How Stranger Things Handled David Harbour's Physical Changes For Hopper's Flashbacks In Season 4

David Harbour as Hopper in Stranger Things Season 4
(Image credit: Netflix)

Spoilers ahead for Vol. 1 of Stranger Things Season 4 are ahead.

The fourth season of Stranger Things picked up with more distance between the characters than ever before, which was particularly bad news for Hopper. All of his friends believed that he was dead while he was really stuck in a Russian prison, after escaping certain death through the gate right before it closed in the Season 3 finale. The months before Season 4 picked up were clearly hard on Hopper, as he looked very different, and not just because of the shaved head. Stranger Things prosthetics makeup designer Barrie Gower opened up about how the show handled actor David Harbour’s physical changes when it came to filming the flashbacks. 

Episode 2 started with a flashback to the Season 3 finale to reveal how Hopper survived, and while him diving through the gate before it closed and ending up in Russia was the popular guess among fans, Season 4 went ahead and showed it. Where the flashbacks became tricky was in the fact that David Harbour had lost weight to show how much Hopper had gone through. Barrie Gower spoke with CinemaBlend about the work that he and the BGFX makeup effects company’s prosthetics team did for the show, and shared how they turned trimmer Season 4 Hopper back into Season 3 Hopper:

We were lucky to do character makeup as well, because we worked with David Harbour. There are flashbacks to Season 3, with his character, Hopper. David, because of his story arc in this season, he's now in a Russian prison, and he actually lost a lot of weight for the role, so he would look a lot more svelte and a lot leaner. So when it came to shooting all the flashback scenes from Season 3, and it's Hopper right the end of Season 3, where he kind of goes through the gate to the Upside Down and there's the explosion, when we cut back to him climbing up the ladder and being caught by the Russians, he's wearing a fat makeup, which we designed to put more pounds back onto David.

While Stranger Things used a body double for certain scenes for the flashback version of Eleven that couldn’t be played by Millie Bobby Brown, the prosthetics makeup team designed makeup to add weight to David Harbour so that he could look like Season 3 Hopper again. Season 3 Hopper lived a life of luxury compared to Season 4 Hopper toiling away in the snow as a Soviet prisoner, and the actor’s physical transformation reflected it. Barrie Gower (who worked with Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund on his Victor Creel prosthetics) continued:

When he's first taken to the Russian prison, and he's interrogated, that's David wearing our fat makeup. So he's got a full facial appliance just to give him a rounder jaw and a fuller face, which is a really quite tricky and complicated makeup to do because he obviously had to look seamless on his face and we had nowhere to hide. So Stranger Things for has been a real mix of incredible makeup opportunities and achievements for us.

Seeing exactly how Hopper survived the explosion in the third season finale and ended up in Russia was a highly-anticipated reveal ever since Stranger Things confirmed the character’s survival all the way back in early 2020, so the flashbacks could be under even closer scrutiny than other scenes of Season 4. When I noted that I was so convinced by the makeup that I’d wondered if the flashbacks had been filmed at the end of Season 3, Barrie Gower shared:

That was one of the conversations we had with David! They talked about it towards the end of Season 3 and they were like, 'No, don't worry, we'll sort it out next time around.' I don't think they were aware… David lost so much weight and he was so lean for Season 4. So I think they were in a situation like, 'How are we going to do this?' We were really lucky to be asked to do that makeup because it was a great opportunity.

Kudos to David Harbour for going the extra mile to really sell how hard life had been for Hopper ever since his accidental arrival in the Soviet Union. He was the only familiar face in the Russian prison storyline for a lot of Vol. 1 before Joyce and Murray arrived, so he had to do a lot of heavy lifting as an actor with his performance and his overall look. Luckily for Hopper, he was finally rescued at the end of the first batch of Season 4 episodes, but there’s still the matter of getting back home. 

Plus, with Vecna (who Barrie Gower confirmed was inspired by Game of Thrones’ Night King) wreaking havoc in Hawkins while Eleven is back with Brenner, his and Joyce’s homecoming (if it happens in Season 4) may just send them into a whole new mess of problems. The future is looking pretty grim for all of the Stranger Things characters, but that means that Vol. 2 is looking pretty exciting for Netflix subscribers

More Vecna deaths may be on the way (and lead sound effects editor Angelo Palazzo revealed the sources for the bone snapping and wet squelching sounds of Vecna’s kills), so mark your calendar for the release of Stranger Things Season 4 Vol. 2 on Friday, July 1 at 12:01 a.m. PT on Netflix. For more viewing options now and in the coming weeks, check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).