We talked to David Harbour — Chief Hopper on Netflix’s Stranger Things — about his visit to KC and what to expect from Season Three
David Harbour, who plays Chief Hopper on Stranger Things — and the title character in 2019’s Hellboy — stopped by Kansas City this week to toss out the opening pitch Thursday night at the K and to talk about the upcoming third season of Stranger Things, which arrives July 4.
The Pitch: Television and movies these days are really loving those darker, more flawed heroes. So even though Hopper is definitely a “good guy,” what do you say that his flaws do to help add dimension to his character?
David Harbour: He’s definitely a flawed guy. I mean especially, you know, the flaws continue to grow and develop along with the good qualities. Like the great thing about season one was that he was really, you know, he had this pain inside him where his daughter had died, and so he was popping pills, and he was drinking, and he was, like, being a sarcastic jerk and stuff. And then in season two, you know, he starts to get reawakened, but then his fatherly flaws come out. He has control issues and things like that. And then so now in this particular season I think we get to see his fashion flaws — clearly his facial hair flaws.
No, I think that mustache is pretty great.
Thank you. Or successes then. But yeah, I mean we’re sort of peeling the onion back, and with each layer of the onion there are new things about him that are great. And new things that are flawed as well. So we’ll see more of his flaws as a man this season.
So at the end of season two, we saw Hopper take a more significant father figure role with Eleven. I’m curious to know what sort of challenges we can expect from that for both characters.
That’s sort of the thrust at least of the beginning of the season for Hopper. It’s where he starts — he legally has a daughter now. And he can’t really pop pills anymore or drink too much. But he is overeating, and treating himself very poorly, and very unhealthy because he’s miserable. The fact that his daughter is becoming a woman and changing and becoming a teenager and starting to like boys, and like one boy in particular that he does not like very much. So yes, he’s very much struggling with this. It’s almost worse than any other ailment that he’s dealt with in the series. And I think that forces him to seek advice in unlikely places about how to be a single parent again. And that’s really where the journey starts, right?
In the season three trailer, we hear Mike say, “We’re not kids anymore,” which is exactly what you’re talking about. That they’re growing up. They’re becoming teenagers; Eleven is becoming a woman and liking boys. But aside from the changes Hopper deals with — with Eleven, with all these other kids growing up — what sort of impact is that going to have on Hopper’s development?
I don’t know what impact it’ll have on Hopper’s development, but I know on David Harbour’s development. I mean, like, when I watch the show, one of the most moving things about this show is the fact that you actually are watching these kids grow up in real time. And it’s something that, like, even great acting can’t change. Like the fact that when Finn Wolfhard was 11 years old, I would look in that little pudgy face and this three-footer, and I thought, like, This little kid. And now he’s becoming an adult and having his own personality and his own ideas. And it’s a stunning thing to watch the passage of time with children who become adults because we all age, too, and grow and change, but there’s something about that time which, like, they sprout up and they changed so much with their personality that it just, it’s very surprising to me. I don’t have kids, so I’ve never experienced this, but I have six or seven television children, including Joe Keery, and so I’m very moved by watching who I thought they would become to be who they actually are.
Even though Stranger Things is obviously so deeply rooted in fantasy, it upholds those elements of childhood, coming of age, parenting, and loss; that balance of the fantasy and reality.
Yeah, I think that’s vital. I mean, to me, it’s one of the things that we talked about from the early days of the show. We were like, we really love indie dramas, the Duffers and me both. But sometimes they can get kind of boring and then you’re like, Wouldn’t it be great to have a monster show up in there? Like in the boring parts? It’s that earnest quest for what it is to be a good human being and how you live your life and hopefully making people feel less alone. Those are all sort of the impulses about acting that I’ve always wanted to explore, like the psychology of human beings, and we really do that in the show. I’m very proud of that.
One selfish question: To what extent do you believe in the paranormal?
Ooh, to what extent do I believe in the paranormal? I go back and forth. I’m 44, so I’ve had a lot of time. There were times in my twenties where I was like, I definitely believe in ghosts. I’ve been through all the religions, too. I was a Catholic, a Buddhist, like all of them. And now I’ve gotten to this place where, oh man, it’s a complicated idea. I don’t really believe in the paranormal, I believe. Are you ready for this, people? This is an exclusive: David Harbour’s, wacky religious philosophies. I believe that we create a life with our consciousness. So therefore I think life is an extension of just, like, our brains. So I don’t really believe in the paranormal. I think that it’s all kind of happening now. I don’t really believe in ghosts or monsters, but I still get scared of the dark too. So what does that say about me? I’m just gullible or something.
Last but not least, what are you most looking forward to during your time in Kansas City?
Getting barbecue, which you all talk about is like the greatest thing in this state. But I was excited before I came here and now every person I talk to is like, have you gotten barbecue yet? I’m like, it’s 10 in the morning. They’re like, yeah, I know if you got it. So I’m going out. I’m going to get barbecue very, very soon.