NO STRANGER TO THE STAGE. Many actors are passionate about acting; some are infatuated with the craft. “Stranger Things” star David Harbour is definitely one of the latter
Once in a blue moon, the film industry comes up with a really intriguing TV show (or a web series—this is 2016, after all) that proves to be an instant hit. The story of such a show is, of course, a key factor; but so too are the actors bringing that story to life. One such show and one such actor that have taken the world by storm recently are “Stranger Things” and David Harbour, the series’ male lead playing opposite Winona Ryder and the young but talented Millie Bobby Brown. You’ve also probably seen the New Yorker in films like “Quantum of Solace” and this year’s “Suicide Squad.” He’s also an accomplished stage actor who has been nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
For now, Harbour has his hands full with the upcoming second season of “Stranger Things” and is set to appear in at least three other film projects, to speak nothing of his theater work. But, then again, he’s definitely no stranger to hard work, busy schedules and success stories.
DA MAN: “Stranger Things” has been a great success and even gained a bit of a cult following here in Asia. What do you think is it that made the show successful?
David Harbour: I think there’s real magic in it. Sometimes things come together in a project. It’s rare, but when it does, it can be magical. The story, the acting, the design, the direction all came together with this, and we were able to tell a really compelling tale.
DA MAN: Looking back to the start, what went through your mind when you first read the script for “Stranger Things”?
David Harbour: It’s a very earnest story. It’s got a lot of heart or, even more so, it’s got a lot of soul. All of the characters are rich and multidimensional, almost iconic. And as I read, I kept wanting to read more—which is, of course, a good sign.
DA MAN: What personally attracted you to play the character of chief Jim Hopper?
David Harbour: I loved that he was so broken and behaved so badly in the beginning. I love characters that are difficult people, people you’d initially distrust or dislike, but as you understand where they are coming from you develop compassion for them. Hop’s one such guy.
DA MAN: How did you prepare yourself to get into the shoes of this particular character?
David Harbour: I did a lot of personal work. I really tried to capture Hop’s soul. It meant a lot of thinking about how David and he are similar and how we are different, and really cultivating those aspects of myself. I really focused mainly on who Hop is in his soul as a man, and the physical life of the character grew from that.
DA MAN: The series is set in the ’80s. Did that pose any particular challenges for you?
David Harbour: I love the era. It was less of a challenge and more of a gift.
DA MAN: What was it like working with the Duffer Brothers?
David Harbour: I felt in very good hands. They are really good storytellers, so you know you are taken care of. And they let me do my work and didn’t get in my way, which is unfortunately rare in directors.
DA MAN: Do you have any funny or otherwise interesting behind-the-scenes stories that you can share with us?
David Harbour: Winona and I both hated wearing the yellow suits we use when we enter the Upside-Down [the show’s alternate dimension]. They were hot, heavy and uncomfortable and, whenever you breathed, you would fog up the glass and the camera couldn’t see you. So, you basically had to lug this thing around and not breathe. We complained constantly between takes, and then we would laugh about how much we complained and what babies we were being.
DA MAN: Can you tell us anything about season two of “Stranger Things”? What should fans expect to see?
David Harbour: You’ll really get to see more into who these folks are in season two. And I think you’ll see more interaction between Hop and Eleven—or what may or may not be Eleven.
“Acting gave voice to the hypocrisy and lunacy and wonder and terror I saw around me in daily life”
DA MAN: What other projects are you working on? Anything for theater, perhaps?
David Harbour: I just finished a few plays here in my home New York City. I love going back and forth between film and theater.
DA MAN: Let’s go back to the beginning. What pulled you into acting?
David Harbour: I felt like I had an extra sensitivity when it came to interpreting people’s body language and behavior. I was frustrated by seeing people say one thing and then behave the opposite of what they claimed they thought or wanted. Playing a character allowed me to express the way I saw the world. It gave voice to the hypocrisy and lunacy and wonder and terror I saw around me in daily life.
DA MAN: Many actors say it’s not easy to make a living purely out of acting. What was it made you persist in following this career path?
David Harbour: There was little choice in my mind. I was very determined. And making a lot of money was never that interesting to me. Self-expression or expression of personal vision was much more important.
DA MAN: Who did you look up to in the world of acting?
David Harbour: So, so, so, so many actors—I can’t name them all here. And for so many different roles, or reasons. I really find something to admire in almost everyone’s acting, because even when it is bad, there is so much being revealed about that human being: Whether they are a kind or cruel person, selfish or generous. We cannot hide ourselves when we are in front of that lens and I find that endlessly fascinating.
DA MAN: What do you consider your biggest professional achievement so far?
David Harbour: I love the work I’ve done on “Stranger Things”—it’s my favorite accomplishment. Also, I really loved doing [the play] “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Broadway and in London for a year.
DA MAN: Do you still have a dream role that you’re still itching to play one day?
David Harbour: My dream role would be Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” Talk about a difficult guy!
DA MAN: Having been in the industry for more than a decade, what is the most important lesson that you’ve learned as an actor?
David Harbour: It took me a long time to stop being embarrassed by how much I loved acting. In Hollywood and in New York, there can be so much jaded cynicism, and I fell prey to it. Now I’m unabashedly in love with acting.
DA MAN: If you were not an actor, what would you be doing?
David Harbour: I could see myself teaching acting, but my life—big or small—will always have to have acting at the heart of it!
To see more images from this shoot, get your copy of DA MAN October/November’16 here, and check out these outtakes below:
Photography Nick Heavican
Styling Michael Fusco
Grooming Jillian Hallouska/Starworks Artists
Photographer agency WM Artist Management
Stylist agency Creative Management @ MC2
Special thanks to Bloomingdale’s NYC