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7 Questions With… Stranger Things' author: 'You could do a TV show about Hopper's past'
BT TV chats to the prequel book's sci-fi author about a potential TV adaptation.
With a whopping 26.4 million people tuning in to see the third series of Stranger Things on Netflix, it’s safe to say there’s an appetite for all things Hawkins.
No wonder then that a prequel novel about Jim Hopper, one of the show's main characters, has been met with excitement.
Written by self-confessed sci-fi and Stranger Things geek Adam Christopher, below, Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town, explores the backstory of Hawkins’ Police Chief.
The book is set at Christmas in 1984 between seasons 2 and 3, with Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour) re-telling his past to his now adopted daughter, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).
However the novel is largely flashbacks to the late 1970s when Hopper was a police detective exploring a serial killer in New York City - which is six years before we first met Hopper in season 1.
Here Adam Christopher’s talk all about the book - and why he’d be eyeing up Tom Selleck for a potential role in a TV adaptation…
1. How did you go about working with Netflix during the writing process - I presume it has to tie in with Hopper’s upcoming storyline on the show and not reveal any series 3 spoilers?
Well I was lucky enough that Netflix kind of let me do what I wanted. Apart from the parameters of ‘it has to be a Hopper book, it has to be set in New York, and there is a serial killer’. That was it, that was the brief, which is really great, because it means they trusted me with the characters and with the story, to craft something that would not only make a hopefully compelling novel on its own, but something which is recognisably Stranger Things, and was true to the characters and the series.
It’s the first time we see Hopper and Eleven (below) as a family. At the end of season 2, they’re kind of legalised [Hopper officially adopted Eleven], and this is Christmas and Eleven is bored out of her mind in this snow-bound cabin. That box that she finds under the floorboards in season 2, which has New York written on the side, well she doesn’t find it, but you see it in the background, so she kind of digs that out.
The book goes through various approvals, but Netflix were like ‘yeah, good good good!’ It was one of those things where I didn’t really know anything about season 3 so whenever I was pointing a character, either Hopper or Eleven, in the same direction, they couldn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They just kind of didn’t say anything, because they couldn’t, so I’m looking forward to series 3 as much as anybody else.
I don’t know anything at all about season 3. It’s very secretive. It’s become Netflix’s biggest show and there’s just a massive veil of secrecy over it.
2. There was no reference to Joyce Byers in the book, played by Winona Ryder in the show. Was that a deliberate choice to focus on the new family unit of Hopper and Eleven instead?
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting, when we were developing the framing device for the book, which is Hopper telling Eleven about New York in the 1984 part, it’s like ‘how much do I put in about that time period?’
The kids [Dustin, Mike, Lucas and Will] (below) I mentioned at the beginning, because Eleven was missing them as it’s Christmas and they’ve all gone in different directions.
I think Joyce (below) was in it at one point, but then it’s like you can’t put everything in, because that framing story is very light, it just kind of holds it all together. If you start trying to shovel everything in, it’s like ‘does it need that bit?’, so unfortunately she kind of hit the editing floor.
I think she was referenced just as visiting Hopper and Eleven. Now I think about it, she is mentioned at the beginning, because they talk about how the kids have all gone off to their different families for Christmas, and he had gone to see Joyce, but just a line. It’s kind of referenced without overdoing it.
3. What do you think the future holds for Hopper and Eleven?
This is the thing, Eleven’s growing up, and obviously she’s damaged in a way because of her upbringing [in the Hawkins Lab], but she’s also growing up and becoming a teenager, and she’s obviously super smart and capable and adaptive. So she is sort of transitioning into normality, if you can call it normality.
And of course for Hopper as well, his daughter Sara died when she was seven years old, so this is new territory for him as well. We wanted to see Hopper’s home life pre-everything [that’s happened in the show]. We kind of see Sara a little bit in season 1, we see she gets sick (below) so whether that had anything to do with what went on with the weird side of things [related to the Hawkins Lab], we don’t know yet. That could come up in the show maybe.
But it was important I think for the book that we focused on Hopper’s life. He has come to New York with his wife Diane (below) and young daughter, at a time when New York was a bad place to be. He wants to make a difference, he wants to do something, and Diane wants to make a difference as well, because she’s a school teacher and the public school system in New York in the late 1970s was as much a battleground as the police beat.
So despite all the craziness that goes on in the story, it’s still a happy period in Hopper’s life. For us the readers, we know what’s coming, which is this tragedy, his life is about to be turned upside down pretty soon after the book finishes, if you look at the timelines of things. So this is sweet in a way.
Hopper calls Diane at the beginning of season 1, on the phone, and she’s kind of like ‘oh go away, don’t call me’, well not really, more like ‘I’m busy’ kind of thing. So then Hopper at the start of season 1, he’s a wreck, so the book being a prequel, it’s that earlier side of Hopper, which is really interesting, which is really why I wanted to write the book.
He’s obviously got that Vietnam experience. Being Chief of Police in Hawkins, he’s obviously got police experience as well, so to take those little glimpses we had of his past and put it into a full story was really cool.
Vietnam was such a big thing for Hopper, as it would be for anyone who’s been through it, but really that deserves its own book in a way. You could do a prequel prequel! It was an experience that affected him quite deeply, which you see in the TV show, but the book obviously being six years before the TV show, is obviously more current, and that kind of void that it left in Hopper’s life where he feels like he needs to do something otherwise he’s going to go crazy.
He’s seen people who have come through the Vietnam experience who have not made it. He said he’s aware that he’s lucky that he’s still in command of his faculties sort of thing, but he also recognises that he needs to do something to avoid going back down that same sort of path, which is kind of what some of the book is about. As I said you could do a whole book on Vietnam, and that’s a different story. It obviously impacts him now, or then, but you don’t want to put too much in the book and overdo it.
I reckon you could do a Stranger Things prequel show.
- Adam Christopher
4. You thanked both David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown in the book, who play Hopper and Eleven. Did you work with them at all, or was it just a case of visualising them in the role and re-watching their scenes? Do you hope they read it?
No I didn’t work with them, but whenever you write licensed or tie-in fiction, where you’re working with characters who have already been created by somebody else, not only created and written, but portrayed by other people, that informs the writing hugely.
I think without the amazing performances by David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown… I find this work really satisfying because when you capture the character as you see them portrayed by the actors, it almost lifts off the page, so you can really see the characters doing what they’re doing.
I studied the episodes, scene by scene by scene. I didn’t read the scripts, I just watched the show, which is good because there’s a difference between what’s in the script and what you actually see on screen. It can be very different.
David Harbour has said in interviews he’s interested in what Hopper did before the show. It’s interesting, one of the first things I did when I plotted out the book was the timeline, because if you take when the show is set, then I kind of based it on David Harbour’s actual age at filming. I could then work backwards and think ‘what would he then be doing?’
It’s great to be able to contribute to the whole Stranger Things mythos, because I’ve created Hopper’s past, in part anyway. It’s cool! I think they probably will read it.
5. The 1970s is a very visually appealing period, for example the fashion and the music in the book. Could you see it translating to a spin-off Stranger Things TV show or movie?
Yeah, that would be good wouldn’t it?! I reckon you could do a Stranger Things prequel TV show. There’s a lot in the book.
Of course because the blackout of 1977 [based on a true story] (below) was such a large part. When I wrote the blackout sequences, I almost plotted it out like ‘imagine this as an eight-part TV series’. So, if episode eight is the finale, then episode six and seven is going to be the blackout, which is good because then it kind of helps the pacing of it as well.
It’s difficult because it’s a book, but it’s important to have that Stranger Things feel to the story, otherwise why am I writing a gritty crime thriller when there’s none of that weird Stranger Things quality to it?
6. Did you have any actors in your head while you were creating some of the roles in the book? For example I had Orange is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco, who plays Daya, in my head for Detective Rosario Delgado.
I did for Delgado. That’s the weird thing, because it’s set in the 70s, it’s got that kind of look and feel. So my reference points were kind of 70s stuff. It’s gonna sound super weird, but it was Sonia Manzano, who played Maria in Sesame Street! Honestly, late 70s Sesame Street, one of the adult cast. But it was perfect, because she was the right age. She wore that wavy 70s hair and flared trousers.
Also, you’d know you wouldn’t want to get on her wrong side, because she’d be tough. That’s exactly the qualities of Delgado. Her story alone, she’s one of the first female homicide detectives in New York in the late 70s, and she’s from Cuba. All that prejudice and sexism and racism she faces, and yet she’s determined to do her job and be a great detective. She’s my favourite character in the book apart from Hopper and Eleven.
[If I was casting it now], I see Tom Selleck (below), as Captain LaVorgna [Hopper’s boss in the New York Police Department at the time]. It’s a bit of a cliche because that’s kind of what he does on TV now anyway. LaVorgna was fun to write. It’s a cliche of the kind of tough New York police captain, kind of bossing his staff around, but it kind of works. I really like him.
But it’s very much the story of Hopper and Delgado, because she’s new, and he’s sort of new because he’s the outsider, from Hawkins. So they’ve got that bond, they’ve both been dropped in this situation, and they’re both trying to do the best job that they can.
7. I spotted some similarities between the Vipers and Riverdale’s Southside’s Serpents (below), for example the snakes on the back of the leather jackets. Was that an Easter egg for Riverdale fans as you’ve written for Archie Comics in the past?
Ahh, the Southside Serpents! I didn’t even think about that. No, that’s accidental.
The thing about the Vipers, there’s a film called The Warriors (below), which is a gang film set in the same time period. It’s kind of a bit fantastical, but the gangs of New York in the 1970s were like that. They dressed in gang colours which were, in some cases, outlandish.
So to have the Vipers with their snake jackets was true to the time I think. I had to tone it down because the leader of the Vipers, Saint John, he was too over the top. It was realistic for the period, but for a modern reader, you need to have that menace without being melodramatic.