IN CONVERSATION: DAVID HARBOUR FROM “STRANGER THINGS 3”
If you look at David Harbour’s resume, you will recognize films like Brokeback Mountain and Quantum of Solace or even television hits like The Newsroom. His biggest and most high profile role is as the gruff, but lovable, Chief Jim Hopper on Netflix’s Stranger Things. It took pop culture by storm with its nostalgic look back at the 1980s creature features from Steven Spielberg and Stephen King to The Goonies and Dungeons and Dragons. Season 3 premieres July 4 on Netflix, which is perfect as the kids in Hawkins, Indiana celebrate the summer and a time for change. From the looks of the trailer, it looks like it will be its most ambitious season to date.
Paul McGuire Grimes (PMG): The show has become a cultural phenomenon. We take off from work so we can watch it all in one day. What has the fan reaction been like?
David Harbour (DH): It’s insane. I’ve never been a part of anything that’s been this much of a zeitgeist. It’s so beautiful too. People are so generous with this show, us as individuals, us as characters. They’re so loving to the show. As an actor, all I’ve wanted to do was move people. With this show, you get to do that on such a mass level.
PMG: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or received from a fan? I’m sure there has to be some tattoos or things you get in the mail.
DH: (With a little chuckle) There’s a lot of tattoos. A LOT of tattoos that are very strange. Every season you have to update things. There will be ones with me and Eleven, so every season you have to update facial hair. It’s hard with the tattoos.
PMG: I love that Hopper has become the protective papa bear in the show to many of the characters. Now that you’re in Season 3, do you have any say in what Hopper’s involvement will be in the story?
DH: Yes. The Duffers [creators of Stranger Things] and I are very close, and the show is very collaborative. They certainly have a plan for the show, but how we get there is up for debate. I think even from the first season we were speculating about what would be fun and what would I, as a human being, find interesting to explore. Once we’re in this world, the tapestry’s so large that there are many places to go with him. You’ll see with this season it reflects a lot of buildup. I think with every season you have to do something new. You have to have your same show, but you have to develop. The first season we sort of reinvigorated Hopper as a man of justice, a man who could save people. Then in season 2 we reinvigorated him as a father, as someone who could care for someone. In Season 3, we’re peeling back the onion, reinvigorating what he’s lost as a man through all these years of depression, him chaotically searching for his manhood.
PMG: With streaming shows being so different than network, do you receive all eight scripts at once? Do you film in episode order or is it more like film where you’re all over the map?
DH: We do something called block shooting which is where we shoot [episodes] 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8 with different directors for each of those blocks. We get a lot of them [scripts] in advance. I wish we got the whole season in the beginning, but we don’t. We know the arc of it going in, which is very helpful, but we went into this season with four of them going into shooting. We have a lot of them, more than you would in network television. With network, sometimes you show up and then it’s like two days before shooting you get a script, and then it’s hard to arc something. This feels like it’s a piece of a movie, so you really are arc-ing moments.
I wanted to ask him some rapid-fire questions in honor of the themes of the show.
PMG: What’s your favorite summer movie?
DH: Probably Back to the Future.
He took time to solidify that as he was looking at the Stranger Things 3 poster behind us and clearly thinking about this season almost as if to hint there are themes or hints there.
PMG: Favorite Spielberg movie?
DH: Jaws…no… Raiders. That’s it. It has to be Raiders of the Lost Ark.
PMG: Favorite Stephen King book?
DH: I like The Bachman Books, which are short stories like “Thinner” “Cat’s Eye” “Critters Incorporated” I like those Bachman short stories.
PMG: Is there an ‘80s actor you’d love to welcome to Hawkins and deal with the Upside Down? You’ve had some great guest stars on the show like Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.
DH: I would LOVE to see Harrison Ford. I think that would be incredible.
PMG: Besides Stranger Things, what’s your favorite Netflix show or movie to binge?
DH: I just finished Natasha Lyonne’s Russian Doll. I just binged the hell out of that in like two days.
PMG: It’s Pride weekend and you’re wearing a pride shirt, but Stranger Things isn’t the only thing that you’ve been in that changed the industry. You had a small, but memorable part in Brokeback Mountain, could you tell while filming that this was something special, that it would changed lives, or have the impact on the industry as it did. In my opinion, it was robbed of Best Picture. I will forever say that it should have won Best Picture.
DH: I agree. I read that script and thought it was very very beautiful. I met [director] Ang Lee, and it was just so beautiful that I thought could be life changing. Then when we were shooting, people found out that it was about gay cowboys and all the late night talk shows and comedian were making fun of this concept of gay cowboys. There was a part of me that didn’t like that attitude and I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out. When it did come out, it was a breathtaking movie. I think Ang Lee is so special and was so perfect for that, and Heath Ledger and Jake [Gyllenhaal]. There’s something, occasionally in my career, I’ve had these lightning in a bottle things. I think Stranger Things in our first season was the same thing. The acting, the writing, the direction, production design all came together in such a unique way. I think Brokeback Mountain was one of the other things in my career like that. Even though I was a very minor character in it, I could feel all around, the locations, Ang, what Heath was doing, the production, was so special and it felt like art.
PMG: Do you still get people talking to you about that movie?
DH: On occasion. I had such a small part. I like to say I was the third gay cowboy in a two gay cowboy movie. People don’t really remember me so much from that movie. I tell them, and then they remember.
PMG: It was you, Anna Faris, and then coming outside with Jake. I remember!
DH: Yes! Exactly!