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Chief Hopper from 'Stranger Things' Thinks the Kids Need a Break from Fame

David Harbour chats about living up to the hype, drones, and whether Hopper could hang with Dale Cooper.

Evan Romano

Courtesy of Netflix

When you're the ass-kicking hero of one of TV's biggest shows, an 8-bit video game iteration of yourself punching out bad guys shouldn't feel too out of the ordinary. Yet, David Harbour has irrefutable glee in his voice ("I don't like to admit it to too many people, but I do like the video games, I have to say.") when he talks about his character in the new Stranger Things mobile game.

The game arrived a few weeks ago as part of Netflix's lead-up to the second season of Stranger Things, a surprise smash hit that garnered a massive fanbase, critical acclaim, and an Emmy nomination for Harbour's Chief Hopper. It also seemingly spurred an industry-wide intrigue in nostalgia, with hit entertainment constantly dating itself decades back to the good old 80s.

In the midst of a four-month Eastern European shoot playing the title role in the upcoming R-rated Hellboy reboot, Harbour hopped (sorry) on the phone to talk about what's evolved with Stranger Things, his working relationship with the Duffer Brothers, and how Chief Hopper would get along with Special Agent Dale Cooper.

VICE: The first Stranger Things season arrived with no fanfare, while this season debuted its first trailer during the Super Bowl. How did your experience differ this time around?
David Harbour: It was funny—it was such a little show when we were filming. Nobody cared about us. Going into season two, there's a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations. I was worried, because I felt like Hopper's arc was so complete in season one, and I was like, What are we going to do with him? Then I thought, We can open up the world in a whole new way. We can let these characters go on all new adventures. I was psyched.

Filming the new season wasn't quite as low-key.
We had to change the name of the show. We also had drones flying over, trying to get shots—I've never experienced that kind of madness before. There was a silly element to that. I wanted this season to be as rich as the first season, and they embraced the challenges, the hype, and the expectation of it. They wrote a really awesome season that lives up to the epicness, especially when you get into episodes 8 and 9. We had to change the game—to get bigger in a certain sense but still maintain this real beating heart to it, which is the beauty of Stranger Things.

Second seasons are interesting to me because the characters and chemistry are already developed, so you don't have to waste time explaining who people are and why we should care about them.
Absolutely. The chemistry on-set was completely genuine. We're all professionals in a certain way, but it almost felt amateur in the sense of people doing what they do because they love it. That's what the true etymology of amateur is—it really did feel like these are all good-hearted people who just love acting and telling stories.

Did you feel a stronger bond doing scenes with the kids?
There are also pitfalls of that success; those kids got super famous. One of the things that's so great about them is that they were just kids, and now they're really famous, and they're struggling with that, even if they say they're not. Part of the great thing about getting back to shooting is that I could be protective of them—we could all hunker down together and have this safe space where we didn't have to go on talk shows, give interviews, and have to sound brilliant. We could all just be little weirdos living in trailers, shooting the show that we love.

That was a nice thing, especially for the kids—and I worry about their exposure in that way. I want them to continue to hone their craft and work on what they do, and really stay in it for the right reasons. I think it's hard to be 14 years old no matter what you're doing, but to be 14 years old and have the whole world watching you, with that self-consciousness, is hard. Being back together, we can make fun of them and treat them like kids again, which I feel like they need.

What's your working relationship like with the Duffer Brothers?
Ever since I signed on to the project, the Duffers and I had this kinship. I've never had a greater cinematic collaboration, and I feel like these guys get me, and I get them in a way that I've never felt in film. They rarely give me notes—they really just trust me with the character, and I trust them with the writing and the storytelling and the shots. It really is a very symbiotic relationship, where we feed off each other's creativity and off of each other's surprise.

You've now been Hopper for two seasons. Who are some other fictional officers you think he might get along with? I was thinking Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks.
[Laughs]

They both love coffee. There might be something there.
[Still laughing] They do both love coffee. I think that he'd find Cooper a bit of a stiff and a weirdo. One of the things I like about Hopper is that he's the opposite of me: I was a nerdy outcast. Hopper looks down on Will when Joyce says that people make fun of his clothes—he's the football jock who became the sheriff. I think he'd probably make fun of Cooper—they could have a nice cup of coffee, though.