Stranger Things' David Harbour thought the Netflix show would be 'a complete disaster'

Megan C. Hills
Getty Images
Getty Images

On paper, Netflix drama Stranger Things is a show that shouldn’t work: with its Dungeons and Dragons obsessed middle school kids, evil demodogs and an alternate dimension called the Upside Down.

But soon after dropping the show became a major smash hit for the streaming service and catapulted its lesser known actors into super stardom - even though, according to one of these stars David Harbour, the cast thought it was going to be “terrible” and “a big failure."

David Harbour, a.k.a. Chief Jim Hopper and one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive, appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he talked about the drama's early days. When asked if he had any hint that the show was going to be a major success, Harbour revealed he had little faith it would take off at all.

Harbour said, “I had the opposite of a hint. I was sure it was going to be a complete disaster and a big failure.”

David Harbour (Getty Images for SAG-AFTRA Found)
David Harbour (Getty Images for SAG-AFTRA Found)

Although Netflix rarely releases viewer data, it strayed from the norm to announce the latest series of Stranger Things was watched by 40.7 million households - over the span of just four days.

The series broke the record for highest number of streams in that time period and of that astronomical figure, Netflix revealed 18.2 million people had binged the entire season.

“Before it came out,” Harbour continued, “I mean, I remember when we were shooting too. We would all sit around and talk about how terrible it was going to be. And then, mainly because of my performance, I thought that I was tanking the whole show.”

Harbour as Jim Hopper in Stranger Things S2 (Netflix)
Harbour as Jim Hopper in Stranger Things S2 (Netflix)

At the time the show was due to be released, Harbour was in a New York play with an unnamed television actor. With just weeks to go before it dropped on Netflix, he started to feel anxious when he noted the show’s marketing plan - or rather, its lack of one.

He said, “I live in New York, [where ads are] on buses and phone booths. There’s like ads for shows [everywhere]. Not a single [Stranger Things] ad three weeks before the show. A week before the show. I was doing a play with a friend of mine, who’s on a very successful television programme, and I said to him, ‘No ads, no ads. I guess they’re doing some kind of new campaign.’”

David Harbour and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things S3 (Netflix)
David Harbour and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things S3 (Netflix)

Harbour’s friend prepared him for the worst, as he recounted, “He said, ‘No, they’re burying the show.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean burying the show? I don’t understand your television lingo.’ And he said, ‘They hate the show. They’re trying to make sure no one watches it.’”

Of course, Stranger Things did eventually drop in July 2016 and became an international phenomenon - heralding a comeback for actress Winona Ryder as brands clamoured to plaster the show on everything possible (culminating in a Louis Vuitton shirt). Harbour realised that the show had made a splash - despite his friend's gloomy predictions.

Harbour said, “The show came out and it was like an overnight zeitgeist success. Like on my phone, I have a bunch of telephone numbers from people... and then I would get texts from drivers from the past ten years, being like, ‘I saw Stranger Things, it’s so good.’ But yeah, that’s kind of when I knew it took off.”

“Before that, I really thought it was going to be nothing. And then people just sort of embraced it, it became this grassroots event. It was very gratifying,” Harbour finished.

Prior to Stranger Things, Harbour starred as Hellboy’s titular character (a film that flopped) as well as in films and shows including Revolutionary Road, Suicide Squad and The Newsroom. He was eventually nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Hopper on Stranger Things in 2018, but sadly lost to Big Little Lies’ Alexander Skarsgard.

He is currently starring in the upcoming Marvel film Black Widow, alongside Scarlett Johansson, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh.

A release date for season four of Stranger Things has yet to be released, however showrunners revealed the next could be the show’s last. Ross Duffer, who directs Stranger Things with his brother Matt, told Vulture, “We’re thinking it will be a four season thing and then out.”

That said, executive producer Shawn Levy revealed that after the Duffer Brothers comments “hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters” and he was hit with a barrage of “phone calls from our actors’ agents”.

Hinting that four seasons might not be a hard line, he said, “The truth is we're definitely going four seasons and there's very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”