David Harbour has won an SAG award and has been nominated for a Golden Globe as well as an Emmy for his role in Stranger Things. But, when he first read the script of the show’s pilot episode, he did not believe it would become the massive hit it has.
Despite being floored by the Duffer Brothers’ pilot script, Harbour initially had reservations about the show’s potential to resonate with a broader audience. Even though he loved the writing, he believed a show like Stranger Things could only appeal to a niche audience. The show’s immense success has undoubtedly transformed Harbour’s career, propelling him to stardom like never before. However, he did not see it coming.
In an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Harbour candidly reminisced about his initial reaction to the script, “I had no idea it would blow up the way it did. I immediately read it and I was like, ‘This is fantastic. I’m sure no one will watch it.’ So that was really what I thought: I think this is probably the best pilot script I’d ever read.”
For Harbour, the script offered everything he ever wanted to do as an actor—from iconic characters harking back to the 1970s and 1980s to legendary performances of actors like Harrison Ford and Gene Hackman.
Harbour said, “I certainly loved the character [of Hopper] more than any other character I think I’d ever read,” he said. “I was like, ‘This feels like the old Harrison Ford movies that I watch. It feels like Jaws. It feels like these Gene Hackman or Nick Nolte or Roy Scheider movies. It feels like these guys that I grew up with in the ’80s, these leading men. Like it feels like this guy that I’ve just been dying to play and that I admired… But I really did think, ‘I’m sure no one will be interested in this, but we’ll make it.’ It’ll be a really niche small audience of people that are die hard like fans.”
Harbour’s scepticism persisted as the show went into production. He grappled with doubts, fearing that he was squandering a golden opportunity in the entertainment industry. “And then we made it and it was just us in Atlanta with a really small crew and no money and working really hard,” he went on, “In the middle of this process, I had nights where I would just be in a panic attack thinking ‘This is terrible.’ Like, ‘This is a terrible show. I’m terrible in it. And it’s just gonna be humiliating.’”
This line of anxious thinking persister well into the days leading up to the show’s release on Netflix, “[Even when it was about to be] released, Netflix didn’t seem to be advertising it. A friend on another show told me there were no ads up around New York City. And I was like, ‘Why are there no ads up?’ And he’s like, ‘Netflix is just burying the show. They hate it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, my big break on Netflix, and they hate it.’”
But fortunately, Harbour’s darkest fears about the show or the fate of his character did not materialise, “I thought it would just be another failure in a long string of failures for me. And that’s why it was all the more satisfying, cause instead of this big hype thing, it felt real grassroots, like people discovered this little show on Netflix and it ballooned into this zeitgeist, which it is now. But I never imagined that people would love it as much as they do.”
Harbour’s confessions only illustrate that not all our negative thoughts manifest into reality. Sometimes, having doubts is just part of the process.
You can catch Stranger Things seasons one to four on Netflix while we wait for the fifth season to arrive.