There are acceptance speeches and there are acceptance speeches, and David Harbour gave one of the latter Sunday night at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Harbour plays Chief Jim Hopper on Netflix’s 1980s retrofest Stranger Things, which won the award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series; as fate would have it, he was the first from the show’s large cast to make it to the microphone.
What happened next doesn’t seem that remarkable in a transcript. Harbour delivered a good example of the “awards speech in a time of crisis” genre: acknowledging that entertainment didn’t seem important right now before pivoting back to describing art—and specifically Stranger Things—as a machine that generates empathy, in Roger Ebert’s memorable phrase. Two things made it different. First, Harbour’s delivery slowly built to a frenzy, getting louder and louder until he was yelling every word over the applause of the assembled actors. Second, and most importantly, there’s this:
Winona Ryder, Harbour’s Stranger Things co-star, effortlessly stole the show—not that easy when you’re next to a red-faced David Harbour yelling at the top of his lungs—looking by turns skeptical, shocked, confused, very skeptical, riled up, and very, very skeptical. It seems like she was either not expecting Harbour to speak or not expecting him to give the speech he gave and rose to the challenge the only way she knew how: acting.
Since it is impossible to listen to what David Harbour is saying while Ryder is rolling her eyes next to him, here’s the complete text of Harbour’s speech. The last half should be read at top volume:
Oh, my god. Wow. This is unreal. This is unreal. I’m supposed to start talking—I’m sorry, I’m sick. On behalf of this fearless and talented cast, we would like to thank—oh, it’s so heavy!—we’d like to thank Netflix, Sean, Matt, Ross and the amazing casting director Carmen Cuba. And I would like to say that in light of all that’s going on in the world today, it’s difficult to celebrate the already celebrated Stranger Things. But this award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world, is call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper, and through our art to battle against the fear, self-centeredness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture. And through our craft, to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired, they are not alone. We are united in that we are all human beings and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting and mysterious ride that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 Midwesterners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no home. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters! And when we are at a loss against the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak and the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul, with heart, and with joy! We thank you for this responsibility. Thank you.