SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched Season 4 of “Stranger Things,” now streaming on Netflix.
For those who got used to seeing David Harbour as Jim Hopper, a lazy police officer in Hawkins, Indiana, the new episodes of “Stranger Things” may catch you off guard — and that was his point. After three seasons of playing “fat dad Hopper,” Harbour was ready for something different.
The actor was excited to dive into the darker side of the character and how he was feeling about the trauma in his past. During Season 4’s fifth episode, he has a long monologue with the guard-turned-prisoner who tried to help him out and got caught. In the speech, during which Hopper details the pain of losing his daughter, he also says that he views himself as a “curse” and feels responsible for everything bad that has happened to El (Millie Bobby Brown) and Joyce (Winona Ryder). “Everyone I love, I hurt,” he says through tears.
As it turns out, Harbour had been sitting with that monologue for years and was eager to dive into Hopper’s backstory.
“I really liked the film noir idea of — it’s sort of in ‘Memento,’ where a man is chasing himself. We have this idea with Hopper: He’s a cop, so he sees things pretty much good guys, bad guys, pretty black and white. There’s a situation with cancer where his daughter dies. It’s cancer. What can you do, right? Who can you who can you lock up when a tragedy like this happen? Then what he really starts to do is go back, and the real bad guy is himself,” Harbour tells Variety. “I really liked the idea with him that there’s an actual poison in him. He is the poison, and feels that anyone who gets near him is infected with this thing. I feel like that’s why he had to lock himself away, it’s why he had to drink. To make him literally toxic, in a way, I thought was such a great metaphoric choice.”
After many conversations with Matt and Ross Duffer, Harbour began to mentally prepare.
“Then, lo and behold, it takes us six years to get to the actual shooting of it,” he says with a laugh. “They wrote that, and then I had two and a half years to sit there and, like, wait to do it. I read that scene two and a half years ago, and then COVID happened, then they started up with different stuff, and we didn’t shoot it until late in the season.”
Living with the speech for many years wasn’t easy for the actor: “I’m just so neurotic about it. You work on it, and then you don’t work — and you work on it again. You’re like, ‘What the fuck am I going to do with this thing?’ But I think it turned out pretty good. It was definitely a big part of my consciousness.”
In Episode 7, Hopper finally reunites with Joyce, a moment viewers were anxiously waiting for, as many hope to see a romance between the two. While it’s been revealed that the pair have somewhat of a history, it’s never been detailed — and Harbour isn’t sure whether that ever will be shared.
“It’s something that we’ve mapped out; how much they want to show is really up to them. Winona and I postulate a bunch of stuff, we have a bunch of theories. Some of them are very wild, and some of them are very tame,” he shares with a laugh. “In general, they had a time in high school — they knew each other when they were super innocent, and they had all this potential, both of them. Now they don’t have much potential. They’re sort of what they are. Knowing someone who, when you look in their eyes, you see that young person they were, is part of the bond between the two of them. They’ve known each other for so long and knew what you wanted to be and what you couldn’t be and what you couldn’t be. I think they have a very complex love for each other. It’s not just romantic. It’s much more complex than that.”
So, that reaches the question of whether it even is romantic at all — and if the duo could actually work out as a couple.
“I certainly feel like, from what happened in Season 3, it couldn’t work. The guy from Season 3 and woman from Season 3 could not work,” says Harbour. “Clearly there’s some chemistry and there is a longing for them to be together, but they would they would have to become different people.”
Ultimately, that choice is up to the Duffer Brothers: “What do they feel about characters that are ill-fitted to the world? Do they need to live happily ever after, or do they suffer in silence for the rest of their life? We’re not sure.”