Thoughts on David Harbour

Among Stranger Things

Eva Thomas

On Monday, February 11th, actor David Harbour, widely-known for his role as Chief of Police Jim Hopper in Netflix’s popular Stranger Things, spoke at Birmingham-Southern (BSC) as the Alex P. Stirling guest lecturer. Audience members filled Bruno Great Hall, located on the third floor of the college’s Norton Campus Center. Media and Film Studies Professor Teddy Champion sat down and interviewed the actor on stage in talk-show fashion.

Harbour graduated from Dartmouth College and shortly after moved to New York City to pursue acting. His fame did not come overnight. Harbour described himself as a “professional waiter for twenty years” before his acting career took off.

Harbour’s acting career is expansive. In addition to the popular Sci-Fi Netflix series, Harbour has played in several films including Suicide Squad (2016), The Equalizer (2007), The Green Hornet (2011), and, most recently, the new Hellboy film (2019) directed by Neil Marshall.

One of Harbour’s first big roles was as a prison guard in the soap opera As the World Turns. Although this role wasn’t a big one, he still relished every moment on set. Since then, Harbour has worked with Hollywood royalty, including Brokeback Mountain (2005) director Ang Lee who allegedly told Harbour to “act more handsome.”

Harbour believes that “you get what you deserve, not what you desire.” It’s not about how much one wants something—outcome depends on how much one works.

Harbour’s view of Hollywood is realistic and far from romantic. Despite being nominated for two Primetime Emmys and a Tony, Harbour is not a fan of awards shows. He feels that if an actor is fortunate enough to have substantial roles, then the work is an award in itself.

Harbor often tries to humble the teens he works with on Stranger Things, like Millie Bobbie Brown and Finn Wolfhard.

“They’re all big deals and everybody treats them like big deals… except for me,” laughed Harbour.

He also strongly believes that Hollywood romanticizes mental illness, an issue with which Harbour is all too familiar, as he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 25. After spending time in multiple psychiatric hospitals, Harbour is able to examine Hollywood’s portrayal of mental institutions from a raw, first-hand point of view. He has turned down roles involving psychiatric hospitals and mental illness for the reason that the hospitals were inaccurately represented and portrayed. Regardless of his critique of the industry, Harbour says working has helped his disorder because he has never experienced manic episodes when his mind and body are busy acting.

Harbour graciously answered countless questions during the event, including those from audience members. One question came from BSC Junior Raleigh Schmidt who asked Harbour if he was intimidated by Johnny Depp in the dinner scene from the 2015 movie Black Mass. Schmidt recalled that he “described the scene before for about fifteen seconds” to give the audience some background context before he asked the question.

Harbour answered by explaining that he and Johnny Depp were friends prior to filming, so even though Depp was a powerful and intense actor, Harbour himself was never truly intimidated.

When I asked Schmidt if Harbour’s answer was sufficient, Schmidt said, “I found his answers relatively sufficient, but I don’t know if he was sufficed by my question.”

Overall, I thought Harbour was honest and real during the interview with Dr. Champion.

Harbour’s new adaption of the comic superhero Hellboy comes out in April of 2019 with Harbour in the titular role.