David Harbour on his ‘Stranger Things’ Role: “I always felt like a man who’s had to fight for things”
“I believe in the power of theater, and I don’t think you need to be in a blockbuster to touch people.” – David Harbour
So, have you heard about this Netflix series Stranger Things? Of course you have. It appears to be the latest example of a Netflix series that everybody is watching. One of the reasons why people are so into the 1980s-set series is Chief Jim Hopper, a character who is grieving the death of his young daughter. David Harbour, who plays Hopper, spoke to Time about his character’s broken mindset and how he connected with that from his own life.
When asked if “our perception of masculinity is limited in pop culture right now,” Harbour replies, “We’ve become narcissistic and we think that what defines us are our bodies, like a man has to have a six-pack and big muscles to be masculine. We’ve lost touch with what makes a woman a woman, a man a man. People are saying, ‘Enough with unattainable superheroes—let’s have the broken ordinary people onscreen so that we can feel the storytelling.’ I had to battle my own masculine narcissism. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get in really good shape,’ but that does a disservice to the guy and the audience. The way I crafted Hopper is like the men of that era—when there was something about being a man that meant you don’t cry. You get shit done.”
Interestingly, Harbour admits that he initially felt that the “broken” characterization of Hopper wasn’t working, but he was happy to be proven wrong. He explains, “We crafted him as a mess. We were like, ‘Let’s make this a real fucking broken dude who’s popping pills and drinking and doesn’t take care of himself.’ And halfway through the shoot, both the hair girl and I were like, ‘I don’t know if this is working. This is supposed to be the leading man. I think we might have gone too far. I think this might be a problem for people. They might be like, fuck this guy.’ And then I saw it cut together at the premiere, and I was blown away.”
Hopper also reveals that he felt a personal connection to the role because of his early stuggles as an actor. He explains, “I always felt like a man who’s had to fight for things. In the community I grew up in, people were successful, getting out of college and owning property, and I was doing plays where I wasn’t making any money. Everybody felt sorry for me, but I believe in the power of theater, and I don’t think you need to be in a blockbuster to touch people. So I had to endure people judging me the way people judge Hopper as a drunk and an outcast—to show them that I had something inside of me that was beautiful even though, on the outside, it doesn’t look so pretty. For a while, I didn’t have success, money, or fame, or family. But I had something to say, and I think Hopper has that same journey. He lives like a child, and yet he’s a beautiful heroic person who wants justice and fairness, and I very much relate.”
But things have changed since, especially with Stranger Things, and Harbour is in a much better place as as an actor. He says, “There’s a big shift. Honestly, one of the most gratifying things is I can start to pick and choose and turn things down that last year, I would have killed to get.”