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David Harbour — the man behind Stranger Things' Jim Hopper and Black Widow's Red Guardian — stopped by New York Comic Con Saturday for a lively discussion about his prolific acting career and high-profile genre roles.
Naturally, everyone wanted some intel on the upcoming fourth season of Stranger Things, and the actor was only too happy to oblige, promising "action on a level that we've never done before" and a much deeper look at Hopper's traumatic backstory, which involves a dead daughter and combat during the Vietnam War.
"You have a whole character who is Gandalf the Gray who fights the Balrog, sends it to Hell, and re-emerges as Gandalf the White. There's a rebirth to him this season and a coming to terms with this toxicity that he's carried around with him. This trauma, really ... You'll get to see a lot more specifically of what those traumas were, which I've always wanted to get into. Those are cardboard boxes in the attic: my dad and Vietnam. We got into a lot more layers with him ... He has all these twists and turns and also, there's a tremendous arc of redemption, which plays out in each season. But on a broad scale, you'll start to see we're really arching toward the end of this redemption, which, to me, is very beautiful."
Harbour might be a little biased, but he's confident that he has the "best storyline" in all of Season 4, with Hopper's imprisonment in the Soviet Union following the character's sacrifice at the end of Season 3. For this part of the intersecting narratives, the Duffers drew on classic films (and cult classics) like The Great Escape and David Fincher's Alien 3.
"You've seen that there is a Demogorgon in this prison from last season. I think they also talked about Alien 3, the Fincher Alien, where they're tapped in prison with a monster," Harbour continued. "This is a Hopper trying to get home to his family element, which is really incredible ... A lot of the things that you wanted to [see] in terms of Hopper and where he's going. I think you're gonna see more development of the Joyce/Hopper relationship and then you're gonna see more of the Hopper/Eleven development. To me, it's the deepest season we've gotten to go with him and the most self-aware. He starts to really uncover these truths that we've only hinted at before."
The future of Harbour's involvement with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a little harder to divine. While we know that Alexei survived the events of Black Widow alongside Yelena (Florence Pugh), and Melina (Rachel Weisz), only Yelena is confirmed to return in next month's Hawkeye TV series on Disney+. "It was such an honor and such a privelege to be in that company," the actor said of his co-stars and director Cate Shortland. "We really got to play in this fun, complex way and create these relationships that I hope you'll see more of in the future in more detail."
During the fan question segment of the panel, one brave soul asked Harbour about Lionsgate's ill-fated Hellboy movie and whether he'd be open to reprising the role. "I won't say anything controversial. I want to so bad," he said, lamenting the fact that news outlets would probably just twist his words into a clickbait-y article.
Touché, David. Touché.
Nevertheless, the actor has noticed a lot of support for his turn as Hellboy on social media from viewers who were able to check out the movie after all the controversy. "We have very strong opinions about what should and should not happen [to] our IPs and our franchises — and we're very vocal about that! Then, after that dies down, I think people can just watch it when it comes on TV or something. I do get a lot of people who have a lot of love for this kind of B-movie that's fun."
He did stress that the reboot did try to stick closer to the Dark Horse comics by Mike Mignola, whereas the two previous Hellboy features were very much a direct product of Guillermo del Toro's unique style. "In terms of playing the role going forward, it's a very interesting thing. Because I've already done it, I would think about doing it again," Harbour added. "I will tell you this, though: in terms of existing franchise material, I don't know that I would ever do that again."
Case in point: fans on Twitter once suggested that Harbour should be next in line to play the character of Indiana Jones once Harrison Ford hangs up the fedora and whip next summer. The actor was initially gung-ho for the idea, but ultimately decided that trying to tackle such an iconic role would be a pointless effort. Harbour argued that cultural icons can live on and be reinterpreted via new characters and properties without the risk of disrupting the public's tacit agreement of what they should be after definitive performances from Harrison Ford and Ron Perlman.
"What I realize now about storytelling is that Hopper is Indiana Jones. You can play Indiana Jones, you can play Hellboy, but we need different iterations and new stories," he concluded. "You can play with that particular structure of what that movie is doing, but you can't play the actual role, I don't think. And so, that [Hellboy] was a big learning experience around that whole thing. We need new stories and need to preserve those things for what they were."
Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of New York Comic Con 2021