Iconic Roles is a look at some of the best performances in film and television by actors and actresses.
In Violent Night, David Harbour is called to a great test to prove that he can be a successful leading actor. The 47-year-old artist has landed mostly supporting roles in his Hollywood career, but the results have often exceeded expectations. After making his professional debut on Broadway and scoring a credit in a 1999 episode of Law & Order, Harbour’s career had highs and lows. In 2015, he went close to quitting acting following the cancellation of State of Affairs. Ironically, Harbour landed the role of his life a few months later and gained popularity thanks to the worldwide success of Stranger Things, where he portrays a cop dealing with a teenager with psychic powers.
Here’s a list of the best David Harbour performances in film and television.
Shep Campbell in Revolutionary Road (2008)
It’s not easy to stay in the spotlight when you share the stage with Hollywood royalty like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Yet, Harbour displayed some versatility as he took on the misfortunate and envious Shep, who falls in love with his neighbor April (Winslet) despite being married to the quiet Milly (Hahn). Even though Harbour’s part was relatively small compared to the protagonists, he showed a variety of emotions that made his Revolutionary Road performance remarkable. The Sam Mendes-directed drama wasn’t as successful as expected but got critical recognition in picking up three Academy Awards nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Michael Shannon.
Frank Masters in The Equalizer (2014)
Throughout his career, Harbour developed a certain familiarity with law enforcement officer roles. In Antoine Fuqua’s action movie, Harbour portrayed a corrupted police detective who gets in the way of the quiet yet lethal Robert McCall (Denzel Washington). In one of the most intense scenes, McCall tortured Masters in his own car to obtain some precious information. His portrayal of the suffering Masters ranks among the best David Harbour performances. The Equalizer also starred Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bill Pullman, and Melissa Leo. The story was quite successful and spawned two sequels, but none featured Harbour.
Jim Hopper in Stranger Things (2016-present)
The role changed Harbour’s life and saved his acting career. In 2016, Matt and Ross Duffer came up with a show that revolutionized the industry and still stands among the best sci-fi stories ever. It’s hard not to fall for the grumpy chief of Hawkins Police Department Hopper and his heartbreaking background story full of personal losses and alcoholism. The way, then, Harbour expressed all of Hopper’s mixed feelings about Eleven before adopting her as his daughter is simply perfect. Jim Hopper will go down in the history books as one of the best David Harbour performances, if not the best overall. Harbour will reprise the role in the upcoming Stranger Things Season 5.
Hellboy in Hellboy (2019)
The Hellboy reboot wasn’t well accepted by fans when it was first announced, to say the least. The main reason was that many still hoped to see the third installment in Guillermo del Toro’s trilogy featuring Ron Perlman as the titular antihero. Instead, the whole franchise was rebooted, and Harbour landed the role of Anung Un Rama. The result didn’t meet expectations, but Harbour’s gritty performance is one of the few things deserving praise in 2019’s Hellboy. The cast also featured Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, and Thomas Haden Church.
Red Guardian in Black Widow (2021)
If there’s a constant in Harbour’s career is the self-irony that allows him not to take his characters too seriously. That’s why his Alexei Shostakov, a.k.a. Red Guardian, is so likable in the Cate Shortland-directed movie. Initially created as the Russian answer to Captain America, Red Guardian ends up being a good friend and sort of mentor for Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a.k.a. the titular heroine, way before she joined the Avengers. While Black Widow grossed more than $379 million at the box office, it still ended up as one of the least successful Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (although the pandemic and simultaneous Disney+ release can’t be ignored).