show creators Matt and Ross Duffer so much, his excitement for Season 3, the possible rumored start date for filming, what he most enjoys about Hopper’s relationship with Joyce (Ryder), the dynamic with Eleven, and what he hopes to see more of, in the future. He also talked about his experience on Hellboy, getting to a zen place while sitting in the make-up chair for hours, and his favorite thing about the character.
Collider: You shot Season 1 of Stranger Things in a bubble, since no one knew what to expect from the show. And then, by Season 2, there was the pressure of living up to the huge success of the first season. Did things feel any different, in shooting the second season? Did it feel like it was bigger or that there was more behind it?
DAVID HARBOUR: Yes. First of all, when it did hit so big, and then they announced that we were coming back, there was a lot of talk about it being an American Horror Story type of thing. I felt like we really completed an arc of these characters’ lives and did this beautiful thing, and if we ever went back, it had better be for a reason and not just to play the hits again. We can’t do Gilligan’s Island. We need to develop the characters and have them move on. So, when I first read the scripts, I was really excited because the Duffers really started to open up the world and take it in a whole new direction. Of course, I was nervous because I think the arc of Hopper is so complete and so wonderful in Season 1. It was such a joy to crack. In Season 2, I get to play the same character and that’s good ‘cause I understand him somewhat, but I also had to play an entirely different arc that’s hopefully going to be as satisfying. Otherwise, there’s no reason to watch him anymore. That was terrifying to do. When we showed up at the table read, it was a totally different atmosphere. The Netflix people were suddenly there and available to come to the table read. People were pretty jazzed, and there were lots of photos and lots of publicity going on. That all stayed with us for about a week or two weeks, but once we hunkered down in Atlanta, they all went away. We’re not as charming or entertaining when we’re working, as we are in interviews or read-throughs, so everybody left us alone. We really just got back into our groove, which is being constantly tired from working long days. We’re like a family, in love with and hating each other, every day. That kind of intimacy and not preciousness that we have with the show, with each other, with the characters and with the story is what makes it sing so much. We really just live it, and we’re all good, talented people who are good-hearted people. I think that just comes through. That started to come in, about two weeks into the shooting.
After you realized that the Duffers had pulled off a pretty great Season 2, and that fans of the series were still on board and still loving it, does that make you even more nervous about Season 3, or are you that much more confident in what the show can be?
HARBOUR: I’ve gotta say, I’ve talked to different people in the production and the cast, and they’re a lot more nervous. I was much more nervous for Season 2. Season 2, to me, is the big sophomore slump hurdle. I loved True Detective so much in Season 1, and then when the Season 2 monstrosity came around, I was like, “What is this show?! What have you done to this show?!” For me, the big hurdle is having this lightning in a bottle moment, where the stars aligned and you created a beautiful, amazing show that people loved, and can you do it again? Once you do it a second time, it’s smooth sailing from then on out. I’m not nervous. I’m in the minority of that, though. There are other people – and I won’t name names – who are like, “The fans can turn on you! Look at what they’re doing with Star Wars!” Apparently, they’re upset about Star Wars. I just trust these guys. The idea is to do four or five seasons, the Duffers have said, and I feel like, if we can do Season 2, we can do 3, 4 and 5 with no sweat. Right now, the world is so open. Hopper, at the end of two, kind of adopts Eleven, and the Upside Down still exists, even though we closed the gate. There’s just so much story there, with the tension with Joyce, his adopting of Eleven, and his relationship with all the kids, even the teens, and then you have all of these backstories. He went to Vietnam, and we haven’t gotten into that, at all. In the ‘60s, he was in Vietnam, and then he went to New York and was a cop there for awhile, around the time of Frank Serpico. The tapestry is just so huge and wide and beautiful. Even the shit with his daughter and the death of Sara, there’s so many secrets there. I felt like they had to prove that we could do it again and open up the world, but once you open up the world, it’s a buffet, going forward. I see it as an open buffet, as opposed to a burden. We can feed you guys so many wonderful things. We can now feed you so much stuff ‘cause we opened the world.
Do you know when you’ll start filming Season 3?
HARBOUR: I’ve heard rumors that it’s supposed to be March or April, but I don’t have a confirmation.
You’ve expressed your desire to have Hopper interact with Steve more. What do you think a team-up between them might look like?
HARBOUR: It would be a disaster! We’d never be able to get through a take. I cannot take that kid seriously. He makes me laugh so much. I stay away from him, as much as possible.
It’s the hair!
HARBOUR: It’s everything! He’s a ridiculous person! That pair would be incredible, but it would probably add a month to the production time, with me cracking up on set, so I don’t know if I’m in favor of that.
What do you most enjoy about the relationship between Joyce and Hopper, and what do you most enjoy about having Winona Ryder to explore that with?
HARBOUR: That, to me, is probably the most gratifying working relationship I’ve ever had, as an actor. I’ve never had a working relationship that’s so personal and that I feel so inspired by. Every day that I get to work with her is like playing tennis with Pete Sampras. I can’t keep up! She’s the best of the best. She’s so personal in her work. I don’t know how to describe it other than personal. The stuff that we have together is so real and vivid. What first got me into the project, initially, was those scenes with her. Hopper is a really shut down, really miserable guy who clearly can’t stand this woman, and he also deeply needs her to fix him, as silly and cheesy as that sounds. I feel like they complete each other and they can heal and fix each other, and they’re also completely wrong for each other.
We don’t get to see the relationship that Hopper could have had with his daughter because she’s gone now, but he gets another shot at being a father, by taking in Eleven. What did you most enjoy about exploring that dynamic?
HARBOUR: I like the fact that he succeeds as a parent, and I also like the fact that he fails. His daughter died at five, so his control issues are so strong. He does have this loving, sweet father heart in him, but then he also just doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing and he’s so terrified. That arc, to me, was as satisfying as a man waking up, in Season 1. That’s what was so gratifying about Season 2. I didn’t know how they were going to make Hopper a better character. The hero’s journey of being dead on the inside and waking up because this kid is a reflection of your dead kid is the perfect arc. I don’t know how you get better than that. I just trust them so much as writers because they were like, “Let’s do this. Let’s not stop there. You’ve done the heroic action, and now you get to live with the reflection of that dead child and see where that control ends. You have to let other human beings go, as a father.” I was like, “That arc is just as fucking good! You guys are awesome!”