We’ll admit it: we’re more than a little obsessed with Stranger Things. It was easily the most talked about show this summer, and we’re still talking about it months later. We jumped at the chance to sit down with Chief Jim Hopper – er, we mean David Harbour. As one of the few adult stars on the show, Harbour has a wealth of experience on set. He was the Tony nominee for 2005’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and you probably recognize him from (more recently) The Newsroom, Quantum of Solace and Black Mass.
When we met up at Ascent Lounge, he chatted with us on everything from playing the good guy versus the villain – and hanging out in the upside down with Winona – to what his last meal would be. Read below for Harbour’s interview. (PS: That cast you see in the photos isn’t – to our disappointment – from hunting the monster…)
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Coffee and a nice, hot everything bagel with cream cheese, tomato, a little onion and a healthy dose of salt and pepper. For lunch, a thick cheeseburger with Vermont sharp cheddar cheese on a sesame bun and tater tots for a side. In the evening, a bunch of little plates from ABC Kitchen, including some peekytoe crab bread, ricotta and jam bread, the roasted carrot avocado salad, and then like, eight other things the chef deems necessary for the day!
We’re hooked on the series! Can you tell us anything about what to expect from next season of Stranger Things?
You don’t want to know. I know the pain of waiting, but from what I’ve seen already, if we do our parts on the production end, these stories in the new season are going to be so exciting, shocking, moving and magical that you’ll be happy I didn’t tell ya anything.
Have you been surprised by the response the show has received?
Very. We were all a little scared down there in Atlanta, away and on our own, just shooting shooting shooting, that we didn’t know if what we were doing would work at all. The fact that it touched so many people is incredible and very unexpected.
Do you have any funny stories about things that happened while filming?
Those suits that Winona and I wore in the upside down were complicated and hard to get in and out of. Bathroom breaks took a solid thirty minutes of undressing and dressing. I tried not to drink as much coffee as I normally do on those days.
You have spent most of your career playing a villain, though you are definitely a hero on Stranger Things. How did you approach this change of character?
I often seek contradiction to any known trope I play. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, I play a horrible man – a truly dark villain – and it was important to me that he was as human as possible, that he could make you laugh and charm you a little. It makes it that much scarier when we laugh with that person because through laughter we identify, and identifying with ‘Ray’ was not a pleasant thing to do. In a similar fashion, since I knew Hop was so heroic, I sought out the areas of him that were broken, messed up and ‘bad’ (these monikers may seem trite, but in the lexicon of heroes and villains they are what we have). You don’t have to like a hero at the beginning of a story, you just have to pay attention to him or her. I would even say that the journey with Hop becomes more satisfying if you don’t like him at the beginning and you write him off as callous and a jerk. Then, you get to uncover what’s behind that and can love him all the more. People that have it all together are hard to love; because they don’t need our love, they will be fine without us. Hop needs your love because he is not okay; he is broken, and he may not make the right decisions. It’s a rich journey.
What is your go-to lunch on set?
I eat whatever the crew is eating that day. There’s a catering company on set and they’ll have food – like summer camp. Or prison. Or a cruise ship…
How do you start your day? What is your typical breakfast?
Coffee. As I start to prepare for getting back to playing Hop, now it’s coffee and a cigarette.
What would your last meal be? Who would it be with?
My family (Mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and two little nephews), close friends (I don’t have to name them, they know who they are), my acting coach and teacher Tony Greco, who’s known me fifteen years and knows me even better than some of my friends, and my mentor and close friend, Al Pacino. We’ve done two plays on Broadway together and love each other. He’s also a silly man and would make me laugh…considering, I mean, I guess I’ll be dying or something if it’s my last meal.
The meal would be my mother’s Chicken Divan. It’s like a chicken casserole of sorts. And her cheese green beans. Then I’d have Jean Georges stop by and bring some special dishes he’s prepared. David Chang could bring dessert if he’s in the neighborhood – some of that crack pie maybe.
What are your favorite cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each?
New York. I loved Alain Ducasse’s Ardor at the St. Regis but I think it’s gone now. I love ABC Kitchen as I’ve mentioned. I used to work at Bouley Bakery and love him [David Bouley] as a chef, though I was ‘a terrible waiter’, according to the maitre d’, and am not sure I’d be let back in.
What’s the best advice you ever received? The worst?
Best: Never take advice from anyone.
Worst: Never take advice from anyone.
You’ve graced many incredible sets, was there one in particular you looked around and thought “I can’t believe this is happening?” What was it? How’d the project turn out?
Not so much a set as a studio. We shot Quantum of Solace in the legendary Pinewood Studios outside of London. They shot all the Bond films there, and legendary pictures with Peter Sellers and just tons of amazing people. It felt like hallowed ground.
If you could host a dinner party with any five people living or dead who would you have over? And what would you serve?
I’m sure everyone says it, but William Shakespeare – or whoever ACTUALLY wrote the plays (insert authorship fights here) – Marie Curie (fascinating I’m sure, bold and stunningly intelligent), J. Robert Oppenheimer (“I am become death” himself), Edmund Kean (greatest stage actor of his generation) and Eleonora Duse (the greatest actor of all time).
In the same vein as what is the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato right now?
In New York? Probably the pickle back. I see that nonsense everywhere now.
*David Harbour, photographed at Ascent Lounge in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann