B.At the end of the third season of filming Stranger Things, David Harbor knew he was destined for a Russian jail. He knew the season would end with the not-so-subtle hint that as police chief and supernatural monster fighter Jim Hopper would be captured by Soviet spies. And he was also aware that he would face years of fan theories trying to predict how his stretch as a prisoner would play out.
Two months after filming for the Netflix show ended, he was offered a completely different role to focus on: a super soldier in the new Marvel movie Black Widow.
“Then I read the script, called [Stranger Things writer-directors] the Duffer brothers and said, ‘Guys, I hate doing this to you, but I’m doing something in a Russian prison,’ ”he laughs, looking out of a Zoom window. “They were like, ‘WHAT?'”
If there’s one thing Harbor is known for, it’s for playing the troubled but big-hearted common man who unexpectedly stumbles upon a dramatic middle-aged second act. So Black Widow director Cate Shortland knew who to call when she needed an actor to play Alexei Shostakov, aka Red Guardian, an idealistic ex-agent from Eastern Europe with a chance for redemption after the character of Scarlett Johansson. gets him out of jail. Although Shortland probably didn’t expect him to take on the responsibility of acting like a Soviet spy so literally.
While at the Black Widow location, he began taking sneaky set photos and texting the Duffer Brothers. Any information he could provide to make the two productions feel different, he sent it, whether it was related to the sets (“I was like, ‘Okay, there’s an orange color in this one. Just don’t make the prison orange! ‘”), or his character’s individual vision of prison preparation (“ Alexei is big, with a beard and long hair, so I wanted Hopper to have a shaved head, clean-shaven, very thin ”). The main reason? People identify Harbor so strongly with his Stranger Things character, he was worried they might end up linking the two. “It’s a concern that people say, ‘Wow! It’s a crossover! No guys, it’s a coincidence. “
Such are the challenges with a show as big as Stranger Things, whose last season erased Netflix’s viewing records in just four weeks. Although it is not difficult to sympathize with the people who struggle to distinguish Harbor from Hopper. Aside from the fact that his Hopper Dance has become a meme legend, Harbor inhabits his turn as Stranger Things police chief like a second skin. He is noted for switching between desperate attempts to make the world a safer place and a worldview that struggles to see beyond the bottom of a beer can. There is good reason why he is monumentally compelling in his portrayal of an alcoholic with a troubled past who carries a melancholy about the injustice of the world. Essentially it is the story of Harbor’s own life.
At age 20, Harbor struggled so intensely with alcoholism that at one point he thought about committing suicide. He says he probably would have if he hadn’t had a kitten at the time. “What stopped me was, ‘I love this cat! Who will take care of this cat? ‘”, He says. “I was also horrified by the idea of dying in my apartment, not being discovered for a week and being eaten by a cat.”
He found sobriety, but was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, at the age of 25, after a manic episode triggered by an obsession with finding answers to the world’s injustice. After receiving treatment, he began to control his condition with medication and realized: the more he devoted himself to acting, the better his mental health became. The theater became his passion: “I was able to do things on Broadway that were complex and really rich.”
Television and movies, however, seemed like a lucrative if unsatisfactory exercise in paying the bills. “In Hollywood, I was relegated to number 6 or 7 on the call sheet; I was basically the guy who goes after Denzel with a gun! “He laughs.” I would let my heart drift away from film and television. I said to myself: ‘There is a role I play in movies. I make money from them.’
But then came Stranger Things, where Harbor’s life experiences turned out to uniquely qualify him for the role of Hopper. Especially since Harbor knew how to play a forty-something who didn’t feel challenged by his career. Count rave reviews, world fame, and the sneaky suspicion that your previous decades were just killing time. “I have always been looking forward to my 40th birthday. Even when I was 20 I never had that bounce or jump, ”he smiles. “It makes perfect sense that I was not successful until I was able to embody in age the stories that I felt I was born to tell.”
Hence its presence in Black Widow. The film is Scarlett Johansson’s first outing as the focus of a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, with the titular hero tied to a plot to end the brainwashing boot camp that taught her to fight. To do so, she connects with Soviet agents who once played her family on an undercover mission: Florence Pugh as her fake sister, Rachel Weisz as her fake mother, and Harbor as her pseudo father. That he has a serious daddy body.
“My belly is amazing! It’s kind of circles in front of me, regardless of my own body! “he laughs, referencing a slow-motion shot of him running out of jail, his bulky belly flapping under a grimy tank top. He says it took a lot of commitment to his craft to develop: donuts, sugar, all kinds of crap. It was great! “
It wasn’t just the bulking that his character enjoyed (he had to lose it all afterwards). He also has some sympathy for the politics of the Red Guardian – a man so dedicated to the spread of communism that he has KARL and MARX tattooed on his knuckles.
“I don’t know if there is anyone who might disagree with the socialist ideology,” says Harbor. “If you work at Starbucks and make the coffee, then you should have it. You are the one who makes the coffee! But the fact is that the implementation of these things has led to the deepest fascism of our society, which is why people assume that ‘communism’ means ‘fascism’ to some extent. That’s a terrible thing. “
Harbor’s own politics are slightly less severe than his character’s, though he’s still eager for change. “The idea of a kindergarten-type society where we share things is my ideal society; unlike this world where we are hunting, killing and destroying for our own personal hoarding, our own personal greed. “
Frankly, this is not that surprising. A worldview that is all about bringing happiness is very David Harbor’s, as anyone who has followed him on social media will know. In October 2017, a fan asked him how many retweets it would take to convince him to appear in his high school photo. When Harbor responded, challenging her to get 25,000, she doubled her goal and he tuploaded to your photoshoot play with pompoms. He persuaded tweeters to get him more than 200,000 retweets so he could travel to Antarctica to teach some penguins their “hopper dance” of Stranger Things for Greenpeace. Even got ordained to perform marriages, officiating at a fan’s wedding after they met their challenge of 125,000 retweets.
“There was a purity to the game that I really enjoyed, and it just translated. I had fun with him for a year, a couple of years in a row, ”he smiles. Until, that is, he pulled out of social media after platforms made him feel more and more “like a cog in a greedy tech machine that is not geared toward beautifying humanity in any way.”
But at one point during the lockdown last year, he tried to regain the connection he once had. He found a community-based app, posted a contact number on Instagram, and urged fans to message him. He sent personal video messages to people who gave him various ideas on how to be a key worker, told him how scared they were, or just talked about his weaving. He immersed himself in it, until the messages reached hundreds of thousands and he could no longer keep up. “I love that connection,” he smiles. “I really love people; I love their stories. “
The Clark County, Nevada registry office has not helped any chance of her returning to social media. So excited were they by the story of Harbor’s romance with singer Lily Allen that, last September, they broke the news of their secret marriage to the world. via Twitter: “There was a time when what happened in Las Vegas stayed in Las Vegas…”, he grimaces.
The couple met in 2019, and Harbor moved into Allen’s home during the close of 2020. Things accelerated when Harbor realized that Allen’s daughters, ages eight and nine, [with previous husband Sam Cooper] they were confused about his relationship with them: “I wanted to make it very clear that I love their mother and that I wanted to take care of them and be there for them as a friend and stepfather.”
The block meant that Harbor couldn’t do the performance that usually helps him with his bipolar. Instead, he spent the months “doing things that are bigger than me, trying to help people,” like starting a book on mental health. And when he didn’t have that, he could at least enjoy the rage of Barnard Castle. Who was the boy? Dominic Cummings? That big fuss … I was like, “I love this! The British people are holding someone accountable! If this were America, we wouldn’t give a shit! ‘”
Hopefully, he didn’t enjoy the house arrest too much. After all, given the way your career is currently going, you don’t need to be persuaded to spend more time in jail. “I promise you, I’m not trying to shape my career, like: ‘Put me in a Russian prison!’ he laughs. “It is pure coincidence! There is no conspiracy going on! “
Let’s see how the next Stranger Things series plays out, shall we?
Black Widow is in theaters July 7th