David Harbour is an easy laugh and someone who keeps off the auto-pilot in an interview. That’s clear in our earlier conversations tied to season 3 and his recent ’90s music-laden confession to us about his own Vecna song. Long story short, I knew I’d get a great answer from Harbour when I mentioned gripes about this season of Stranger Things being too long, and he didn’t disappoint. “You psychopaths, listen,” he began in mock outrage, urging fans to “shut up and love” the new season (dammit) while failing to mask his incredulity at people complaining about getting too much of a good thing, especially when the show is heading toward its end.
Though he’s having fun with the response, Harbour would be forgiven if he was actually ticked off considering the time he spent freezing his ass off in Lithuania for fans of the show. All in an effort to portray Jim Hopper many many miles away from his recliner and snacks. A Jim Hopper who is also isolated from Eleven, Joyce, and everything else familiar as the world spins on, thinking he died at the end of season 3.
We spoke with Harbour about that sense of isolation (both the positives and negatives), Hopper’s continuing evolution as a style icon, a vague but not too vague preview of season 4 volume 2 (two super-sized episodes that are available to stream on Netflix now following the release of the first volume on May 27), playing a kick-ass Santa Claus, and whether Hopper could gain 70lbs with 3 weeks of dedicated cheeseburger training.
We talked about Hopper’s floral print shirt from last season. I was like, man, I’d love to find that shirt. To update: I did find the shirt and I did buy it. And in a big and tall size, which I appreciate. That’s a rare thing. But I returned it a couple of days later. I couldn’t do it.
[Laughs] I know, I know. It was a great idea. I did see somebody the other day on the street wearing it and that’s always a gratifying thing. There are people out there that are braver than you, Jason. People that are out there wearing that shirt. So I want you to feel bad about yourself.
I do. I do.
All right, good. Good.
So, there has been some complaining about the run time of the show. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s so funny. What, people are thinking it’s too long?
Yeah. That’s what people were saying.
Oh my God. I don’t understand that. You psychopaths, listen, we spend so much time making this damn show and then you binge it in one goddamn day and then you complain about how it’s going to be two years! So if we made you 14 hours of content, space it out over 14 months, it won’t feel so long. Look, I think that’s ridiculous. More content is better, for me, in terms of the show. The other thing is, it doesn’t feel long to me.
No, it doesn’t. I didn’t feel it at all, this was perfect to me.
I can’t tell you where it drags. I have to say, for me, each season has its own arc and I remember the first season, it being episode five and six, there sort of was a lull, and then you got into episode seven and eight. I felt like for this season, episode one and two, you’re setting up a lot of new stuff. Then once you get to episode four, it takes off like a train and it doesn’t stop. The only reason why it had to stop was that I think we needed a little extra time to make those last two episodes perfect, and so they got pushed to July.
I felt like it flew by and the concepts and the ideas were so big, what they’re explaining about life in the upside-down, the parallels of those worlds, time in the upside-down, how that exists. There’s so much information on the sci-fi aspect and then there’s so much fun action. Then there’s also just so much character development. There’s also a lot of fan service, stuff that you guys have wanted to see that the Duffers are putting in there and giving you. Why are you guys looking a gift horse in the mouth? We’re giving you 14 hours of content. Just shut up and love it, dammit. [Laughs]
Just remember this when the show’s over and people are like, “we want more!”
That’s what I’m saying! I’m like, guys, it’s going to be over before you know it. You’re gonna binge it in a day.
With the first volume, with you at the prison before you got a chance to reunite with Winona [Ryder] and Brett [Gelman], did you just feel completely disconnected from the normal ebb and flow of the thing? Like you were on a different show from everyone else?
Oh yeah, absolutely. For most of the beginning of the shoot, we were on location in Lithuania. It was me, our first AD, a couple of our camera guys, the Duffers, and then an entire Lithuanian crew, most of whom didn’t speak very much English. All the background players were Lithuanians and didn’t speak much English. It was me and Tom [Wlaschiha], who plays Enzo in it. So we were on a different planet in a different movie, running barefoot in the snow, in 20 below weather. There was something very weird about it. Vilnius, where we shot, was pretty much shut down [due to COVID]. But there was also something really exciting. It was like the Duffers and I were on location making an entirely new movie. Also, Hopper got to do and reveal all these new things about himself. So yeah, it felt very isolated and in some ways lonely, and then in some ways exciting to do this new thing.
What can you say about volume two and these new episodes? Let’s push the boundaries.
Okay. Certainly, at the end of [episode] seven of this season, I’ll talk about me. Well, it’s spectacular in a way that it’s never been before. I think we push the boundaries on every finale. I remember the first season finale, just the beauty of Hopper resurrecting Will, Eleven destroying the Demogorgon, Mike crying there. The beauty of that, and then you go into the season two finale with me and Eleven on that thing, closing the gate. Season three, the star court mall, Hopper’s death. It’s just epic and huge. They just keep pushing it and they keep making it more and more epic and more emotional and moving. You will not be disappointed. These guys really know how to stick the landing in a way that I think is rare for big sci-fi and I love that about them.
In terms of Hopper, you’ve seen him and Joyce sort of reconnect at the end of episode seven. So you’ll see, she made a profound sacrifice to get him, she’s his knight in shining armor. You’ll see more about that relationship. You’ll also see a new vulnerability to Hopper. You’ve already seen him in the darkest place he’s ever been when he gives that speech. Just this dark despair where he really lets out these secrets. So going forward, you’ll see a new vulnerability about him. He’s shedding some skin and becoming a new guy who has this power and this vulnerability that’s very interesting going forward. You’ll see that start to come out.
Also, we’ve got these big old new villains. We got a lot of problems and we’ll start to solve those problems, but also it’ll open up new doors. So I think you’ll see the rush to the finish. You’ll get a very satisfying conclusion, but in the sense of Empire Strikes Back, you’ll still see that there’s a finish ahead. We have to deal with “Vader” and this evil. You’ll see where that path is headed and I think you’ll be very excited about that. So you’ll have a nice big epic conclusion and also you’ll feel like, oh, wow, I can’t wait until season five. That was my sense when I watched.
So we’ve seen in the trailer, a little bit of a wardrobe change. I think everyone, myself obviously included, is a little obsessed with Hopper’s look. The Hulk Hogan T-shirt with a really cool jacket.
[Laughs] Oh shit, you’ve seen that? Yeah. I didn’t know that was in the tease.
Yeah, it was in the teaser. You can see. I paused it, went frame by frame. Okay, a Hulk Hogan T-shirt. So is Hulk Hogan Hopper’s wrestler of choice from the ’80s? I would have thought Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, but I’m curious, what’s the thinking there?
You know what the song was that they used to play when Hulk Hogan used to come in the arena?
[Singing] “I am a real American” — I remember these things, yep.
[Laughs] So Hopper is the American. I think there are all kinds of shades of that. We play with these tropes of the American in Russia and the Cold War. I think that Hulk Hogan beautifully expressed that [in the ’80s]. It was funny, that shirt in particular. There was another one that was great with him ripping his shirt off and it had the American flag behind it, and we realized that one was actually a mock-up that someone had done. The original shirt was the one that I’m wearing, the one that was in 1980, whatever. It’s not quite as dynamic. But yeah, not only does he have the Hulk Hogan shirt, but he’s also got the American flag puffer jacket, blue jeans. Yeah, he’s the American in Russia in the pit with a monster.
You’ll see in the finale the cowboy that he is. I think that the Duffers are very sophisticated and yet fun at doing these things. There was a great sequence last year where Eleven was sitting in front of the Eggos with her shirt and an American flag wrapped around her eyes and she was blindfolded. They do these really fun, iconic looks. Also, I’m convinced that they do them just for the Funko Pops every year at this point. But I do think there’s an amazing Funko of Hopper in the puffer and the Hulk Hogan shirt going forward.
There’s also one other thing, which I can’t tell you because it’d be a spoiler. I don’t know if it’s a spoiler. There’s another very iconic weapon. Once we finish the season and I get to talk to you again, we’ll talk about this weapon because it’s pretty extraordinary.
Okay. I’m going to make a guess and we can check this later, but I’m guessing The Thing, flame thrower. That’s my guess.
Okay. That’s one of them, but there’s also another one that has been slightly set up, not as set up as the flame thrower. Flame thrower thing, you’re good. That’s one aspect, but there’s another one that’s been semi-set up in a concept, but it hasn’t been actually explored, but you’ll see it in the end. But yeah, it’s bigger than a flame flower by a mile.
Now I’ll watch. Even though it’s two hours, now I’ll watch.
At least I’ve convinced one person to sit through the long runtime. [Laughs]
So, you’re playing Santa Claus in a movie. Is this a Santa Claus that kicks ass?
Yeah. So, you know the John Wick universe, and Bob Odenkirk did a movie called Nobody. Charlize Theron did a movie called Atomic Blonde. There’s the 87North Productions division of Universal where they have these kick-ass universes of these people that are just like John Wick, and who have you always needed to have in the John Wick universe? Santa Claus. That’s who you’ve been asking for and so we’ve given it to you. You know you want it, so we’re going to give it to you.
This feels like The Day The Reindeer Died from Scrooged.
Exactly, exactly [laughs]. The thing is, it’s actually a really clever movie. It’s a Santa Claus origin story in the same way as Batman or whatever. But sometimes you got to do a little more for the nice and the naughty list than just give out some coal. You know? So I think that our Santa Claus is going to show you what it takes when you’re being naughty. It’s actually a really fun movie. I can’t wait for you to see this movie. When they initially pitched it to me, I was like, this is crazy. Then I read the script and I was like, this is actually kind of genius and I love this. Then when we were shooting it, it just is wild. I can’t wait for people to see it. It comes out in December, right around the time for the holidays. You will not be able to take your kids, even though they will beg you to go. Yeah. It’s going to be hilarious.
I remember you had excitedly recounted to me bulking up to play Hopper in season three before. Did you get to take that same journey this time? Did you get to just eat whatever you wanted to bulk up as Santa Claus? Or is it unfortunately all prosthetics?
You’ve seen it already, but you’ll see even more as we go forward that I lost a lot of weight for season four. So I’m very thin in season four. So for Santa Claus, which I shot just a little bit after that, I just gained a ton of weight. I was doing jujitsu training, I’m doing all these martial arts and Grecco-Roman wrestling training while I was putting on all this weight. So I got really big. Now I got to take it off again and it’s a fucking nightmare.
You don’t have to. Trust me, you don’t have to.
I really don’t know that I’ll ever do it again because I had some meeting with my doctor who’s talking about all kinds of different levels in my blood. I was like, yeah. He’s like, “I think we’re done with this,” and I was like, all right, I’m going to get that prosthetics team in place for the sequel.
I’m just saying, health stuff aside, they do have the Hopper shirt in the big and tall sizes. You’re good to go.
[Laughs] Yeah, you’re right. But depending upon where we pick up after season four though, right? Let’s say we pick up three weeks later. Does it strain reality that Hopper’s eaten that many cheeseburgers since he’s gotten back to Hawkins that he’s put on 70 pounds? Maybe not.
He’s been through a lot. Maybe he started eating his feelings.
He has been through a lot. He is hungry, yeah. Amen. I’ll talk to the Duffers. I’ll tell them what you said.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Volume 2 is available to stream on Netflix. You can also find Harbour on stage in Mad Season in the West End (UK).