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David Harbour was almost ready ?to call it quits on Hollywood when he received the Stranger Things script from creators Matt and Ross Duffer. Fast-forward a few years and he’s become one of the industry’s most in-demand actors thanks to his role as Chief Hopper on the bingeable Netflix drama. “Stranger Things has opened up a world to me. I’ve wanted to tell these stories that I love ?and care about and am passionate about for years,” says Harbour, 43, who received his second Emmy nomination for the role. “People haven’t been hunting me down in off-Broadway plays in New York to have me, so now ?the fact that they are is just a really exciting thing.”
While Harbour was on set for the third season of the sci-fi drama in Atlanta, THR chatted with him about working with so many kids, playing a father on TV and how the next season of Netflix’s breakout series will “take a lot of risks.”
This is your second Emmy nomination. How’d you find out about it?
It’s super nice but I sort of hate the anticipation and also the expectation that goes into it. It just kicks up my neurosis to a tremendous degree. So I was trying not to focus on it. ?I went out with my puppy and I was trying to make her poop, and my girlfriend was watching it inside and she came out and said, “You got nominated.” And then my dog pooped, which was very exciting.
What has it been like to be back together again with the whole cast shooting the third season?
It’s my favorite thing to do. Certainly, acting is my favorite thing to do — but acting on this material with this group of people is just beyond. The scripts are really great this year. And in the new directions that we’re going, all of us are taking a lot of risks. We’re all a little bit out of our comfort zone.
What can you tease about season three?
I wish I could characterize the season, but to me it’s so big. For example, did you find last season to be darker? There were certainly elements of it that were scary, but I thought there was also a lot of fun, a lot of joy and a lot of silliness, with Steve being a dad and the kids as Ghostbusters. Just taking my story, for example, it’s fun to see Hopper having adopted Eleven. She’s become legitimized in the society, in the world of Hawkins. And he’s a father now. He’s raising a teenage daughter, with all that that entails. So I think that can be pretty funny to see his inadequacies in all of this.
What is it like to get to play a father role and to transition into that as an actor?
It calls on a lot of things that I don’t have that much experience about. I don’t have a child. Everyone’s described this feeling to me — this love that they feel that’s beyond them, where you would genuinely take a bullet for this person. I do find that Hopper changes me as I play him. And the Duffers are very keen observers of me. Initially, the characters were very much characters that we inhabited, and now they’re there incorporating the things that we can do and they’re writing for us.
Have you had any crazy fan interactions?
First of all, I do want to say as a disclaimer that 99.9 percent of the people that come up to you are gracious and lovely and sweet. There was one fan experience that I recently had, where I was on a plane, and a woman got very aggressive with me. And they almost had to make an emergency landing. She almost had to be restrained. I think something else ?was going on, but she was really obsessed with grabbing at me, and then she destroyed the bathroom. The police had to come when the plane landed. I felt really bad for her.
Is it hard at times for your kid co-stars to be in the limelight, which can be harsh?
Here’s the thing: I understand the fact that we’re so beloved. I mean, I love this show, too. And I feel like any show that I used to watch that I loved, I understand that feeling of excitement, of seeing someone who has touched you in that way. But for those kids especially, I worry about them because they are, like, developing brains and psyches — it can also be somewhat addictive, the limelight. It can also be scary and make you feel fearful or sort of nervous. So yeah, it’s really hard on those kids and I try to just treat them as kids as much as ?I possibly can. I think it’s nice if the world does as well.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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