David Harbour talks Santa, Stranger Things, and Thunderbolts

David Harbour in Violent Night
(Image credit: Universal)

"There’s the Santa we think we know – created by the Coca-Cola company in the ’30s, when they decided that a big, fat guy in a red suit, with rosy cheeks, would sell more Coke – and then there’s the more Krampus-y, Norwegian-spirit version of Santa, and there’s Saint Nicholas, who was the patron saint of lost souls."

David Harbour grins. He's talking to Total Film for the new issue of the magazine (opens in new tab), featuring Avatar: The Way of Water on the cover, about his role as Santa – and he's not playing the nice kind. In Violent Night, a group of mercenaries break into the estate of a super-wealthy family and hold everyone hostage while they crack the safe. Only Santa also happens to be in residence – yes, the real Santa, having shimmied down the chimney as his reindeer take five (and a crap) on the roof – and he doesn’t take kindly to naughty boys and girls. 

"[I'm] trained in wrestling styles and jiu-jitsu," Harbour says. "I did a movie with Liam [Neeson] after the Taken series. He marveled at it. When you’re in your twenties, in your prime physically, nobody’s really interested in you doing that. And then you get to be a little old and crotchety and incapable, and they get very interested!"

Those fighting skills were recently used in the Marvel movie Black Widow, in which Harbour plays Red Guardian. He’ll next be seen in Thunderbolts, as one of a band of supervillains recruited by the government to go on a mission.

"I really like him," beams Harbour of his character, "and I love Florence [Pugh] as Yelena [also in Thunderbolts]. And then you throw in Wyatt [Russell, as U.S. Agent] from Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Sebastian [Stan, reprising Bucky Barnes]. You have all these great, colorful characters. I’m really excited for that movie." 

Does he hope to play Red Guardian over and over in future MCU movies? "I do. I love Red Guardian. I can’t wait to pull back the layers. The great thing about him is that he’s not very well-defined in the comics, like some of the other Marvel superheroes. So we can play with him in a different way, and be surprising and unexpected."

Of course, there's another role Harbour's known for: playing Hopper in Stranger Things. During the fourth season, we saw him take down creatures from the Upside Down, and Hopper kiss Winona Ryder’s Joyce. Will they find happiness in Stranger Things season 5, the final season of the show?

"I have some idea of shape and structure, and what the overall thing is, but I don’t have a lot of specifics yet," he says. "I’m very trusting of the way [the Duffer Brothers] go about it. I have my ideas each season about what I would like to see him go through – I send them an email – and often they’re very responsive to that. But I haven’t got a full script yet for Episode 1."

"It’s funny. I believe in a fundamental morality in storytelling, and that characters should get what they deserve. Which is more complex than just smiles. But I certainly think that Hopper is someone who’s been through a lot. I think he deserves peace, so I’d like to see that achieved. But the real question you have to ask yourself is: are the Duffers Dickensian? Or are they Kafka-esque? Do they believe in the big turkey dinner at the end of A Christmas Carol? I wonder myself, you know? I’m very curious to see how it unfolds.”

You can read more from Harbour in the new issue of Total Film, which hits stands (opens in new tab) (and digital devices) this Thursday, November 10. Violent Night is in cinemas from December 2.

Total Film's Avatar: The Way of Water covers

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios/Total Film)
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Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror. 

With contributions from