David Harbour is tired, but game to talk as the clock drags its hands past midnight in London. You can’t blame him for his exhaustion; his 2019 has seen the release of a feature (“Hellboy”), two short projects (including the weird and wonderful “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” on Netflix), the completion of his work on a Joe Russo-penned film (“Dhaka”) and a full-on Marvel movie (“Black Widow”), and, of course, Season 3 of “Stranger Things.”
He says that show has been the “complete pivotal apex moment in my career, in my artistic life,” and he has just received two more SAG nominations — for lead actor and as part of the ensemble — for it. He says his character, Police Chief Jim Hopper, is by far the greatest role he has ever played.
So why does he want “Hop” dead?
“When I read that first scene with Joyce [Winona Ryder] and Hopper and he resists helping her find her child and even makes a bit of a homophobic joke about him, you see this guy has really sort of died on the inside as a result of the death of his daughter. The fact that he lives with a certain amount of internalized rage and had been slowly killing himself with pills and alcohol ... he needed to make a sacrifice,” says Harbour.
Make no mistake:Harbour doesn’t want off the show. But he’s deeply into Hop’s arc.
“One way it could be viewed is he has to die to make it up to [his daughter] Sara and see her in the afterlife. The other view is that because of this newfound relationship with Eleven [Millie Bobby Brown], he needs to shed his skin, make a sacrifice that allows his character to re-emerge. He was finally able to really take a bullet for a child, which he had never been able to do because Sara died of cancer. I think there’s a perfection to it.
“Now whether or not there’s some sort of second-act resurrection would be very interesting to me, clearly, for obvious reasons,” he says with a jolly laugh. “The fact that I desperately love the show and desperately love the character … but that remains to be seen. He would certainly have to emerge a different individual.”
Season 3 ended with Hop apparently making that sacrifice, though a postscript scene in Russia had guards referring to an unseen prisoner as “The American.” Harbour swears up and down that, even though Season 4 has been announced, he still doesn’t know if he’s in it. He has joked that “The American” could be fan-favorite Barb. But if not Barb or Hop, then who?
“Bruce Springsteen? It’s ’86,” he says, laughing. “No ... I’ve read a lot of fan theories. Sometimes when I’m looking for punishment, I’ll go online and see what people are saying.” He laughs again, loudly and long. “I will say that the fact that he was called ‘The American’ [earlier] by Grigori during the season and there’s someone the Russians are calling ‘The American’ points to Hopper, but there are a lot of theories out there.”
He’s aware of how popular the show has become and of how it has changed not just his life, but his cast mates’, many of whom are still teens.
“Those kids’ careers have gone in interesting directions, and their personas have gotten big in the culture. They’re finding themselves even more. I’ve watched in awe and also fear, joy,” he says. “One thing that remains the same is, no matter how many years we do this and how much older the kids get, when we arrive back on set, we’re just a family.
“Once we’re shooting, there’s a certain kind of quiet joy and a real personal quality to our relationships. That doesn’t always mean ‘good.’ We know each other very well. We know how to push each other’s buttons. It feels like a loving family. I’ve never had that experience like I do now, and I’ve been acting professionally for over 20 years.”
The show has certainly catapulted Harbour to new levels. He hasn’t lost sight of his own foibles, as evidenced by his brutal self-lampooning in “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” (“I wanted to poke fun at my own narcissism, my own pretension,” he says, chuckling). He has seized upon opportunities such as joining the MCU as Russia’s answer to Captain America in “Black Widow”: “It’s got complex relationships that are funny and also heartbreaking. What we shot I’m very, very proud of. I think the character will surprise you.
“I think it’s one of the greatest characters I’ve ever played. I mean, I can’t compare it to Hopper; Hopper’s the greatest character ever written,” he says, laughing.