Stranger Things Actor Credits the Changing Entertainment Industry for His Breakout Role

Thanks to Netflix, David Harbour broke out of being typecasted

Steve Ellis, WhoSay's CEO and co-founder interviewed Stranger Things actor David Harbour about celebrities' power on social media.
Social Media Week NY

Before Stranger Things catapulted David Harbour into stardom, the actor hadn’t spent much time on social media. But the Netflix show’s success led Harbour, who has been acting off-Broadway and in various TV shows for years, to become more adept at interacting with fans on the internet.

“You totally learn as you go,” Harbour told Adweek. “It’s intuitive, but there’s no way you can hide yourself.”

Harbour, who plays the role of police chief Jim Hopper, a man with a bit of a painful past who grows, over time, to learn from and help out the concerned kids of his town, shared the advice he’s received about how to handle social media, “People always tell me ‘you do you,’ and I think it’s great advice.”

As Harbour, who fans might also recognize from his time on the Newsroom, learned after his Screen Actors Guild Awards acceptance speech, social media is in fact a two-way street. His speech, which was interpreted as more politically charged than he intended, sparked a lot of backlash from his vocal fans and “trolls” alike.

“Social media should be more like a cocktail party than anything else,” he said. “You can have your fun jokes and you can also express yourself and your beliefs. It’s a conversation, not a sledgehammer.”

During a panel at Social Media Week titled “The Strange Thing About the World of Celebrity and Social Media,” Harbour discussed social media, and living in a post-truth society, with Steve Ellis, the CEO and co-founder of WHOSAY, an influencer marketing agency.

“At first, there’s something really gratifying about thousands of people following your account every day,” said Harbour. “People from some rather conservative states would tweet: ‘Hopper makes me want to be a better man.'”

“But then I started responding too much, and I was on it all day long,” he said. “Winona Ryder had to come up to me to tell me to stop doing that.”

A post shared by David Harbour (@dkharbour) on

In previous roles, Harbour said he was mostly cast as the villain. To other networks, he wasn’t “pretty enough.” Both Netflix and the casting director for Stranger Things, Carmen Cuba, “saw something in me that the other networks didn’t.”

The reason Netflix was able to explore with casting decisions like Harbour, or developing Stranger Things at all, is due to its business model, according to Ellis.

“It allows them to take these chances where other networks would have to test actors or use focus groups to make decisions,” he said.

“Like in business, Netflix is choosing to bet on the person,” explained Ellis, instead of referring to the status quo of how networks usually do things. Newer media entertainment services, like Netflix or Amazon Video, take a less passive approach to how people consumer their pieces of content.

“Netflix sees people as users or subscribers or customers,” Harbour told Adweek. “Historically, networks have seen people as viewers.”

Thanks to Netflix’s gamble on the Duffer brothers, the twins who created Stranger Things, and the fact that other networks passed on the idea, Harbour was given a chance at a role he normally wouldn’t have been offered.

This role gave him a wider platform for fans to communicate with him, as well as potential future opportunities. During the panel at Social Media Week, news started to leak about rumors of Harbour playing a major role in the upcoming Deadpool 2 movie. When Adweek asked to either confirm or deny, Harbour said “no comment,” but his smile suggested he was at least in talks with the movie’s production team.

Despite any backlash or praise you may receive, it’s still important to be yourself online, both Harbour and Ellis agreed. For celebrities and brands, the major takeaway is the authenticity in what you post.

“You have to accept the responsibility that comes when people follow you,” Ellis told Adweek. “You have to just get in there and be smart about it.”

“The number of people you reach matters a lot less than who the person behind the account actually is,” he said. “It’s about the influence, not the influencer.”