Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Best Performances: Stranger Things' David Harbour on Hopper's Paternal Struggles

It wasn't always "bitchin'"

Megan Vick

Best Performances is TV Guide's Emmys video series highlighting the best acting performances of the year. Actors take viewers behind the scenes of their Emmy-nominated performances and explain the secrets of their craft.

Stranger ThingsSeason 2 had many surprises, but one of the most heartfelt treats to come out of the Netflix drama's second season was the bond between Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

Eleven spent most of the year between Season 1 and Season 2 living in secret as Hopper's ward in a secluded cabin in the woods, eating Eggos and watching TV. The captivity brought the two loners together, but Hopper's overprotection led to a major rift that didn't get repaired until the Season 2 finale. The two reunited over defeating a Demogorgon and were immediately set on their way to save the world from the spreading Upside Down. However, in the truck on the way to the source of the Upside Down, Hopper and Eleven had a simple, honest conversation about what they actually mean to and expect from each other.

Habour takes TV Guide behind the scenes of his 2018 Emmy award nominated performance for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

"You have this scene that's very kind of silly almost about a girl running away," Harbour says to TV Guide as part of our Best Performances video series. "He doesn't know how to deal with it and he does sort of explore and sort of overshares in a way that a more sophisticated father probably wouldn't."

Best Performances: Noah Schnapp's Terrifying Transformation in Stranger Things

The moment is a tender and important one. The audience learned in Season 1 that Hopper had lost his biological daughter to cancer before he was reluctantly sucked into the battle against the inter-dimensional monsters. Season 2 found him in the middle of that epic fight while also grappling with his fears about being close to someone -- specifically fathering a young girl -- again. The scene where he and Eleven are heading to face the Mind Flayer head on juxtaposes Hopper's duty with his highest emotional hurdle.

"He is a man of justice. He's a cop through and through. He believes in good and bad, he believes in right and wrong and he believes in justice. As the father of a daughter who dies of cancer, the idea of justice becomes very skewed when you're dealing with a very unjust situation," Harbour explains. "In terms of emotional relationships and intimacy, he has a lot of problems. It's always very interesting to me to explore this dichotomy between his purpose and his mission and who he is as an intimate man."

It took a giant monster, a few dozen Demogorgons and a suspended elevator shaft for Hopper to cross that threshold. The battle was shot with a green screen but Harbour and Brown still spent hours hoisted in the air to complete the most climactic scene of the season. Both of the actors got nauseous from the height and Harbour was shooting a real shotgun to add an intense reality to the moment. That power of the drama culminated in another simple line from Hopper to Eleven: "You did good, kid."

"This whole time he's been so hard on her, I think, throughout the whole arc of the season," Harbour says of the sweet moment. "All of these things are layers of metaphor and sort of possible precursors for things to come as well. There's a lot of rich material there that I felt that we started to delve into, certainly in terms of Hopper's intimacy issues and his fathering issues, which play out again as we go farther down the road."

Best Performances: Freddie Highmore on The Good Doctor's Understated Emotion

Down the road could potentially mean Emmy gold for Harbour, who is in good standing to land a second nomination for his performance as Jim Hopper. With Season 3 already in production though, there's a lot more to explore when it comes to Hopper's emotional journey. He and Eleven are developing together and that will only continue as the series goes on.

"These characters are interesting to write for because they are both two very non-verbal characters. Eleven doesn't really have a language and Hopper doesn't really like language. As the series is growing and progressing, we are beginning to see them acquire language," Harbour explains. "Now [Hopper] is starting to understand that [anger] doesn't work when you're fathering a child. Him piecing that together, I [think] was very beautiful."

Emmy nominations will be announced on July 12 with the ceremony airing Monday, Sept. 17.

Stranger Things Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.