'Stranger Things 3' Star David Harbour On Hopper's Emotional Journey, Bringing Back Fight Scenes, And What The Future Holds [Interview]

Stranger Things 3 takes Police Chief Jim Hopper through a big emotional journey, growing the character exponentially from when we first met him in season 1. That character growth wouldn't work nearly as well were it not for the incredible work of actor David Harbour, who plays the gruff-but-lovable character to perfection. I had the chance to talk with Harbour about the upcoming season, and during the conversation it became abundantly clear to me how seriously he takes his job, and how much nuanced thought he puts into Hopper as a character.

In our interview below, learn more about Hopper's arc, as well as his return to punching the hell out of people, and what awaits the character, and the show, in the future.

The Hopper we see in season 3 seems so different from the Hopper we met in season 1. Can you talk a bit about the character's growth, and his journey through the course of season 3?

What I love about the show is that all the characters get a chance to really stretch their wings, and develop in different ways. So often in shows, you just show up, and you're Gilligan on the island for 10 years, and you're just in the red shirt, and you're never getting off the island. With this...it's like, Hopper was very different in season one than he was in season two. And now in season three, he's become a full-on father.

There's no real Hawkins problems anymore. They closed the gate. So he's got a daughter that's legitimized, that he has to actually show up for. He can't really pop pills anymore. Like those Tuinals, [and] he can't even really drink as hard as he used to. So he's on the couch, eating chips and salsa, getting fat, and is subliminally incorporating a lot of television imagery.

His journey is, you know...he's stressed out about his daughter. About her becoming a woman, which he just can't handle. He just can't handle seeing...his adopted little girl becoming a woman, and kissing Mike. So that prompts this thing of like, "How do I deal with that?" And it kind of thrusts him into the arms of the only other single parent around, which is Joyce. And he tries to grapple with this situation, and that leads him on this journey of discovery about who he is as a man, what he's lost as a sensitive, caring man in a sense. He's trying to chaotically recover this thing. He's trying chaotically to update himself, too. Not only with being a father with a daughter, but also as an '80s man – like fashion-wise, facial hair-wise; he's trying to update – and he's doing very poorly. But it's fun to watch.

There's a lot more action this season, especially for Hopper. He's like a full-on action hero at times. Was that something that you pushed for, having done an action movie like Hellboy? What was the conversation like about Hopper getting into all this action? 

I remember it was just a simple thing. It's funny the way these simple things blow up. But like, [in] season one I think I have like three big punches. One of them is when I'm going in the morgue, this guy who won't let me go ahead, and I just let cold cocked him and he goes down. And I remember we didn't have any of those punches in season two, and I think [series creators] the Duffers and I were like, we wanted to get back to a punching Hopper.

So that sort of spawned this thing. One of the great things, training-wise, [and] one of the great things about this show in particular is that...we want him to be less capable. I talked to them about...The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. You have Walter Matthau as your lead character, and then you have Robert Shaw as your villain. And you're like, there's no way dumpy Walter Matthau can take out Robert Shaw. And I think that was part of the impulse with this, too. There's a [villain] figure here that [has a lot] of menace for Hopper. And he's too fat, too slow, and he's gonna get his ass kicked. So I think that's really the fun of the show: those opposites that we play with, as opposed to something where I go in and I'm like, "Yeah, I'm going to try train kung-fu for this!" He's just a dude who swings badly as a boxer, you know?

What does the future hold for Hopper, beyond season 3?

In season two, there are a bunch of boxes in the basement. One of them says "Vietnam." One of them says "New York." One of them says "Dad." I love those boxes. I think the tapestry of Hopper is so large and interesting, and I also think that Hopper has karmic debts to pay for how dead he's been for a long time. And there may be more to explore with his biological daughter, and what all went down. We've seen flashes of that. We've seen that in the end of season one, but there could be more to explore there.

We have to decide who this man is. And I think that's the fun thing  – we've spiraled it out in season one, season two, and now season three, we've spiraled out who he is. And to me there is still a core of who he really is. Like...what is he? Is he a man of justice? Is he a father? Which one is he? And I think those two things are not always compatible. I don't know that you can stand for values or stand for relationships at the same time. At some point, you're going to have to choose. So I'm interested in that – in him as a human being, if he's faced with that choice, what he would choose?

What's the message of season 3? What do you want viewers to take away in the end? 

I think it's a stunning season. I think it's a beautiful, breathtaking season. So first of all, I hope you can stretch your love for Hopper, as he stretches his waistline. I hope that we can find truly big guys still sexy. The other thing is I think that the passage of time itself is almost the ultimate villain in this. So seeing these kids grow up and, having to love them through these awkward transitions, having to love all of us through these awkward transitions. To me, what most moves me about the show is, actually seeing the passage of time. So if you take anything from the show, I would say it would just be about deeper poignancy about what it is to be alive, and how things constantly change.


Stranger Things 3 premieres on Netflix July 4. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.