His lineage speaks for itself. His father is Richard Harris. His stepfather, Rex Harrison. His stepmother, American actress Ann Turkel. He himself has played unforgettable characters on stage and screen, most notably, Professor Moriarity in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, ad executive Lane Pryce in AMC’s Mad Men, Captain Mike in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Ulysses S. Grant in Spielberg’s Lincoln, and so many others. I am, of course, speaking of Jared Harris.
On meeting Jared Harris, one immediately notices the mischievous twinkle in his eyes and more than a glint of his father. His smile is broad and genuine. His laugh, hearty with a playful lilt. His handshake firm. His demeanor relaxed and engaging. He is everything that his latest character, Professor Joseph Coupland, is not. But it doesn’t take long to discover that it’s those differences that speak the loudest about both Jared Harris the man and Jared Harris the actor.
Leading the charge in the John Pogue helmed THE QUIET ONES under the Hammer Films banner, Jared Harris is easily poised to become the 21st Century Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, legends of the 50's and 60's Hammer horror line. As Coupland, Harris assumes an air and persona through chain smoking randiness that walks the rapier line of ‘Is he good? Is he evil?’, effectively instilling the ‘What’s lurking beneath the surface?’ energy in this terrifying parapsychological thriller.
As Harris explains, “You have a construction in your mind about the character and the interpretation and the journey that the character’s going to go on and you look for those opportunities about where you can show the different colors of the character because you obviously can’t do them all at the same time. . .I thought that [Coupland] was aware of the fact that he was a little bit of a star at the university. People thought that he had a sort of conceit about himself, that he was a rebel and that he was doing something that was dangerous and revolutionary. He had a little bit of a cult following to himself that he gathered around himself. There was this sort of narcissism about the character.”
Viewing Coupland as a “terrible snob, he would look down his nose at people”, the fact that there are only five main cast members allowed him tailor his tone for each. “[I]t’s not hard to keep track of in the sense that your character has an opinion about who these people are and what he feels about them. He’s a womanizer in the sense that he wants to be the center of attention for the two girls in the story. He’s dismissive of the abilities of the two men. . .He plays favorites. . .The character is manipulative and he’s aware of how he wants to manipulate the various different people.”. All of which Harris executes beautifully.
A significant part of Professor Coupland involves his lustiness for the two female characters, Coupland’s psychological experiment, Jane Harper, and his assistant, Kristine. In an amused chortle, Harris pipes up “It was a sort of fun part of the story. The character was so juicy in that way. He wasn’t some sort of crusty old academic who is dispensing wisdom from behind a desk. He was actually involved, very physically in every aspect of the story. In a way, and I was thinking about this last night when I saw the movie again, he does have courage. He puts himself in harm’s way. He looks for a few positive characteristics [laughing] but a fairly terrible palette otherwise.”
Having worked with so many different directors on so many different-sized film budgets, working with John Pogue on THE QUIET ONES proved an experience unlike others, and something that played into his performance and character development. “With Spielberg you’re trying to absorb as much of his knowledge as you can. His instinctive understanding of film, of camera, of story, of momentum, is really stunning. . . He sort of sweeps you along in his passion and his excitement. With John [Pogue] it’s obviously more collaborative and you’re trying to help in whatever way you feel that you’re able to help. . .I had a good relationship with him. We rehearsed for two weeks so there was a chance for us all to contribute our ideas and put our ideas on the table and then cherry pick the ones that we liked.” Harris is quick to also note that as the main character in the movie, as well as being the seasoned veteran among his younger co-stars Sam Claflin and Olivia Cooke, “[Y]ou can look after each other and you can protect each other and try to make things available.”
Making Jared Harris a standout is also his involvement in and understanding of the filmmaking process itself. “[John Pogue] had a fantastic idea of what he wanted to do with this story, how he wanted to tell it. He and the DP [Matyas Erdely] had a very bold idea about how they were gonna shoot it in the sense that they weren’t looking to try and do a lot of coverage, which was fantastic. They were trying to do continuous usable masters almost.” That concept played into performance in terms of shot set ups and emotional beats.
Although having seen THE QUIET ONES “many, many, many times”, Harris admits to still having a few scares. “When I first saw the movie I was absolutely rung out and terrified. There’s still things that I enjoy because you know where the story is going, but I still enjoy them and they still freak me out. The scene up in the attic really works well. It was lit almost in pitch black. It’s a very good scene.” Scary enough on film, shooting in pitch black darkness presents its own scariness in real life. “The only light source in there was from the camera. There were several takes where people went walking off into walls and hurt themselves and twisted their ankle and cracked their head and we had to stop and bandage people up and then go back in there and do it again.”
Given the body of work Harris has already created, and in light of his family legacy, it may surprise many that when he started out at Duke University, although majoring in drama and literature, acting wasn’t in the forefront of his mind as a vocation. “I have to be honest. I was aware of it, obviously, because of my father [Richard Harris] and then my mother being married to Rex Harrison. I was aware of that world. It seemed like an attractive world in terms of it looked like fun, but I had no confidence or interest in my own ability. I was so shy I just did not think there was a connection there. It really was a sort of ‘one off’ thing. I like the comaraderie. I like the intensity of the experience. I like the fact that you had to get to know each other in the company really quickly. You had to get on with each other. You had to appreciate what each other’s qualities were and support one another. You’re all gonna tell the story in front of this group of strangers which is weirdly terrifying and exciting at the same time. And you knew right away whether it was working or not. There’s just something magical about it. I enjoyed it. I knew that I enjoyed it and as one progressed through university and was handed bigger and bigger roles, I felt like I was able to take more and more on.”
Perhaps most telling about Jared Harris the man, is one special night and one special memory with his father, Richard Harris. “My father came and saw me in my last play and I remember distinctly the look on his face when I saw him afterwards. He was surprised and he was really excited. We spent about two hours at dinner discussing the play, the performance, interpretation, acting, and I could see the pride in him. And I remember what he said. He said, ‘Jesus Christ! You’ve got it! You’ve absolutely got it!’”