Hellboy may be a somewhat dubious superhero but, nonetheless, a superhero he is. And Stranger Things’ David Harbour will take that. Thank you very much.
Taking over the iconic filed horns from Ron Perlman, who played the half-demon superhero on two previous outings, Harbour gratefully received Perlman’s blessing before going into production on this all new version of Hellboy.
“I had dinner with Ron before,” says Harbour. “But it was less about the actual project itself, and more about my admiration of him as an actor and of his career; his presence in the world and who he is. So I just wanted to talk to him first of all, as a colleague, but also just as a guy, to sort of express my admiration for him.
“His films with Guillermo [del Toro] were really great, so we talked about the passing of the torch and what all that stuff was.
“He was just really gracious and kind. Just a lovely guy and very supportive,” recalls the actor when STACK meets with him and Hellboy‘s cast in Hollywood a few days ago.
While the two previous Hellboy iterations [2004 and 2008] were directed by del Toro, director duties on the reboot – again based on Mike Mignola’s original stories – goes to Neil Marshall, who cut his teeth on horror movies Dog Soldiers and The Descent before helming episodes of Game of Thrones and Westworld.
Co-starring Milla Jovovich as The Blood Queen, Nimue; Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim as Major Ben Daimio; and Deadwood’s Ian McShane assuming the role of Professor “Broom” (originally portrayed by the late John Hurt), this Hellboy stands apart as a different interpretation of Mignola’s character.
At 44 years old, Harbour expected to continue on a career, largely typecast as the baddie – his Stranger Things role as Chief Jim Hopper serving as a real game-changer. Therefore nobody was more shocked than he to find himself anointed as “Action Star of the Year” at last week’s annual CinemaCon awards.
“I’d always thought that my career, especially in movies, would be as a villain. I had been cast in films as a villain really up until Stranger Things. I’d always been the guy who dies or who Liam Neeson beats the crap out of, or Denzel Washington beats the crap out of…” says Harbour, whose films include Quantum of Solace, Revolutionary Road, Suicide Squad and The Equalizer. “So I always thought I’d be on the Alan Rickman or Chris Walken side of the equation. But to now be on the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis side of the equation is nothing short of surprising. My resting waistline is a little too high but I think it’s super fun because those are the guys who I grew up with.
“The first movie I saw in the theatre was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I saw it like 14 times. But that was Harrison Ford as this action star and even Bruce Willis in Die Hard – I just loved these guys and looked up in awe. And so the idea that I could do that or be thought of as that, is a wonderful idea,” says Harbour, currently in pre-production for Scarlett Johansson’s stand-alone Avengers movie, Black Widow, directed by Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland.
Hellboy’s fantasy realm is familiar territory for Resident Evil veteran Milla Jovovich, the role of Nimue coming to her in the aftermath of her sixth and final chapter of the franchise directed by husband Paul WS Anderson in 2016.
“I was in a dark place after finishing Resident Evil. I kind of felt like Jim from The Office, who was like, ‘What do I do with all this useless information in my head?’ Because I have so much experience doing action films and can bring so much to the table with wire work or helping the visual team and in post-production. But after Resident Evil, I was like, ‘It’s done. My franchise is over. My career as an action hero is over. What am I going to do with all this useless information in my head now, because I can’t use it for anything else but another action film?’” explains the former supermodel.
Hellboy was a lifeline: “I was so happy when it came up, like, ‘Yay, I’m back in business’. This is a genre I know so well and I enjoy so much. I also really liked that the part is so different from Alice [in Resident Evil]. She’s a real woman. She’s sexy, sophisticated and a real femme fatale, but also has these really endearing qualities.
“She’s smart and has these big ideas to bring the monsters and humans together to live in peace. She’s such a great character because she’s not just the villain. She gets betrayed, gruesomely. She talks about her progressive ideas and gets speared through the heart and decapitated and buried alive by King Arthur and Merlin.
“I was like, ‘Oh, you know what? A lot of women are having problems today too.’ It’s like the ’60s all over again, so I relate to her. You bring a progressive idea to the table, you better be careful because you might get buried alive,” she laughs.
If Jovovich, 43, was already in fighting shape, then Harbour put himself through a torturous ten-week boot camp with New York trainer Don Saladino to prepare for his action stunts encased in a 40lb suit and tail.
“Beneath the suit, I was very strong and I did do a lot of power training. Honestly, it was hard and difficult – and really annoying. I don’t like physical pain, that’s my biggest fear.
“I can tell you exactly what you should do to get stronger,” he adds, “but you’re not gonna want to do it. You’re gonna do it for three minutes and then be like, ‘This is terrible, I’m not doing this anymore,’” he warns, going on to describe the two key elements of his routine.
“There are literally two things: You crawl around on the floor like a spider for a couple of minutes and then you get up and you push and pull these things called sleds with a lot of weight on them. Repeat. You will get in terrific shape if you do that for real, but you have to do that for an hour a day. I would do that for five minutes and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m done. This is enough.’”
If it doesn’t sound so awful, then Harbour gets down on the floor to treat STACK to a demonstration of the “spider” move, which is hard to describe – it’s a bit like a Spider-Man move, scaling a wall, but only on the floor.
When we tell him we’re going to immediately go home and give it a try, he laughs, “Yeah, go ahead. You’ll last a minute and a half. I did, it’s horrible, and it’s so painful. But it’s really good for you.”
Game on, Hellboy Harbour!
• Hellboy is in cinemas on April 11