David Harbour on Grounding His Performance, Preparation and Sacrificing for His Art

David Harbour speaks about what goes into his thought process into the choices he makes for his Stranger Things character.

“I do make a lot of choices coming in. I love to prepare.” – David Harbour

Of the many popular characters on Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things, David Harbour‘s Police Chief Jim Hopper is perhaps the most fan-favorite character on the series. Harbour has been nominated for two Emmy Awards for his performance as Hopper on the first two seasons, and he recently sat for an interview with Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer for Netflix Queue to discuss working together on the popular streaming series, including how Harbour gets into character.

Regarding preparing to play his character on Stranger Things, Harbour speaks about what goes into his thought process into the choices he makes for the character. He explains:

“I do make a lot of choices coming in. I love to prepare. I love to work in the same way, I think, as you guys do. You’ll go into the room, and you’ll be there for — who knows? Fourteen hours a day, six days a week? I don’t walk into a specific room and work, but I’m always going over things. I do have times when I’m just sitting in a chair working on stuff, in terms of creating Hopper’s mindset or his body language or his histories — what he’s dealing with that particular season. The great thing about Hopper is he is a very serious guy who’s been through some serious stuff, and he’s a tremendous cop in a certain way. He can also be a bit of a buffoon and completely lost, but you buy that that’s the same individual. I have to do a lot of work to create that, but it’s so pleasurable to inhabit someone who is so three-dimensional.”

Hopper had a very different storyline in Season 3 than the previous two seasons which involved more comedy, and Harbour points out that his approach is still the same even if the tone of the material is different. He continues, “It’s the same sort of intention and intensity, but it’s just buffered by the fact that the circumstances around it are so ridiculous. The further you ground the performance, the more it gets comedic. I had to find these places in Hopper’s anger and in his frustration that were really real so that it could be funny.”

While Harbour needs to go to some dark places to play Hopper, Harbour reveals that he needs to build up or stifle certain emotions to remain true to the character and scene. He says, “I try not to hold people hostage in terms of my process. If I feel like I’m really happy, and then I have to go into a really dark scene, I may have to sit in my trailer and do two hours of work trying to get into a mindset before I walk on set. Sometimes it can be the greatest gift when you’re in that moment and you think, Oh, the Duffer brothers are watching the monitor. I can feel them being proud of me. Then that smile comes out of your tears or whatever. There are all these moments and these mysterious things that happen in our art…. I’m always going to sacrifice my personal life for millions of fans watching something beautiful. I will always make that choice.”

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