By Moonah Ellison & Sophia Fox-Sowell Photography by Nathan Johnson
“… He was an enormous personality, he could control an entire room. It was an amazing thing to see, that kind of energy—he had to tone himself down for the camera.” But beneath the infamy of the actor, “He was always my dad, first and foremost. …”
“…(On Brexit) I think it was an incredibly cynical political maneuver, hardly anyone of the people who pulled the trigger on it thought that it was going to turn out the way that it did …”
With his trade marked raspy voice, Jared Harris comes onto the line, a bit fatigued from his travels—but the English native has grown accustomed to an irregular schedule.
A quick glance at Harris’s IMDB page, which reads like a rap sheet full of popular television series, short films, and eclectic movies, tells us he’s more than just an A-list actor, he’s a seasoned veteran.
His stoic presence and striking features easily lend themselves to manipulate an audience’s suspension of disbelief. Harris holds his own alongside strong actors like Jon Hamm in AMC’s cult hit, Mad Men; Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in the fictional crime thriller, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; and Daniel Day Lewis in the historical drama, Lincoln.
Lewis, famous for his extreme measures of preparation, commits to character months before filming in order to give a truly authentic performance. Asked to comment about the Oscar winner’s peculiar work ethic after working with him on the set of Lincoln, Harris replied, “His attention to detail is truly impressive; people refer to it as being an imposition or intimidating, it isn’t. Actors do that stuff all the time.”
Harris himself has specific strategy of preparation when he accepts a role; though it’s not his personality he has review, it’s his character. Whether they are historical figures or fictional human beings, he always conducts extensive research before and during filming in order to give depth to his performance. Not long ago, Harris embarked on an exploration to play King George VI in Netflix’s new original series, The Crown and captured his insecurities and the zeitgeist of immediate post WW11 Britain perfectly. He grins, “I’m fascinated by history.” Interestingly, his research tends leads him down a tangent, “You always find these interesting sort of off-shoots.”
It’s hard to believe that before he got his first role in a student performance at Duke University in the 1980s, Harris never really gave acting much thought.
What’s even more outlandish than his former apathy towards his current profession is the fact that he comes from an entire family of successful actors.
Both his parents and his brothers entered the acting world. But his father, Richard Harris, was by far the most successful. An extremely talented actor throughout his four-decade career, his breakout role in, The Sporting Life, in 1963, earned him an Oscar nomination. But he’s most notably known for the last few roles of his career: As Marcus Aurelius opposite Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and as the influential priest in The Count of Monte Cristo, with Jim Caviezel. Finally, his most iconic role to date, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series before passing away in October of 2002.
Harris speaks about his father fondly, and we detect a twinkle in his eye, “He was an enormous personality, he could control an entire room. It was an amazing thing to see, that kind of energy—he had to tone himself down for the camera.” But beneath the infamy of the actor, “He was always my dad, first and foremost.”
The English native has also garnered quite the reputation in the indie community. In the critic favorite at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Harris costars in Certain Women, with Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart. He especially admires the film’s director, Kelly Reichardt, for her unabashed dedication to the movie’s production.
Indie films’ biggest competition is obviously huge motion picture companies like Warner Bros., that not only have bigger budgets for flashier film production, but afterwards for its distribution and promotion. In order to compete, Reichardt jumped feet first down the rabbit hole—she mortgaged her house.
To me (and the rest of the world), that sounds bat-shit crazy, given the current housing market. But the 55-year-old actor is a bit more empathetic, “At the end of the day, that’s what success is to an independent filmmaker. They don’t lose their house.”
Harris admits that in comparison, the writing is almost always better in indie flicks. “Independent movies are riskier— there’s something unusual about it [because] they have to rely on novel storytelling, structure and characters to grab their audience’s attention—so they’re more exciting to make.”
You’d have to live under a rock not to notice that Hollywood has fallen into a slump of movies that seem to follow the same archetypes lately—superhero remakes and the classic boy meets girl scenarios. Harris boldly states that the continuous pattern of unimaginative stories has to do with two things: fear and film stars.
“There’s a conflict between the filmmakers wanting it to be original and the people funding it wanting it to be as familiar as possible,” he says.
We’re all aware that superhero movies and romantic comedies subscribe to a particular archetype of star-crossed lovers or the superhero gets powers, someone wants to destroy the world, and then said superhero saves the day. This isn’t our first Superman.
But what I didn’t think about was the audience. It never struck me that audiences were dictating the screenplays, not the directors. The idea that moviegoers enjoy their comfort zone so much, even when they pay $15 sit in a dark movie theater and get a reprieve from the mundaneness of their ordinary lives to spend a few hours immersed in a fictional story, 9 times out of 10, they’d still prefer a film with a plotline they can immediately recognize instead of one that requires a bit more critical thinking. As a result, production companies, who’ve spent massive amounts of money making the film, want to guarantee a profit margin.
I’m not sure if I’m more disgusted with capitalism or for audience members’ lack of imagination.
The contrast between audiences at the movies and audiences in a playhouse is night and day. Harris looks back fondly on his involvement in Mark Rylance’s Hamlet in New York City during the 90s and the instant gratification he received from the audience. “It’s immediate, you will get responses and you will get laughs that you will never get ever again no matter how hard you chase them, because [audiences] have different personalities. [Each performance] is never the same, because the audience is never the same.”
Beyond the actual logistics of making motion pictures, Harris goes on to point out that the movie stars of the silver screen and their relationship to the audience as these “mega celebrities” may actually distract viewers from the film’s original trajectory. “Sometimes this obsession can create its own planetary gravity which pulls the narrative away from its own natural arc and take the film to a completely different place.”
His points are so insightful, he’d probably be a successful director himself—and maybe not even have to sell his house. Harris directed an episode of Mad Men and really enjoyed the consuming nature of the job. “What’s exciting about it is that you’re in the crucial nexus of everything, it really challenges your imagination, your communication skills, and your ability to react instantly to stave off disasters.”
But despite his enthusiasm, he has reservations, “The most important thing about directing is the story. You have to love the story because you’re going to have to live with it for at least a year through the pre-production, production, and post-production up through the promotion for it. You have to be absolutely obsessed by that story.”
He respects Steven Spielberg for the importance he places on humor in each of his films. Citing a scene in Jaws where the Roy Scheider is sitting with his son whose copycatting his every move, a playful moment after the previous horrors of the day. Harris believes that humor should have a role in any medium of storytelling, no matter how dark. “It’s like a nerve. If you keep hitting the same nerve, it’ll go numb after a while. You have to stop and relieve the pressure in some ways so you can go back into the darkness.”
Speaking of darkness: “He’s not being challenged,” is a phrase Harris used three times to describe the Republican presidential candidate. [We don’t dare speak his name and contribute to another news cycle domination.] Clearly he’s as frustrated as we all are about the lack of true journalistic integrity in the media coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. Especially when there’s such a stark difference in the coverage of his opponent. “Historically speaking, the women suffragette movement only happened in the 1920s, it seems like that glass ceiling is thicker,” observing the blatant sexism that Secretary Clinton bears during the brunt of this campaign; being criticized for not smiling, instead of discussing her policy platforms.
Furthermore, Harris continues to point out the false symbolism of the 2008 presidential election, which place the first African-American President in the White House. “When Obama was elected, there was this tremendous feeling of accomplishment for the whole country, the great healing of a racial wound that was at the heart of the birth of this nation. But really, it didn’t heal the wound, it just ripped the scab off of it. And it’s been festering for a long time.”
Harris only has a green card and cannot vote in the United States; however, he says, “But I can certainly have an opinion.”
The London native has been living in the States since the 1990s, though is disappointed by the current status of the UK in the aftermath of Brexit. “I think it was an incredibly cynical political maneuver, hardly anyone of the people who pulled the trigger on it thought that it was going to turn out the way that it did.” The unprepared English Parliament could be a projection a few years into the future, should the orange buffoon win the election.
Stepping back into the light and reflecting on his career, Harris remarks, “I’ve auditioned for normal characters, but I never get cast.” Consequently, he always plays unusual, yet memorable, characters. Never forgetting his humility, he concludes, “I really enjoy acting and am very happy with the opportunities that come my way.”
photography by Nathan Johnson stylist Valissa Yoe stylist assistant Audra Gooch grooming Juliet Jane
location Drift Daylight Studios nyc [clothing used in this shoot] J. Mueser, Calvin Klein, Joseph & Feiss, Doyle +
Mueser, Pronto Uomo, Joseph Abboud, Robert James Suiting, Brooks Brothers Suiting