Santa Claus: Action hero? How David Harbour received into the R-rated Christmas spirit with ‘Violent Night’

David Harbour wasn’t all the time massive on the vacations. Till the “Stranger Things” star had a household of his personal, he says, the yuletide blues made him downright “anti-Christmas.” Now the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor is embracing the spirit of the season in Common’s R-rated “Violent Night” as a Santa Claus with a darkish previous who takes on armed mercenaries on Christmas Eve.

The gory vacation motion comedy, scripted by “Sonic the Hedgehog” duo Pat Casey and Josh Miller and directed by Norwegian helmer Tommy Wirkola (“Dead Snow,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”), imagines a Santa who reluctantly takes up arms — and a large hammer affectionately nicknamed the Cranium Crusher — when somewhat woman (Leah Brady) and her household are taken hostage throughout his yearly rounds. Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, John Leguizamo and Beverly D’Angelo, in a comical 180 from her “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” matriarch Ellen Griswold, additionally star.

Varied Christmas mythologies supplied a wealth of character inspiration, Harbour stated, together with who’s good, who’s naughty and the potential for redemption. “The Christian tradition of Old St. Nick comes from St. Nicholas, who was this patron saint of repentant sinners,” he stated. “I thought that was so interesting, this idea that you could turn it around and get on the ‘nice’ list.”

David Harbour in “Violent Night,” directed by Tommy Wirkola.

(Allen Fraser)

The position additionally taught Harbour new motion methods underneath producers David Leitch, Kelly McCormick and Man Danella’s 87North Productions (“Atomic Blonde,” “John Wick,” “Nobody”) — and, with an ingenious Viking backstory, required him to search out the internal warrior inside a beloved determine finest recognized for being jolly and type.

To convey these complexities, Wirkola sought a Santa who might convey the correct mix of humor and physicality to the position. “A key trait for our Santa is his pure and raw strength, and we felt that David had that in spades,” he stated in an electronic mail. “Somebody who, when he walks into a room, you’d feel like he could easily kick your a—. A menacing presence, so to speak.”

However most significantly, this “Die Hard” Santa wanted “a big beating heart underneath all of that rough exterior,” stated Wirkola. “We always should be able to feel that heartbeat, that warmth, despite all the craziness that surrounds both him and the story. David had all those things and more, and just as important, he knew how to expertly shift between those things as the story progressed.”

Filmed final winter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, because the crew navigated subzero temperatures so chilly the cameras wouldn’t work (“Those were not the days that I was full of love for Christmas,” Harbour laughed), “Violent Night” now enters the canon of Christmas motion pictures that will likely be revisited each vacation season — very similar to “Home Alone,” “Die Hard” and his personal faves, “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Harbour was nonetheless letting that sink in as he chatted from Budapest, Hungary, the place he’s filming the online game adaptation “Gran Turismo.”

David Harbour, star of "Violent Night," photographed for The Times

David Harbour, photographed on the Lodge Bel-Air, stars within the Common vacation motion comedy “Violent Night.”

(Philip Cheung / For The Occasions)

So, David: Are you a Christmas particular person?

Not likely. After I was a child, after all. I don’t know that there are various children that aren’t as a result of it’s a good time. You simply get presents! However for many of my grownup life, I’ve been a single man, and that made holidays typically form of laborious and miserable. I’d get presents for folks, family and friends, however I wasn’t massive on it for years and years. Now that I’ve somewhat household of my very own, it feels extra particular. I’m enthusiastic about placing up the tree for them and issues like that. However for many of my life, I used to be actually an anti-Christmas man. There may be plenty of psychological well being stuff round Christmas, too, the place folks get depressed, and I used to be undoubtedly a kind of folks.

That’s what makes the opening scene of “Violent Night” so relatable: We meet Santa, sitting at a bar, ingesting on Christmas Eve.

Taking a break and getting s—confronted earlier than you’ve received to get again on the sleigh …

And, metaphorically, again on the sleigh of life. Relatable! At first you had been uncertain concerning the thought of a “Die Hard” Santa film. What was it that made you say, “OK — I’m in?”

There have been two moments. The primary was, they wished me to have a gathering with the director [Tommy Wirkola] and David Leitch the producer earlier than they despatched me the script, which I assumed was a foul signal, however a part of it was to see their enthusiasm about it. Leitch is excellent with “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde,” all of the motion stuff that he does. Then Tommy actually gained me over together with his ardour for Christmas motion pictures. He’s Norwegian, an excitable man. In Norway, they’ve a bunch of reindeer. He saved speaking about reindeer, how they eat reindeer burgers up there. He was so enthusiastic about that pagan facet of Christmas, and that was intriguing to me.

Then they despatched me the script, and it was actually good. We developed it even additional after we began engaged on it. On the finish, it felt like a Christmas film, however the way it received there was so tremendous bizarre. It went to this violent, very acerbic, humorous place as an motion comedy. You will have him going, “Ho ho ho, you really made me find my heart again,” however blood is dripping down his face. There was one thing about that feeling that I used to be like, “Oh, this will be wonderful. I’ll get to make a Christmas movie. My kids won’t be able to see it, but I’ll make a Christmas movie.”

A man stands over Santa, who is tied to a chair with Christmas lights.

David Harbour, left, and John Leguizamo in “Violent Night.”

(Allen Fraser / Common Photos)

Do you might have a favourite Christmas film of your individual?

I really like “Miracle on 34th Street” — the unique one. I’m a traditionalist on the subject of motion pictures. After all I really like “Die Hard,” “Bad Santa” and all of these motion pictures too, however on the subject of sitting down and watching a Christmas film, I might watch the s— out of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Deep down in my core, I’m a candy, sappy, sentimental man, and one thing about that film is — as the youngsters say — so pure.

Jimmy Stewart feeling like he doesn’t have any which means in his life and that he by no means amounted to something, then realizing that every one these little issues that he did had been so vital to everybody else, is an exquisite factor to really feel at Christmas. Particularly once I was alone. When you find yourself alone, you’re feeling unhappy about your state of affairs. And to show that on and really feel part of one thing bigger than your self was very nice.

Some actors may discover it intimidating to tackle such a historic and iconic determine as you do in “Violent Night.” Othello, Hamlet … Santa Claus.

It’s true! You’re not the primary particular person to convey up the truth that it ought to have been considerably intimidating. [Laughs.] It’s both my excessive confidence in myself or my ignorance. I wasn’t frightened about taking up the position in that means. I used to be frightened extra concerning the film as an entire. I used to be like, does this work? And what it felt like [was] an enormous swing — and if we’re going to swing, we higher swing for the fences.

The beauty of Santa is that you just assume you understand him. However he actually is simply this factor that was created by the Coca-Cola Co. within the Nineteen Thirties, a picture of a fats man with a jolly beard. Like, who the hell is that this man? You possibly can go off in all kinds of instructions, and that’s what our film permits us to do. In that means, it’s nearly simpler than Hamlet, which is so outlined. With Santa, there’s much more freedom to discover who he was and the way he received to the place the place he’s, and the film takes a stab to deconstruct it in the wrong way.

When’s the final time you’re feeling such as you took an enormous swing?

I really feel like every thing you make if you put your self out there’s a massive swing. However I do bear in mind beginning “Stranger Things” and beginning Jim Hopper within the first season and feeling like I reinvested in myself as an actor in a means that I hadn’t in plenty of years. It felt like I used to be pouring myself into movie and TV in a means that I had let go of.

While you signed on to “Stranger Things,” might you envision the place you’ll be now with the present [now going into its fifth season]?

I assumed I might nonetheless be in my 400-square-foot house within the East Village, barely capable of pay my lease and doing off-Broadway performs! However then “Stranger Things” modified every thing.

A close-up of David Harbour

“Jimmy Stewart feeling like he doesn’t have any meaning in his life and that he never amounted to anything, then realizing that all these little things that he did were so important to everyone else, is a beautiful thing to feel at Christmas,” stated David Harbour.

(Philip Cheung / For The Occasions)

And now you might be recontextualizing one of the crucial beloved and well-known emblems of the previous couple of centuries. Your Santa of “Violent Night” has turn out to be bitter and jaded by rampant consumerism and the lack of the collective Christmas spirit.

It was undoubtedly one thing that I thought of. I believe that Santa created a jail for himself as a result of he felt so responsible about who he was in his Viking period. He determined to turn out to be this fats, jolly, saccharine man who provides little presents to children and let go of all of this warrior stuff. However as a substitute of inspiring generosity, he impressed greed and consumerism and the sugary concept that we gotta eat extra sweet, it isn’t sufficient, versus the concept of giving. And so for him to return and to have somewhat woman say to him, “We don’t need that guy who gives us little crappy gifts — we need the guy who was the warrior, who did things that you might think are bad, but you’ve let go of those pieces of yourself that we need right now” — I assumed that was a cool factor.

Throughout the taking pictures of it, we had been up in Winnipeg and the brand new “Batman” film got here out, and all of us went to see it and beloved it. I assumed it was much like our film within the sense of, Batman in that film has to turn out to be a 3rd factor; he turns into vengeance. There’s an analogous theme right here, the place Santa has this very clearly outlined thought of Christmas. Individuals have this concept of him, of Christmas, of good and naughty. And he has to return within the midst of this violence, and turn out to be violence itself to fight it. As a result of you’ll be able to’t simply give these dangerous guys little presents and make every thing OK. You’ve received to face up. You’ve received to do one thing. You’ve received to be the person who you was once. That was a enjoyable motion hero origin story within the Santa Cinematic Universe.

You’re working right here with one of the crucial famend motion outfits in Hollywood, however plenty of it seems to be you doing your individual stunts onscreen. Was that the case?

That’s not the norm for me. For instance, in “Black Widow,” most of that isn’t me as a result of I couldn’t achieve this a lot of it. I used to be very dangerous at that stuff. After “Black Widow,” I began to get higher. Working with these guys was an entire completely different degree. They work in a method that labored a lot better for me. What I used to do previously is, you choreograph one thing and also you study the particular strikes of that choreography, and then you definitely execute it on the day. And I’m horrible at that. I bear in mind early in my profession I used to be making an attempt to do musicals. You’d go to bop calls, and the choreographer could be like, “And, step change and this and this,” and it’s a nightmare for me. If you happen to give me like a monologue, at lunch I can study it and do it that day as a result of my mind thinks when it comes to language, it thinks when it comes to psyche and conduct. However dance and bodily motion unconnected to psychological actuality? I can’t do it. You’ll choreograph this complete sequence and work on it for weeks, after which I’ll nonetheless be like, wait, is it a punch right here after which a punch right here?

So exhibiting as much as these guys, I used to be actually nervous. However they’d a special means of working. We’d create segments — it might be like punch, punch, up, dodge, elbow or one thing. And also you construct a bunch of various blocks you understood, then on the day, you’ll be able to put these blocks collectively. It turned a language that I might execute very simply, and it was an entire new world for me.

However these guys aren’t solely good at what they do with choreography, they’re actually good at instructing actors. I believe it’s the rationale why Bob Odenkirk in “Nobody” actually wished to work with them, or Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde.” Definitely Keanu within the “John Wick” motion pictures. They perceive what we do and so they apply their stunt language to us, versus having us step into their world. It’s actually beneficiant, and it’s a really particular group of men.