“He’s finally starting to unravel these deep patterns that he’s been in,” explains David Harbour of his character Hopper in “Stranger Things.” In Season 3 of the hit Netflix drama, raising his superpowered teenage daughter Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) forces Hopper to contend with his own emotional baggage. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“It’s a bigger, broader season in a lot of ways,” admits Harbour, but the actor found himself playing a character “even more agitated than normal.” This is largely due to Eleven’s growing independence and romantic relationship with Mike (Finn Wolfhard).
Never one for outward displays of affection, Hopper is deeply uncomfortable with the pair’s penchant for late night kissing. He reaches out to Joyce (Winona Ryder), who helps him craft a “heart-to-heart” speech about setting boundaries. Except Hopper has no idea how to approach such an emotionally open discussion. “I think he’s a product of how he was raised,” suggests Harbour of this police chief who came of age in the 1950s. “Those types of men are very different types of men than we have today.”
Needless to say, the touching speech is called off fairly quickly into his first attempt. Especially when the teens start giggling and poking fun at his clear discomfort. For Harbour, this humiliation is scarier than facing any creature from The Upside Down. “The idea that you’re going to make yourself vulnerable to a 14 year old who’s just going to laugh in your face, it gets him more annoyed and agitated than anything,” says the actor.
His difficulty in being emotionally available at the start of the season makes for one hell of a “wallop” in the season finale, according to Harbour. For the actor, the speech would have been a way of owning up to “his own fears of change” and no longer being needed by his daughter. In the most infamous moment of the season, Hopper fends off a Russian agent and sacrifices himself in order to close a portal to a nefarious parallel dimension. His apparent death means that he never got to come clean to Eleven about his fears and the trauma he carries. “The fact that he couldn’t express that to her is what makes me cry,” says Harbour.
Hopper’s final moment is an exchange of wordless emotions between himself and Ryder’s Joyce. While moments like this initially proved daunting for the performer, Hopper admits, “I really like to reveal things about characters now much more in simple actions.” With only one’s face and physicality as tools of expression, it allows for more intimacy and a more dynamic experience for viewers. “I have my own stuff that I was working on,” describes Harbour, “but I’ve heard people interpret that moment in tons of different ways… there’s a million things that he’s saying in that moment.”
Harbour has netted two consecutive Emmy nominations for playing Hopper on “Stranger Things.” The role has also garnered him a Golden Globe nomination, two individual SAG Awards nominations (in addition to a win as part of the drama ensemble), and a Critics Choice Award win.
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