How David Harbour got ripped to play Hellboy

Though he's no stranger to television, you probably recognize American actor David Harbour as Stranger Things' chain-smoking lawman Chief Hopper. His character in the hit Netflix series is a hero of sorts, but you might not envision the actor as a superhero…at least not like Chris Hemsworth's Thor or Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. There's one comics-derived role that's perfect for him, though: the cigar-smoking half-demon hero Hellboy. Previously portrayed by Ron Perlman, the character will be played by Harbour in the upcoming franchise reboot Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen.

Since the first image of Harbour as Hellboy went live, the internet has buzzed with conjecture as to how Stranger Things' soft sheriff got so swole. Well, wonder no longer! We're here to tell you exactly how Harbour shed that dead weight and put on some powerful red muscle…and you might just be surprised.

He'd never seriously trained before

Prior to landing the Hellboy reboot, David Harbour's relationship with the gym wasn't particularly close. In fact, it was virtually non-existent—a fact unsurprising to anyone who's ever seen Chief Hopper washing down his Monday-morning medication with last night's beer and eating donuts for breakfast.

"I was a chubby kid growing up," Harbour explained in an interview on his trainer's official website. "Straight out of college, I did my first play, which I got pretty in shape for, but I let that go completely." Until recently, that was the last time the Dartmouth graduate hit the weight room. "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 … so I still consider myself a novice at this."

Harbour is now in his 40s, but has proven that it's never too late to get back in shape. Nevertheless, in order to shed the results of nearly two decades of living a relatively sedentary lifestyle, Harbour needed help.

He ramped up work with his trainer

Going from playing a police chief with a beer belly to a jacked-up half-demon superhero is no easy feat—and certainly one Harbour couldn't accomplish by himself. In order to go from big softie to Brother Red, he enlisted the help of one of Hollywood's biggest names in the training biz: Don Saladino.

Saladino's client list is extensive—Harbour has actually worked with Saladino for several years—and impressive, with Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Liev Schreiber, Blake Lively, and Ryan Reynolds all making use of the former Division I baseball player's talents. Saladino's individualized fitness programs are also backed up by an extensive knowledge base that includes multiple certifications.

"There is something very special about Don as a person and a trainer," Harbour explained. "He brings great creativity to the workout regimes, which in the past have usually terrified and bored me. His methods are unique, as well as heavily researched. Not only that, but they are even fun, despite the challenges you are taking on."

He set simple goals

When embarking on any new fitness program, it's always good to set goals. Studies have shown that setting realistic and attainable fitness benchmarks positively affects performance, thus helping maximize a specific workout program. And they don't have to be complicated—they can include simply gaining flexibility, dropping 10 pounds, or—in David Harbour's case—shedding a specific outer layer.

When asked about the results he hoped to see out of training with Saladino, Harbour replied: "I'd like to discover that I have abs!" But that doesn't mean he expects to get an epic eight-pack like Real Madrid Adonis Cristiano Ronaldo. "Even if those abs are a bit fleshy," Harbour added, "I'd like to look like I could hold my own in a ring with a heavyweight."

If the first shots of Harbour as Hellboy are any indication, we don't want to be anywhere near a ring with Anung un Rama.

He went through a 10-week boot camp

As is often the case with big-name superhero films, David Harbour needed to get into Hellboy shape in a very short period of time.

Thanks to a post on trainer Don Saladino's official Instagram, we know he put Harbour through a rigorous 10-week boot camp, involving kettlebells, medicine balls, machine weights, dumbbells, and weighted sleds—and that was just to kick things off. "Getting David ready for this role was an absolute blast for me," Saladino said. "The sessions weren't easy, but like all of my clients, I made sure that he felt great at the end of every day. By the end he not only put on some real muscle, but also was more flexible than ever."

His trainer has a secret weapon

In an interview with The New York Post, Saladino laid out the tailored regimen that took Harbour from Hopper to Hellboy. First, they increased the frequency of his workouts from three to four days a week to "five to six days a week in the nine weeks before Hellboy." Those workouts included a warm-up of "bear crawls," which target the shoulders and the obliques, followed by "a series of targeted strength-training moves, including the 'sled push,' in which [Harbour] uses his whole body to push a rolling weighted sled."

But the real key to success, Saladino revealed, is a move he calls "the suitcase carry," which is when "clients grip a heavy kettlebell in each hand and work through a variety of movements, such as lunges, or even simply walk back and forth holding the weights." According to the all-star trainer, this is a full-body workout, encompassing "nearly every muscle group in the body, from the glutes to the biceps," and it also has a cardiovascular component as well.  

Though it may sound grueling, Saladino said Harbour "never complained about anything" and that he "just loved how strong he was getting," noting the fact that "Harbour has increased the amount of weight he can kettlebell deadlift from 104 pounds to 375 pounds."

He focused on strength and power

Unlike some other actors who aim to not only look superhero ripped but superhero sexy—see Thor, Black Widow, or Wonder Woman, for example—David Harbour's main goal was to look superhero scary. And in order to look scary, he had to look strong. Really strong.

"In terms of Hellboy, like he's a big demon monster but he really knows how to fight," Harbour explained. "I did want to develop mainly power and strength so that when I'm doing these movements and doing this role that you believe it. Like, you believe that this guy, when he hits you, hits you like a truck. He has his own persona which sometimes is very insecure and then sometimes has this persona like, you know, 'f*** you.' Like, you know, when you have more strength you can really, like, do that."

Harbour's trainer agreed with the actor's assessment. "We didn't want like an Abercrombie… like a ripped [model]," Saladino said. "You needed to look like, scary. But I think we nailed it. I really felt good about it."

He stayed motivated

As any actor who's ever embarked on a superhero training regimen will tell you, motivation is key. Besides wanting to see whether he actually had abdominal muscles, David Harbour found motivation through the people who'll flock to theaters to see the Hellboy reboot. Specifically, three distinct types of people.

"The fans are what are keeping me motivated through everything," Harbour explained. "As well as the audience that will come see the movie and the haters out there who have decided to make their opinion known before a scene has even been shot. I've got something to prove to all three. I really want to do justice to this character and create a Hellboy that everyone can get behind."

He was body-shamed

Speaking with The Wrap, Harbour revealed what he called his "Hollywood story" about the time he auditioned to play the Blob in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. After the casting director told him he'd be perfect for the role, because they needed "a big guy to wear the suit," Harbour agreed to audition. While reading for the part, he lifted his shirt and joked, "I got your Blob right here!"

In a later meeting with the director, Harbour claims he was told, "David, look, you're wonderful, we really think you're just a great actor, we're just concerned…you lifted up your shirt and we saw the… we're just a little worried about your health."

"I was like, 'Wait a minute, dude, pause for one second,'" Harbour said, adding, "You are telling me I'm too fat to play The Blob? That's awesome, I have to get the f— back to New York."

Though he doesn't attribute his desire to bulk up for Hellboy to this anecdote, we have to think there's a little bit of sweet revenge involved.

He's still not Hellboy big

Despite his intense 10-week boot camp with one of Hollywood's most in-demand trainers, David Harbour isn't actually getting as big as you might think. In fact—as you may have guessed from the first images of the actor as Hellboy—he's actually wearing a body suit.

Harbour went on LIVE with Kelly and Ryan to explain his dismay at not being able to post Instagram selfies like his other superhero cohorts: "I thought, like, here we go! I get to do a superhero movie and I'm gonna do that Chris Pratt thing where you buff out and take selfies in front of the mirror … [eat] chicken breasts and you're constantly doing sit-ups and running and stuff … So I started on that and I started to lose weight."

The problem is, losing weight isn't what the producers had in mind. "And there's all these prosthetics they're building," Harbour explained. "It's kind of a monster movie, and there's this whole [body suit]. And the producers are now like 'If you lose weight you're not going to fit in this suit.' Well, [the suit's] like Arnold Schwarzenegger." In order to actually look like the jacked-up Hellboy, Harbour claims he would need five years—and steroids.

Harbour also gets to eat all the junk food he wants. "I have producers calling me saying, like: 'more milkshakes! Why aren't you eating pizza?" Sure beats the tried and true celebrity diet of greens and lean proteins.