Screen star David Harbour became hot property after appearing as a core character in the Netflix sci-fi chiller Stranger Things. However, his career is hotting up further and 2019 will see him star in Hellboy, a re-imagining of the 2004 and 2008 movie takes on the comic-book classic. But to get into superhero shape, the middle-aged actor has had to adopt a hellish exercise regime to transform his body and convince filmgoers he is the real ripped deal.
In recent years, the 43-year-old Harbour’s fame has taken off in a big way. The New York-born actor kicked off his professional career on Broadway in 1999, and from then on he has enjoyed various roles, popping up on stage, film and TV. But the public really began to sit up and pay attention in 2016, when he starred as grizzled police chief Jim Hopper in Stranger Things. And thanks to the success of the cult sci-fi series, and a slew of awards, nowadays Harbour is pretty much a household name.
In the hit series, the homely cop Hopper from the fictional small town of Hawkins in Indiana enjoys a quiet lifestyle. But this all changes when the child of an old-friend, played by Winona Ryder, goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Hopper goes on a disquieting and dangerous hunt for the truth. However, when he finds it, the chief realizes that life in Hawkins is not as innocent and sedate as it seemed.
But it was largely thanks to his character’s relationship with Eleven – a mysterious girl with a troubled past – that Harbour became a firm favorite with fans. In the show, the solitary Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown in real life, melts the policeman’s heart and he ends up adopting the girl. However, Chief Hopper was not the only one to have his life transformed by Stranger Things. Indeed, Harbour’s newfound popularity came as quite a shock to the one-time jobbing actor.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter magazine in December 2017, Harbour stated that the sci-fi show had “changed my career dramatically.” He admitted, “I’d grown sort of cynical about my role in movies and TV as being this supporting guy who carries a gun and runs around.” Describing how the franchise had reignited his passion for storytelling, Harbour said, “I’m so proud of Stranger Things. I’m so proud of everyone’s work in it. And it’s become so successful. So for those two to meet is incredible.”
Following the worldwide success of Stranger Things, Harbour found himself in hot demand in Tinsel Town. “I wouldn’t call it an avalanche [of acting offers], but I would say it was a rolling snowball,” the actor revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. Nevertheless, Harbour maintained that he was going to be picky about his parts. “I was doing plays in New York for $200 a week and couldn’t pay my rent,” he revealed. “And now I’m at a place where I have enough money and don’t have to take the roles.”
So for his next portrayal, Harbour had been looking for something as liberating and transformative as Stranger Things. Perhaps he should have been more careful about what he wished for. Earlier in 2017, it was revealed that Harbour would go on from playing a small-town cop to be turned into another kind of hero entirely. The much-loved small-screen actor had bagged the coveted movie role of Hellboy in an upcoming reboot of the comic-book blockbusters.
The altruistic half-demon Hellboy began life in the pages of San Diego Comic-Con Comics in 1993. The character has subsequently made appearances in print, video games, animated features and two previous movies. Mexican writer and director Guillermo del Toro helmed Hellboy in 2004 and Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008, with veteran actor Ron Perlman in the starring role both times. In previous adaptations, Hellboy has been portrayed as a kind of wisecracking anti-hero, which would suit Harbour down to the ground. However, the superhero had other physical attributes that had so far eluded the actor – namely, a ripped-to-all-hell torso.
Indeed, it was going to be quite the transformation for the easy going, 40-something star. Describing his physique in 2017, Harbour confessed, “I was a chubby kid growing up. Straight out of college, I did my first play, which I got pretty in shape for, but I let that go completely. So from about the time I was 26 years old, to about now, I haven’t really been training at the gym seriously at all.”
Consequently, there was only one thing for it if he was going to pull off Hellboy – Harbour would have to get into shape and quickly. As a result, he enlisted the help of an old friend who had some experience in such radical transformations. The actor made a call to personal fitness guru to the stars Don Saladino, who is known in the entertainment business as “the superhero trainer.”
Celebrity fixer-upper Saladino runs the Drive495 gym in Soho, Manhattan, but has fingers in many other pies. Over the years, the 40-year-old trainer has hounded Hugh Jackman into shape to play Wolverine in X-Men, made Ryan Reynolds ripped for Deadpool and finely sculpted Scarlett Johansson into the Black Widow for The Avengers. In total, Saladino guesses that he has made the most of more than 50 stars for the screen, but with Harbour he was faced with a new challenge.
In Stranger Things, Harbour had portrayed a mild-mannered, middle-aged hero who liked a drink and sported a somewhat lovable beer belly. So to transform the star from chunk to hunk in time for Hellboy to begin shooting, Saladino had his work cut out. The experienced trainer very quickly got the actor into a new regime where the only bars he was hitting were parallel. Saladino supervised Harbour at the gym for five or six days a week for more than two months.
With beer crawls being a thing of the past, Harbour’s intensive workouts began with a series of “bear crawls.” These exercises would see the actor strenuously scuttle around the gym-floor area on all fours in order to sculpt his obliques and shoulders. But this was just the warm up, after the bear routine, Saladino would increase the heat with focussed strengthening techniques. These included Harbour’s reported favorite – “the sled push.” This involved boosting the actor’s brawn by making him propel a weighted rolling pallet with his whole body.
Video footage from these intense training sessions, released by Saladino to a fitness app, showed Harbour also utilizing a series of weights, ropes and machinery to shape up. And, in addition to specialized nutritional guidance from his trainer, eventually the star’s grueling efforts in the gym paid off. Soon Harbour was dead-lifting a kettlebell weighing 375 pounds, when initially he had only managed a 104-pound version.
And, despite having shied away from serious exercise for most of his adult life, apparently Harbour took to his new routine admirably. “Dave never complained about anything,” Saladino informed the New York Post in October, 2017. “I think he just loved how strong he was getting.” Indeed, it looked as if this was one personal transformation that the celebrity trainer would not forget in a hurry. Saladino added, “He’s someone who’s obviously very artistic, but I saw him turn into just a monster – pushing weight and pulling weight.”
However, at this point, most of Harbour’s amazing metamorphosis had occurred behind the closed doors of Saladino’s Drive495 gym. But, given the intense fan and industry excitement that was building around Hellboy and its leading man, that simply could not last. There was only so long that the actor could keep his sustained high-energy efforts on the down low.
In September 2017, production companies Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment gave the world its first sneak peek at Harbour as Hellboy ahead of the movie’s release. And judging by the publicity shot that was released on social media, it is safe to say that the actor had transformed from dad bod to demigod. Gone was Harbour’s habitual pot-belly, and in its place was an impressive wall of solid muscle.
Needless to say, the photograph caused quite the stir online when it appeared on Twitter. Indeed, the image has since been retweeted more than 11,000 times. And from the comments below the photo, it seemed that many superhero movie fans approved of Harbour’s new role. “Now THAT is what I call HELLBOY,” one Twitter user enthused. Another wrote, “Personally I can’t wait for the new movie. I believe David will bring something new to the character. The Harbour touch will be excellent I’m sure. He is an amazing actor!”
However, following the fascination surrounding the Hellboy first look, Harbour was keen to stress that not everything in the new image was down to his hard work. In December 2017, the star was interviewed by GQ magazine, where he put the record straight. “I did a lot of training, but the training was for strength and power,” he revealed. “In terms of the actual body aesthetic – there’s a lot of prosthetics.”
Game of Thrones’ director Neil Marshall is in charge of the upcoming Hellboy, which will also feature Milla Jovovich and Ian McShane, and is slated for release in January 2019. Nevertheless, fans of Harbour’s new look may be in for a disappointment if they expect the star to be ripped on the red carpet for the movie’s premiere. In an article for Variety, also in December 2017, the actor spoke of working on a new transformation – back to the old Harbour. “I’ve already started the donut training,” he joked. “Six donuts a day! We’ll get there, folks.”