Stranger Things' David Harbour on preparing for new role as Hellboy

David Harbour and his girlfriend, Alison Sudol, attending the Vanity Fair Oscar Party held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA. Credit: Ian West/PA Photos.

He's known the world over for his role in Netflix hit Stranger Things, and now David Harbour has landed the lead role in superhero epic Hellboy. Georgia Humphreys chats to the actor about taking on such a notorious character.

David Harbour has an admission to make. Back in 2017, a first-look picture of the Hellboy reboot was posted on Twitter, with the titular character looking incredibly muscly.

Media outlets went crazy over the transformation the Stranger Things star had gone through for the role. But "that's not my body", Harbour whispers to me playfully, pointing to the film poster behind him.

That's not to say there wasn't any physical preparation for the role, of course.

"I did powerlifting, because I wanted to feel like a beast," reasons the New Yorker, who turns 44 this month.

So yeah, I lifted a bunch of weight... There's something that happens to your body and your emotions when you're doing that, where you just get kind of angry. And so I enjoyed that aspect of it.

Based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, the dark fantasy film sees Hellboy, the legendary half-demon, caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human.

While struggling to accept who he really is, he battles an ancient sorceress bent on revenge, with plenty of epic (and rather bloody) fight scenes along the way.

Harbour's previous turns on the silver screen include Quantum Of Solace, Revolutionary Road and Suicide Squad.

But he is definitely best known for a TV role: Jim Hopper in the Netflix science fiction horror series Stranger Things, which returns for a long-awaited third season in July.

It earned him a Critics' Choice Television Award in 2018, while he was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award. And it certainly made Hollywood take note - he also has thriller Dhaka, alongside Chris Hemsworth, hitting cinemas this year, plus there are rumours he's in talks about a part in another comic book movie, Marvel's Black Widow.

As for taking on notorious anti-hero Hellboy, there are various reasons why it appealed to him as an actor.

David Harbour as Hellboy. Credit: PA Photo/Lionsgate Films/Mark Rogers.
David Harbour as Hellboy. Credit: PA Photo/Lionsgate Films/Mark Rogers.

"First of all, he's an outcast and people hate him," he declares proudly. "And I love characters like this because I myself have felt that way so often in my life."

Deep in thought, he adds that the theme of identity in the film is very relatable too.

"There's this question of, 'Is our identity the conscious choices that we make in life, or is there something that's intrinsically 'us', that is genetic or whatever?' And if you make either one of those choices, you make a devil's bargain, because you sacrifice another piece of yourself, right?

"But I've often wondered about this in vino veritas thing, like, 'When I'm drunk, I'm really myself' - I don't think that's true," he continues.

"I think there are things inside me that are strange, but I think my behaviour in terms of my conscious choice is really what defines me as a human being.

"I think Hellboy comes to realise that throughout the film, and that to me is a very appealing journey, a very appealing story to tell."

David Harbour as Hellboy and Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan. Credit: PA Photo/Lionsgate Films/Mark Rogers.
David Harbour as Hellboy and Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan. Credit: PA Photo/Lionsgate Films/Mark Rogers.

The original Hellboy film, directed by The Shape Of Water's Guillermo del Toro, was released in 2004, followed by a sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army four years later, with Ron Perlman playing the lead character both times.

And Harbour admits he did have some reservations about starring in a reboot.

"I didn't want to recreate something that has already been done, I didn't want to be the second string to do the same thing.

"And so when they pitched it to me, they said, 'We're going to do something very different. Hellboy himself is a lot more scarred and he's younger and he's darker and he's more struggling with his own identity, he's struggling with his father, which isn't the case in the other films'.

"It's also gorier and it's more horror-based and it's got these kind of scares and these creepy things in it, and that got me excited."

In the end, once he had the script, and saw the great cast they'd assembled (notably, Ian McShane plays his dad) the "trepidation fell away pretty quickly".

Back to the style of this film, and it's true that there are definitely quite a few violent scenes throughout. In fact, there are a few "cover your eyes with your hands" moments...

"The thing I like about it is it reminds me a little bit, in a pulpy way, of a Quentin Tarantino movie," suggests Harbour.

"At the end of Django Unchained, I remember blood is comically spurting out and I don't exactly know what Tarantino's going for, but it's something about this world of violence being so chaotic and random and almost silly, in a certain way.

"And I think that's what we strive for in that gore in Hellboy, there's just these moments of, 'Oh man, we're in a monster world, we're in an apocalyptic world, we're in this world that is somewhat other to our experience'.

"I was grossed out myself! But that to me is part of the fun of it. If you're gonna do Hellboy, let's do it."

Hellboy is released in cinemas on Thursday, April 11.

-Press Association

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