I was not expecting to have the emotional reaction I had when I watched the season three finale of Netflix’s Stranger Things. This last season was more colorful and more ambitious than the previous two, and it upped the ante in the final episode. In a bold move, The Duffer Brothers suggest that the beloved Sheriff Jim Hopper gave his own life to protect Eleven and the citizens of Hawkins. But is he really gone? David Harbour was satisfied with how his story ended, but he holds out hope that Hopper will return.
As Eleven becomes more mature, Hopper has to grapple with the inevitable: puberty. Watching him be protective over his adopted daughter as she becomes more interested in boys is hilarious and carries a level of sadness since Hopper never got the chance to watch his own daughter do the same thing.
The most surprising thing about Hopper’s fate is how much we feel for him when his absence sits in. Not because we don’t love his character but because we always feel that he will be there for us. Harbour carries a compelling anger throughout the third season that runs deeper than we realize. Hopper’s journey of redemption is beautifully rendered and he gives what could have been a stock role is given true gravitas and weight.
Awards Daily: I admit that I finally caught up with the third season this week. I’m very late.
David Harbour: Hmmm.
AD: I had no idea how emotional I was going to be, so thanks for making me tear up unexpectedly.
AD: I saw some headlines that stated that you were glad with Hopper’s fate or you were satisfied with the ambiguous nature of the finale. Can you tell me why that is, and are there any circumstances with how you’d like him to return?
DH: I think those headlines are clickbait. (Laughs)
AD: I would hope so!
DH: I was really satisfied with the arc. This is a man who has to pay for the sins of his past, some of which we haven’t explored that much. He’s been looking for a villain around the death of his daughter, and the only thing he can think of is himself because she died of cancer. For a man of justice like Hopper, the fact that he could do nothing to save her has haunted him. In a sense, he’s always wanted to make a sacrifice to be reunited with her, whether that’s heaven or not. Through proxy of Eleven and Joyce, he’s able to make the ultimate sacrifice. I felt that perfection since the beginning when we open in Hopper’s cabin on that little girl’s drawing of a family in the first season.
AD: Oh, yeah. I remember that image really vividly.
DH: He went along on this journey throughout the different seasons and rediscovered these things about himself, but I always wanted him to pay a price. He was trying to kill himself for five years when he moved back to Hawkins, and then he got caught up with Eleven. His wounds were starting to heal that way, but there’s something about that wound—as any parent who has lost a child would know—that is never healed.
DH: I wanted him to make a really big sacrifice, and he does. I deeply love this character, and I’d be deeply interested in a resurrection of him. I compare it to Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. He’s Gandalf the Gray and after his sacrifice, a force of evil drags him down, and he reemerges as Gandalf the White. What I do think would be interesting is if Hopper emerges as a completely different guy that we’ve known him to be. We could see a guy who sheds his skin of his past who is ready to move forward in a more mature way with Eleven and Joyce. I was glad at the perfection of the arc and how the writers stayed true to the character—which we knew he had to pay. As much as we love him, there is a perfection to the journey that I think we pulled off very well.
AD: That’s actually very beautiful.
AD: Let’s talk about the physical toll Hopper takes in the third season since we just talked about emotional component. There’s an anger building this year, and it’s probably very unexpected for him since he never thought he’d have to deal with Eleven dating boys.
DH: One of the most generous things about the Duffer Brothers is that they give us the arc of the whole season before we start. I knew about the sacrifice at the end and I knew about some of the details of the letter to Eleven. There’s an almost resurrection in the letter in terms of unexpressed feelings towards her there. My interest was to make it as dark as I could. I wanted to bring some real weight to his anger. I do think it’s funny that he can fight inter-dimensional monsters but what really stresses him out is the emotions of a 14 year old. (Laughs)
AD: That’s scary for everyone, isn’t it?
DH: I knew if I laid into the anger, it would almost push you away from him. I’m always interested in those contexts, because you almost always feel more if you don’t like him. I wanted the audience to have mixed feelings about him before the letter comes out. This is a guy who fears all this change. I think the way it plays out, you feel more when you don’t sugarcoat his inadequacies. His anger and his ruthlessness. When I watch it, I think the payoff is enormous. It’s almost impossible to not cry when you hear this guy who is afraid of change. It’s a similar arc that we did in season one where you think Hopper is such a jerk and then we see flashbacks of him and his daughter. In season three, he’s kind of a maniac, and we realize that he wants Eleven to be his little girl. He doesn’t want to watch her grow up.
AD: When the dust clears in that final scene, I immediately thought of everything that Hopper has gone through, and I got so sad. I am pretty sure I know this, but I wanted to bring it up anyway.
DG: All right.
AD: Eleven gets a message from Hopper, but the other main woman in his life, Joyce, doesn’t get that kind of closure. What is something you’d think Hopper would want to convey to her.
DH: There’s definitely one thing that he’s always wanted to tell Joyce that he’s never told her.
AD: You guys do get closer in the third season, and I think the fans were thinking, ‘It’s going to happen…it’s finally happening…oh, shit, wait.’
DH: Yeah. (Laughs) There are those moments when Hopper doesn’t think that Joyce’s hunches are correct—I think it’s in either episode 3 or 4. He talks about her moving away. He says, ‘I want you to feel safe.’ I think that idea is part of the idea that drew him back to Hawkins before the events of season one. There are certain people in his life that he never got over. I don’t think he understands his connection with her. I don’t think he knows how to behave around her sometimes—he’s a child in a lot of ways. He definitely feels pulled towards her, and most of the ways he expresses himself as a man are dumb and mean. He knows one piece of himself that’s good and that’s that he’s a cop. He hangs his hat on that. He can protect. He probably will act really weird and he doesn’t know what to do or say in a lot of situations, but he can take a bullet for someone. What he wants to tell her is to feel protected and safe. I think he’d want her to move on and not mourn him.
AD: Oh yeah?
DH: When he’s around her, he’s all tongue-tied and fucked up, but I do think he wants her to be happy and safe.
AD: You get to have this really awesome, 80’s inspired fight scene at the end with Grigori—played by Audrey Ivchenko. It reminded me of a video game. It hits all the right notes in terms of honoring 80’s action movies and that’s an intense fight!
DH: Right. (Laughs)
AD: Along with the anger, is this Hopper’s most physically arduous season?
DH: I mean a lot of that is my stunt guy…(Laughs)
AD: Of course!
DH: There were some moments on those metal platforms where it is me, so my back and my thighs would go into the floor. It’s brutal. It’s something we’d always dreamed of. Sometimes me and the Duffer Brothers would sit around on set, even from season one, and we’d talk about these great scenes from these 80’s movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or 48 Hours. There were so many discussions about that scene in Indiana Jones where he’s fighting that big, bald guy in front of a plane.
AD: Oh yeah!
DH: Even how they’d box back then, they’d have their hands up in a different way. We just loved all these ideas. That was a joy. There’s this great shot of the camera pulling back and we have our fists ready, and he spits, and I gesture for him to come towards me like, ‘Let’s go!’ There’s so much style that we can pull that off. If we didn’t have that, it might look really cheesy or really stupid. I know they weave such a web that you have all this world building and kids singing ‘The Neverending Story.’ You really are swept away with this magical realism. We push those moments and that was one of them.
AD: It was seriously like an 80’s dream.
AD: It really was one of the most cinematic finales I’ve seen in a long time.
AD: Unfortunately, we are talking a lot about Russia, and your next big movie is Black Widow where you play Red Guardian. You were in Suicide Squad and Hellboy, so it feels like you’re getting every inch of every comic book universe that exists.
DH: I think I’m the only guys who has done DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse.
AD: I was going to bring that up, because I think you are!
DH: The Marvel guys are just extraordinary. They are so dedicated to these stories and this universe. They are like little kids, and they hire people who are really creative. We have this great director, Cate Shortland, and they really let her make her movie. She let me and Rachel Weisz really play. I haven’t seen a final cut yet, but shooting it I knew it was really fun stuff. The performances from the women—Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, and Rachel—are all extraordinary. It’s a complex story. You see in the trailer, my character has a lot of funny moments, but he’s a guy who really messed up and is kind of past his prime. He’s definitely got this superhero, badass thing to him, but he’s also got a lot more different colors than that. He’s humorous but also really chilly. He has deep relationships with these three women, and he’s exploring his past as much as Natasha is exploring hers. I think you’re going to be blown away. When it was surprising to me early on, I thought I knew it was going to go, but then it kept surprising me as Cate kept telling me what was going to happen. It’s just a fun movie.
All of Stranger Things is streaming on Netflix. What are you waiting for? Catch up!