A 12-year-old boy, Will Byers, goes missing in a small town in Indiana, USA. It unleashes a chain of unsettling events. This is the basic premise of Stranger Things, the latest sci-fi-meets-horror-meets-family adventure Netflix series. A throwback to the iconic films — ET the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Stand by Me (1986) — it stars actor David Harbour (Brokeback Mountain, Revolutionary Road) as police chief Jim Hopper, who must uncover the strange events. Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands, Girl, Interrupted) plays a distraught mother. In an exclusive Skype interview, Harbour gives us the low-down on the show which was the most Googled pop culture phenomenon worldwide, this July.
Q) What idea did the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, have for your character?
This guy has been through a lot of pain because his daughter died, and he’s channelled that into the ferocity of his search for Will. You don’t necessarily like him at first. But then, instead of making the villainous choice, he gets to make the heroic choice. The Duffer Brothers let me take the reins on this.
Q) The show pays homage to the some of the iconic ’80s American films. Did you look at any ’80s characters for reference points?
Yeah, we talked about Han Solo (Star Wars), and Indiana Jones. I wanted to have an iconic hat that Hopper’s grandfather would have passed down to him. We also talked about this swashbuckling guy, who was dark, angry and messed up, and doesn’t know if he loves someone or has that self-awareness… like Han Solo.
Q) The show is the ultimate tribute to Steven Spielberg. Were you also influenced by him as a kid?
My initial love of movies did come from Spielberg. His movies were magical.
Q) Are you aware of the incredible response to Stranger Things from India?
(Smiles) Yeah! One of the things that’s so amazing is that Stranger Things is set in Indiana, a small town in (America’s) Midwest. But the fact that Indians are moved by it is gratifying. It means we have something universal that connects us all.
Q) Did you relate to any of the kids in the show? What do you remember from when you were 12 years old?
I was mainly like Finn [who plays Mike Wheeler on the show]. I never got to sit at the popular kids’ lunch table, but I was the leader of my own band of geeky friends. One of the things we captured so well is that it was a simpler time. Nobody had mobile phones, so you could get lost in the woods. Nowadays, every kid has a cellphone and so you text with your mom if there’s a monster running after you (chuckles).
Q) Winona Ryder was a teen icon in the ’80s, so it’s quite meta that she’s in an ’80s tribute show.
Yeah, I tried not to bring that up because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable (laughs). I was like 17 years old when I saw her in Heathers (1988; comedy film), and I had such a crush on her for years. Once she got to know me, I got to geek out and tell her how big a fan I am.
Q) What can you tell us about season 2? The show’s not been officially renewed so far.
I do know that they want to continue to use the same characters. And they want it to feel like a sequel, as opposed to like a continuation, like how Star Wars, and Empire Strikes Back (1980) was its own thing.
Know the actor
David Harbour is an American TV and film actor. He made his television debut on an episode of Law and Order in 1999 and went on to play the recurring role of Elliot Hirsch, a journalist on Aaron Sorkin’s critically acclaimed TV series, The Newsroom (2012-14). Harbour’s most recognised film roles include a CIA operative in the 22nd Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008) and the typical suburban American neighbour to Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Kate Winslet’s characters in Revolutionary Road (2008).