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SYFY WIRE Violent Night

'Violent Night' star David Harbour on Santa's emotional 'journey' and Marvel's 'Thunderbolts' film

The rosy-faced Santa from the old Coca-Cola ads is long gone.

By Josh Weiss
Violent Night (2022)

It doesn't matter how many asses they kick, every good action hero still needs a solid character arc — Santa Claus included.

While his role as jolly ol' St. Nick in Violent Night (out on the big screen next week) required him to take on some grueling stunt work, David Harbour worked just as hard on the narrative side to ensure that audiences felt a human connection to the sleigh-riding resident of the North Pole. "I wanted him to go on a journey," the Stranger Things alum remarked during a recent interview with i09. "And there was something in the original script where there was less of that development. He was kind of a badass throughout the whole thing."

The actor pitched the idea of the red-coated protagonist starting off "as the saccharine Santa from the Coca-Cola ads of the ‘30s who had rosy cheeks and little glasses and a smile." But once he comes face-to-face with a group of mercenaries attempting to rob a wealthy family compound, Mr. Claus suddenly realizes that he's grown fat and complacent on greed.

RELATED: David Harbour delivers season's beatings in first trailer for wild Santa thriller 'Violent Night'

"And he was just like, 'I created this monster... but what I really am about in my core is justice,'" Harbour added. "I thought that’s where he becomes a badass is by shedding this skin and it requires the little girl to say to him, 'We need somebody different.' And he’s like, 'I am that guy.' So my contribution was much more about the arc of the piece and the arc of the character, which I was very interested in and I thought was a little undeveloped at the start."

Of course, Harbour's action hero credentials extend far beyond mistletoe and stockings hung with care. He's got one more go-around with Jim Hopper in the fifth and final season of Stranger Things on Netflix, as well as another big screen outing with fan favorite Red Guardian in Marvel's Thunderbolts film (coming in the summer 2024).

Announced at D23 Expo earlier in the fall, the MCU title will center around an Avengers-style team of ex-villains and antiheroes — Harbour's Soviet super-soldier, Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova, Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, Wyatt Russell's U.S. Agent, Hannah John-Kamen's Ghost, and Olga Kurylenko's Taskmaster — assembled by CIA Director de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). 

Harbour admitted that while a script is still being worked on by Black Widow writer Eric Pearson, he does know the general "arc" and has begun chatting with a number of core creatives.

"The idea is really cool," he teased. "Jake [Schreier], the director is a really interesting, fresh mind to this universe. What he wants to do with Florence’s character is very interesting and how I factor into how we develop our relationship is very interesting. I’ve loved Wyatt and Sebastian and Julia’s characters throughout the universe and to throw these characters together feels very random. And then when you see what Jake and Eric Pearson, the writer, is trying to fashion it’s really clever and there’s an interesting thing that we’re going to introduce to the universe that’s profound."

An eggnog-infused cocktail of Die Hard and Miracle on 34th Street, Violent Night was directed by Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, whose previous efforts — like Dead Snow and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, for instance — live in the same ultra-violent, genre-bending territory as this one. The project was written by Sonic the Hedgehog scribes, Pat Casey and Josh Miller, and features a supporting cast of John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, and Beverly D’Angelo.

Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, and Guy Danella produced the film. Marc S. Fischer is an executive producer.

Violent Night rides a blood-soaked open sleigh into theaters everywhere next Friday — Dec. 2. Thunderbolts, on the other hand, is still a ways down the road with a current release date of June 26, 2024.

Feeling festive? How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (the 1966 animated special) is now streaming on Peacock.