Stranger Things Star David Harbour on Joining the MCU, Hellboy Troubles, and More

No pun intended, but David Harbour's had one hell of a year. After getting his first big genre movie role as the lead in Lionsgate's Hellboy reboot, the actor is next set to appear in the third season of Stranger Things, something that will likely end up being one of the biggest pieces of content to ever hit Netflix. Then, the cherry on the top of it all — the upcoming star is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe next year in Cate Shortland's Black Widow solo movie.

Speaking with Harbour within the past week, it's clear the actor is still trying to navigate his newfound fame in Hollywood after suddenly becoming one of the industry's go-to actors for action and genre properties. That said, there may not be another person in Hollywood as humble as the Stranger Things star. As Harbour, 44, mentions below, fame is something that's come to him much later in life and he refuses to take it for granted.

In our chat, we talked about the woes of Hellboy, what to expect from Black Widow, and the bonkers storytelling involved with Stranger Things. Stranger Things 3 is coming up. You had Hellboy and now, potentially a little MCU property coming up. What's it like suddenly being one of Hollywood's next big action stars?

David Harbour: Oh, geez, I don't know. It feels tiring, just thinking about it. I guess one of the things I really like about being an action star is that I'm not in the best shape, and I don't look quite as capable as most of those other guys, and I think that's a real asset in terms of the genre stuff. Because I think it's a hard balance, because we want to be wowed by these things, but I also miss that identification with a main heroic character that's very incapable. It strengthens your villain, it strengthens your drama in and of itself, and so the fact that these action movies are embracing that makes me think that Walter Matthau thing that we had in the '70s, where you have bigger guys who have a lot of heart but not as much muscle, can still overcome odds. I like that idea a lot.

The genre stuff is really fun for me. I love it. I've always been a nerd, and I've always loved those things. And even related to my acting, I started out with Shakespeare, so there's a quality of heightened-ness to my acting that I've always loved to play. I've always loved to play things with great language, or kings and queens. Things that are larger than life in a certain way, and so the genre stuff fits very well into that as well.

We don't really need to get into the behind-the-scenes stuff, but when it comes to Hellboy, has there been any talks about a sequel or a spinoff? Is there no hope for that or are you still in the "never say never" camp?

I don't think there'll be much of a light. There's a lot of people who reach out to me who really loved it and really enjoyed the new take, and were just happy to see him back on the screen, but I know in the culture at large, I don't think it was very well received, and I don't think it made a lot of money. I don't really keep up with those things too much to be honest, but I don't think the perception was that it was a hit, and so in that way, I don't know that the risk is worth it. I think the idea is to move on. The producers spoke to me just saying "Great job," they really liked what I did, but I haven't heard anything about a sequel, and I'm not hanging my hat on anything like that.

Right. So as a self-proclaimed nerd and a professional actor, it can't get much bigger than the MCU. Would you consider joining that universe a dream come true?

Yeah. Yeah. Those movies, there's a reason why they are the zeitgeist that they are. The guys that I've met over there who are making these movies, like [Louis] D'Esposito and [Kevin] Feige, they just seem like the best in the business in a certain way in terms of that particular thing. And the great thing about them and about all the people that work on these movies is that it really feels like an amateur movie, and I don't mean this in terms of a negative thing. Amateur stems from the word "amo," to love. People just doing it for the love of it as opposed to just doing it for a paycheck. And that's really what it feels like. It feels like these guys just love, love, love movies, and they want to make fun, exciting movies.

This woman, Cate Shortland, who is directing this movie is one of the best directors I've ever worked with. She's so, so smart, and makes such beautiful indie movies. The fact that you'd put someone like that at the helm of one of these huge action movies — and she pays such attention to the story and such attention to character speaks volumes.

It's a little bit of the same thing we do in Stranger Things, where it's like you have these really complicated characters, these really complicated relationships, and then whenever your characters or your stories get a little boring, a monster shows up. Or in the Marvel movies, you have a huge action fight sequence. But in that way, you're not sacrificing either thing, and I think that's extraordinary. It's this really hard thing to do, as I think people have discovered. It's a really hard thing to capture, audiences and the market is extremely difficult to break into certainly, as I think we saw with Hellboy in a certain sense.

The fact that these guys are so good at what they do, and so passionate about what they do, it feels tremendous. I'm very, very happy with the situation, working on it now. It's on a scale and on a passionate level unlike anything I've ever done.

You can't ask for much more than that.

Yeah, exactly.

I know you've mentioned in prior interviews past that fame came to you much later in life. You weren't a child star or anything like that such as your co-stars on Stranger Things. Was there a single moment you remember where everything clicked, and you were like, "Oh, shit. Stranger Things is a lot bigger than I thought."

Yeah. It was really the first weekend that it came out. It was almost instantaneous. Before it came out, there were no ads. There was very little fanfare. Nobody wanted to do interviews. It's so funny because there's so much secrecy now around the scripts, and literally the first season, I couldn't give away scripts.

So I sort of expected it to be a bit of a flop, or I sort of expected it to be just a tiny, tiny show that some people might be fanned out over. And then that weekend, it hit like a tidal wave. I got all these texts on my phone from people that I hadn't spoken to in years, just random people from high school, and different things. It was like saying, "Stranger Things, oh my God!" And then BuzzFeed articles started coming out saying "Which Stranger Things Character Are You?" And I just realized almost instantaneously that we had touched a cultural nerve. I'd been in enough things throughout the years that when they come out, you get occasional texts from people, or emails, or people see you on the street and say, "That was great," but this was unlike anything I'd ever experienced, and I was like, "oh, we really hit a nerve." Something that people really, really want. And so, yeah, it was almost overnight.

Awesome. Did you by chance take the BuzzFeed quiz?

I did, yes. I did.

Did you get yourself, Chief Hopper?

No, I got the monster. [laughs]

Oh. Close enough.

Yeah. It was the first season quiz, so we don't have all the characters we have now, but I got Demogorgon. I'm the Demogorgon.

That's great. Hopper grew so much over Season One, and even between seasons one and two grew even more. Can fans expect that much of a fatherly growth between two and three now?

Well, they can certainly expect a growth in the waistline. I certainly am a lot girthier this season than ever. But in terms of emotional growth, yeah. It's change. It's almost like two steps forward, one step back. He's now at a place where his daughter is growing up. She's becoming a teenager, and she has a boyfriend, and she likes kissing him, and this all just terrifies Hopper. He really just does not like that at all.

Almost in an even more childish place than he's been ever, and he sort of plants himself in front of the TV trying to listen in to his daughter while watching shows and eating chips and salsa all day long. And so, yeah, he's in a place of real turmoil, and I think that launches him on this path of how do I deal with change, how do I deal with the fact that she's growing up, and it launches him on this path of what he needs to rediscover as a man to be able to grow into this new role.

And he goes on a huge journey this season. It's bigger than anything, and there's a lot of comedy in that journey, and there's a lot of silliness, and then, of course, there is that epic Hopper heart that I feel like is in all of these seasons. Whatever he's doing, if he's angry or he's being silly or whatever, being chaotic, there is this very decent man at the core who makes tons of mistakes, but who really wants to do well by the people that he loves. And that journey is huge this season.

Hopper's got a new look. Where'd this Magnum P.I. look come from?

Well, it's funny. I sort of like the influence, especially back in the '80s, because we all just watched rabbit ears TV. At least I did. Or you had cable maybe, but you usually watched rabbit ears TV. And the shows that you would watch were so big and, I think, almost subliminally influenced the culture. So I think he's watching a lot of cops shows. He's watching probably Simon & Simon, Magnum P.I., stuff like that, and I think he is stuck in this place where he's been a stunted man living in a cabin, kind of hiding a girl, trying to be this weird father. And he needs to update himself. He needs to step out, and he does it in a kind of chaotic way.

He shaves his beard into a mustache. He thinks maybe that will enhance the look. He goes out and buys some updated '80s clothes, because he wants to be a modern man. And as you can tell already from the images, he may not have the best fashion sense in all of Hawkins, but then again, it is the '80s so you can't blame him too harshly.

How does the third season of Stranger Things stand out from the other two? The other two are already surprising enough. How does this third one manage to go above and beyond what we've seen so far?

It just does, and I don't say that lightly. I didn't think they could outdo themselves, and I didn't have the highest of expectations going into shooting it, and it is the biggest ... I guess the big question for me has always been like, OK, we killed the monster in Season One, and then we closed the gate in Season Two. Are you really just going to repeat that? Are you really just going to have another monster come into Hawkins? How are you going to do that, guys? And they managed to do it in such an inventive way, in such a beautiful way. And this season is just ... The only words I can really think of are epic.

Especially when you get around episode eight, there are moments where you're laughing and crying at the same time. Where I was yelling at the television screen, and I'm not that type of guy, but I think it really has outdone itself. And I would be very surprised if this wasn't your favorite season, and I'd certainly be very surprised if you didn't think that episode eight was the best thing we've ever shot, because I'm convinced that that episode is so, so unexpected, so beautiful, so big, so tight. Not a second of downtime, not a second where you're waiting for anything. To me, it's a masterpiece. Episode eight is a masterpiece.



What's been your favorite role of Harbours? Who do you think he's playing in Black Widow? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or by tweeting me at @AdamBarnhardt!

Stranger Things 3 hits Netflix July 4th with the first two seasons of the show now available for streaming. Hellboy will be made available digitally on July 9th ahead of a home media release on July 23rd. Black Widow does not have an official release, though it's expected to bow May 1, 2020.