‘Stranger Things’ Star David Harbour on Hopper’s Love Life, Playing ‘Hellboy’ and Season 3

Whatever hearts David Harbour didn’t win over in the first season of “Stranger Things,” he certainly did in the second season, when he nearly sacrificed himself to the Upside Down in an effort to save the town yet again. Season 2 of the Netflix hit also saw him show off his (meager) paternal skills as he tried to protect Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), and pine over Joyce (Winona Ryder), who was otherwise distracted by Bob (Sean Astin).

“I’m always sort of surprised by people’s dedication and love for this show so the fact that it’s even bigger this year is surprising to me, but terrific,” says Harbour.

He talked with Variety from Bulgaria, where he’s filming “Hellboy,” about whether Hopper is a good father and a good cop, what he’d like to see in future seasons, and how “Hellboy” compares to everyone’s favorite Hawkins cop.

This season, Hopper got to play father figure to Eleven, though it didn’t always go smoothly.

It was very complicated for me because they go through a lot together, so for me to play these scenes with a 13-year-old, and be screaming at her, I was having to feel guilty and apologize to her. It’s very complicated for me because I’m used to playing those scenes with adults. It was even scarier when you’re yelling at a child, because it’s a child. But I was really excited about that storyline even going into the season. It was my favorite aspect of the stuff that I was doing. I think this is a great chance to see how broken Jim Hopper is, to see how he really can’t deal with his control issues. He lost a daughter and here he is confronted with another one. All he can think about all day long is that he has kind of a gun to his head: If anything happens to her, he’s not going to be able to survive that again. So all that broken complexity, I was relishing playing and I was super excited to get into it with her.

Do you think he’s a good father?

Yes, I do. I think he’s a good father. The thing is, all parents make mistakes. The fact that he owns up to his mistakes is one of the things that’s great about him. I also think he has a pure heart. He loves her. I don’t think he knows how to go about it all the time. I think he is controlling, he has anger issues, he’s flawed tremendously. But at the end of the day, he would do anything to protect her. He deeply, deeply cares for her as a result of the fact that she’s been an abused little creature who’s been trapped, and as a man of justice and of the law, he hates that in and of itself. And also just has deeply come to care for and love this little girl. His heart is always in the right place. It’s just that his actions are sometimes flawed and messed up. But everybody’s actions can be flawed and messed up and if your heart is in the right place, you’ll ultimately do the right thing. I trust Jim Hopper as a father, I really do.

And do you think he’s a good cop?

Yeah, I think he’s a really good cop. I think he got lost after the death of his daughter and after he moved from New York to Hawkins, I think he didn’t care anymore. But I think the great thing about Hopper, at the core of his being, he’s a cop. He’s a man of justice. And so one of the things that may be distressing to you is that he will always make choices for justice above happiness, above self-preservation, above anything. I think that he believes in right and wrong. I think that he’s a fighter in that way. I think that’s at the core of his being, apart from being a father or a man or anything else. He will fight for what he believes is right.

How much of a crush does he have on Joyce (Winona Ryder)? Are they ever going to get together?

(Laughs) Look, ever since I read the pilot I loved the relationship with Hopper and Joyce. I consider it a little bit like “Chinatown,” with Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson. These are two lost, broken people who need each other but are so prideful and messed up that they’ll never admit it. It’s great to allow that to play out over several seasons. One of the great things about the introduction of Bob (Sean Astin) this season was you had a real impediment to anything moving forward between us.

The other thing is I just adore Winona Ryder and working with her and that just shows in the work. Even when I’m playing Hopper I can’t divorce my personal feelings from loving playing scenes with Winona Ryder. Part of that just comes through, the dynamic that I have with her. The Duffers are writing with that in mind as well. I think that we’ll have to see where that goes in the future. I don’t know that ultimately they’re quite right for each other. Talk about problems! If Eleven is difficult, imagine him and Joyce. There would be nightmare fights! Him being prideful and emotionally shut down and unavailable. But I do think he feels something for her, because she knew him in high school, too. Those friends who knew you back in high school when the world was an open book, when we had all this potential — she can still see that in him. He can see that in her. It’s a special connection. I think that’s something that’s very deep between them. We’ll have to see where that goes in future seasons. But I root for some happiness for Joyce and Hopper. If they can find that together, that would be great. But we’ll see.

Are there other things you want to see next season?

Oh yeah, absolutely. The great thing about “Star Wars,” the original trilogy, is that it wrapped up in such a profound way. When you were first introduced to Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker at the beginning of the series, you don’t know what’s coming. Eventually you realize that he’s his father. I use the term soap opera, because it’s the classic definition of it, but I don’t mean it in the cheesy way. I mean it in the way the characters are inextricably linked. The town that they’re in and what’s happening in this particular town, couldn’t happen any other way. So I think that’s something that I want to see wrapped up in a very satisfying way, so you can look back to the first season and find all this pipe that we’ve laid in that pays off in further seasons.

The other thing I want is Jim to get back into some punching mode for Season 3. He didn’t punch anyone in Season 2! I would definitely like him to be running around Hawkins, punching people. The Duffers and I have talked about that for future seasons. We’ve also seen a lot of things, when Eleven goes down to his cellar and sees the boxes, we see a box that says Dad, a box that says New York, a box that says Vietnam. These are little Easter Eggs for Jim, further layers of the onion that can be peeled back. More will be revealed on that front.

How many more seasons do you want “Stranger Things” to run?

I’ve heard the Duffers say that they want to end it at four. I will say that I do feel like I would see it run for five seasons. I do know that there’s an end to the story. And I know that there’s an end for all of these characters. And I’m happy about that, because I don’t want it to become like other shows, which are great shows, but like “Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones” where you continue to spiral out of the story just to create content. I know that we have a story to tell. I know that it can be wrapped up either in four or five seasons. I think four is a little quick. Because I think it’s such a great show, I don’t want to let it go that soon. But I do think five will be the perfect number where we can tell our story, have it be really rich and something people can watch and go back to watch again. But we can also get out before you get tired of us.

Hopper nearly bit it this season. Is he unkillable?

Hopper is definitely not unkillable. (Laughs) I can say that with very strong assurance. In fact, the fact that he is fundamentally a man of justice, a cop, is going to put him in peril. Ultimately, he’s going to choose to fight. And if he chooses to fight the wrong thing at the wrong time, he’s gonna die. He’s capable in a certain way, but he’s up against a threat that is so large that he can definitely be killed.

Episode 7 has caused a bit of debate online. What’s your stance?

I’m not really allowed to answer that! I will say this: I’m very appreciative of the Duffers taking risks, and saying look, we want to try this. Just because of the way the story arced out, the end of episode 6 had all the demogorgons come out and everyone was like, I want to get back to the story. I feel like people have been too harsh on it. In terms of a normal television show, the episode itself is pretty good. The fact that it’s “Stranger Things,” the bar is so high. That’s why I think people are disappointed by it. It was an episode that didn’t have enough money, have enough time, kinda squeezed in. It was with an entirely new cast, except for Millie. So it had a lot of things going against it as an episode. But I still think it works in the context of the show.

There was also a bit of debate about Sadie Sink’s kiss with Caleb McLaughlin — that she was pressured into it by the Duffers. Were you on set for that?

Oh, really? I didn’t hear that. I heard that was a funny day. One thing I heard about the Snow Ball was that it was so hot in that gymnasium, there were all these little kids in the background, and they were all throwing up constantly. I don’t know if that was the exact day. I heard that kids were puking constantly between takes because it was so hot and horrible. So the context of a puke-filled room – I don’t know if that’s where you want to have your first kiss. So maybe that was a problem. But I haven’t heard anything about the Duffers pressuring her.

You definitely seem to be enjoying yourself on social media. That photo of you looking just like Joe Keery…

That’s amazing, right? That was my first headshot. I had horrible long ’90s hair.

So how do you feel about social media? Fan or foe?

I have mixed feelings about it. When the show drops, there’s such a rush of love and humor and silliness around the show. Social media for me can be a lot of trolls, a lot of discussions of politics that I don’t know are fruitful or not. I’m trying to determine my relationship with Twitter and Instagram because it gets me weirded out. When the show comes out, all of these people are so excited and they just tweet the silliest things. They post all of this fan art. So I get myself into stupid situations where now I’m going to take high school senior pictures with a woman in California. I generally should not be in charge of my social media but I am. But I think it’s fun because the fans’ love of the show is so pure. They derive such joy from it that it’s kind of impossible not to be swept up in it.

How does Hellboy compare to Hopper?

There’s a lot of similarities to be honest! Hopper doesn’t shave his horns, though. He’s not embarrassed about his demonic nature. They’re both sort of people who are flawed creatures, who ultimately clock in and try to do the right thing every day despite the fact that they’re completely broken and messed up. Hellboy does require a lot more makeup, though. For Hopper, I just have to be in the makeup chair for about three minutes so they can highlight the bags under my eyes and then move on. But Hellboy requires a little more time in the makeup chair.

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