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David Harbour: I Was Sure No One Would Watch ‘Stranger Things’

Harbour was blown away by the Duffer Brothers' pilot script, but thought the Netflix series was too niche to find an audience.

Stranger Things

David Harbour in “Stranger Things”

Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix

Stranger Things” transformed David Harbour’s career, earning him two Emmy nominations and turning him into a bona fide movie star who can lead films like “Violent Night.” But he wasn’t always convinced that the blockbuster Netflix show would be a success.

In a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Harbour recalled his first reaction to the Duffer Brothers’ pilot script. While he was blown away by the writing, he didn’t think the series would find a large audience.

“I had no idea it would blow up the way it did,” Harbour said. “I immediately read it and I was like, ‘This is fantastic. I’m sure no one will watch it.’ So that was really what I thought: I think this is probably the best pilot script I’d ever read.”

Harbour remembers thinking that the script reminded him of the kinds of roles from great 1970s and 1980s films that he hoped he could eventually play.

“And I certainly loved the character more than any other character I think I’d ever read,” he said. “I was like, ‘This feels like the old Harrison Ford movies that I watch. It feels like ‘Jaws.’ It feels like these Gene Hackman or Nick Nolte or Roy Scheider movies. It feels like these guys that I grew up with in the ’80s, these leading men. Like it feels like this guy that I’ve just been dying to play and that I admired… But I really did think, ‘I’m sure no one will be interested in this, but we’ll make it.’ It’ll be a really niche small audience of people that are die hard like fans”

Harbour’s pessimism about the project continued once production began, and he began to worry that he was squandering his big break in the entertainment industry on a terrible show.

“And then we made it and it was just us in Atlanta with a really small crew and no money and working really hard,” he said. “In the middle of this process, I had nights where I would just be in a panic attack thinking ‘This is terrible.’ Like, ‘This is a terrible show. I’m terrible in it. And it’s just gonna be humiliating.’ [Even when it was about to be] released, Netflix didn’t seem to be advertising it. A friend on another show told me there were no ads up around New York City. And I was like, ‘Why are there no ads up?’ And he’s like, ‘Netflix is just burying the show. They hate it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, my big break on Netflix, and they hate it.’ I thought it would just be another failure in a long string of failures for me. And that’s why it was all the more satisfying, cause instead of this big hype thing, it felt real grassroots, like people discovered this little show on Netflix and it ballooned into this zeitgeist, which it is now. But I never imagined that that people would love it as much as they do.”

Seasons 1-4 of “Stranger Things” are now streaming on Netflix.

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