David Harbour genuinely loves Stranger Things. However, that was not always the case. After Harbour was shortlisted for his role as the Chief of Police in Hawkins, Indiana, Jim Hopper, the Duffer brothers, Matt and Ross sent him the script. Initially, the show was named ‘Montauk’ due to the effect of the infamous Montauk project on one of the storylines. However, Hopper disapproved when they changed the title to ‘Stranger Things’ and found it silly. But he soon came around when he saw the font and the opening title. He realised how it would evoke the nostalgia of the 80s while paying homage to the most significant era of sci-fi.
Since its release in 2016, Stranger Things has had an undeniable impact on the sci-fi genre, resuscitating its elements and blending in fantasy elements. In their love letter to the 80s, the Duffer brothers have managed to yield Netflix great results as the streamer became a sensational OTT with the release of this show. Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Winona Ryder, Harbour and more, the show paved the way for newbies in the industry. It also helped revive the careers of certain actors like Ryder and Harbour.
Harbour was born to real-estate parents but chose to act after graduating college. He was first seen in the 1999 Broadway revival of The Rainmaker. Things were tight, and he decided to make his television debut in Law and Order in a supporting role. After his recurring small-time roles, he won a Tony nomination for his brilliant performance in the theatre production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Harbour was previously seen as a law enforcement official in Quantum of Solace, where he played a CIA Agen before appearing in films like Brokeback Mountain, State of Play, Revolutionary Road, Between Us etc. However, Stranger Things in 2016 changed the course of his career forever, even winning him the much-coveted Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, besides a SAG Award win.
Harbour’s lifestyle oddly foreshadowed his role as Jim Hopper. On the show, Hopper is a fierce and vulnerable man who is inarguably the best character on Stranger Things. Imagine a character who has been left hollow by a set of consequent tragic events. Imagine a character who is bereft of audience empathy. Jim Hopper embodies all these elements. He is not a hero. Hopper has no quest-like journey; he is an alcoholic cop who beds random women to drown his sadness in alcohol and drugs. He is tough and punches people before extracting answers during an interrogation. He is volatile and angry yet harbours great tragedy within his soul. He has lost his daughter to cancer, and his wife has abandoned him. He seeks solace in alcoholism; the audience feels pity yet does not empathize with him.
Season two sees a beautiful formation of a father-daughter relationship between Hopper and eleven, with the former growing overprotective, afraid of losing her. He officially adopts her and dances with her. His flaws make him human – his jealousy and possessiveness towards Joyce express his love. His hard exterior is incapable of showing romance, but he cares and feels deeply for those he loves. He is poignant, and Harbour, who has recovered from alcoholism, brings unimaginable depth to this layered character.
Harbour told Esquire about his thirties, when everything was going downhill. He was boozing like there was no tomorrow and had indulged in things he was not proud of. However, he checked into rehab voluntarily with supportive parents and walked out as a clean man. In the show, Hopper is dependent on substances to drown his sorrow. However, the series has always focused on the character’s redemptive arc. He redeems himself as a man who finally finds a purpose to live in the first season. The second season sees him prevail as a good adoptive father to Eleven, thus redeeming his flaws, and the third season will focus on yet another redemptive arc for him. Currently, Hopper, previously presumed to be dead, is in Russia and must find a way to return to his loved ones and protect them from imminent danger.
Harbour has always expressed his love for his character, which has kept him grounded and allowed him to fly high. Following his role as Jim Hopper, he starred as the lead in the 2019 remake of Hellboy. Although the film flopped, Harbour gave a noteworthy performance. Recently, he was seen alongside Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh in Black Widow. He will soon be seen returning to Stranger Things for its upcoming season.
The actor loves the show for the cast members as well. He has often shared behind-the-scenes images on Instagram, expressing how much affection he has for the younger castmates. In particular, Harbour feels very “protective” and “fatherly” about Millie Bobby Brown, as he mentioned previously. He portrays the role of her adoptive father, who is quite possessive of her. In real life, too, Harbour fears for Brown, who debuted at a very young age and has been exposed to the darker sides of fame ever since. He said, “I have a real, like, worry. I worry about her and the fame and all that she has to struggle with. And I’ve just always felt this kind of deep fatherly affection for her.”
In truth, Harbour is a generally empathetic and caring man. He is a brilliant actor who manages to portray a flawed character with utmost dedication and vulnerability, making Hopper our favourite character on Stranger Things. To sum up what a man Harbour is, let us take a minute to appreciate the closing line of his minute-and-a-half-long SAG speech for the show winning in the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series category: “At a loss amidst the hypocrisy and the casual violence of individuals and certain institutions, we will as per Chief Jim Hopper punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the least and the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul, with heart, and with joy.”
He received a standing ovation, by the way. “What a man, is he a man?”