Jared Harris

Jared Harris is one of those actors you might not instantly recognise by name, but you’ll definitely know him by on sight. The son of acting legend Richard Harris, he has appeared in tons of movies and TV shows over the years, including Fringe, Mad Men, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, he even played Winona Ryder’s boss Mac McGrath in the Adam Sandler comedy Mr. Deeds!

His latest movie, which is released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 17th, is John Carpenter’s The Ward, where he plays the Dr. Stringer, the head of the eponymous ward… He’ll also next be seen as Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – which, if you ask me, is a case of perfect casting! We recently got a chance to talk to Harris to discuss The Ward, Sherlock Holmes 2 and much more.

You’ve had a very varied career, how do you go about choosing roles?

It’s always the script. If something in the script attracts you that’s the most important thing because if it’s not in the script it won’t be on the screen. And then the other thing you look for is a director or another actor you really want to work with or their something in the role that you haven’t played that you’d like to, to change people’s ideas of who you are and what you can do. And then of course the other thing is to pay your landlords, who expect real money not potential (laughs).

Was there something in the The Ward that grabbed you in particular?

First and foremost it was John Carpenter. I really wanted to work with him because as a kid growing up I watched his movies and loved them, they were some of the first great experiences I had sitting in a movie theatre. I respected him as a filmmaker and just wanted to work with him.

What was he like the first time you met him on set? Did he live up to the “myth” of how you perceived him having seen his movies?

Absolutely. As one would imagine, given his career, he knew exactly what he was he was doing and what he wanted. He had authority behind the camera – he didn’t edit in-camera, but unlike many directors who shoot more coverage than they need so they’re locked into a certain edit, John got to do it that way. It’s very much the old style of shooting, where the directors didn’t waste time and film on shooting extra stuff because they knew how they were going to cut the scene together, they had an idea of the rhythm of the scene, where the focus was and what the emphasis was one. So John shot scenes with very little coverage sometimes as he knew what he wanted, and some of the setups he did would only lasted ten or fifteen seconds because he knew exactly what he needed. But that was great because you knew you were wrking with someone who knew exactly how each scene would operate.

Besides working with Carpenter you working with a cast of young ladies. What were they like to work with, in particular Amber Heard?

[Amber] was very, very serious and professional. She worked every single day. When you have a situation like that where one person is working a lot they don’t tend to socialise, or there’s no time. But with the other girls, we got to hang out, we went go-karting, we explored all the restaurants…. It was fun and I had a really good time. It was a good place to go to work each day.

Your character in The Ward is a bit of a smaller role, how long were you on set for?

All in all it was about a month. I did four days, left for a week and then came back and did three weeks off and on. A lot of the time we were kept around in case the schedule changed.

Despite the smaller role, your character is pivotal comes the films final denouement. Did you find much room for character development?

I did. It’s interesting because that character, until you know what’s going on, he looks like the bad guy. There’s something not right about what he’s doing, he looks manipulative and seems to be hiding something. He really seems like he’s the villain of the piece. But then when we have that reveal you understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. So I had to deliver the scenes so that made sense for both readings so that when you back and think about what you’ve seen, it would still hold up.

You’ve worked in film and in television and moreso both network and cable TV. Is there a difference these days? People say the quality of cable television is becoming more like cinema. Do you see that from your standpoint?

Oh yes. In the quality of the scripts. Studio filmmaking has narrowed its audience to a teenage audience, a teenage boy audience, with all the comic book movies and the superhero films. I enjoy some of those but it becomes extremely familiar. But that’s Hollywood, they’ve surrendered a large part of their audience [to teenage boys]. But with cable television, and the charge being lead by HBO, you don’t have to worry about advertisers and what they will and won’t allow their products to be associated with – they’re able to present challenging and adult material. The best writing these days is definitely on television and in particular on HBO because they take really big risks.

And the difference between working for cable and network? There isn’t one. The only difference is time. We’d shoot seven pages a day on Mad Men, where as with something like Sherlock Holmes three pages a day was moving quite fast.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, you’re playing the iconic villain Moriarty. What’s is it like getting your teeth into that classic character?

It’s great fun. It’s great fun working with those guys… We had an idea of the history of the character. What’s interesting is that Moriarty is that he only ever appeared in two Sherlock Holmes stories, the rest of the time he’s talked about. A lot. He’s probably the first literary super-villain and I’d say started a tradition which has been copied to the point of parody. So we were aware all the time the there has been a lot that happened since [his introduction] and that it would only take one wrong sentence to tip the character into parody. So we had to be very clear and careful about how we would present it – and avoid the typical cliches, like the monologue, of film villainy. One of the things we decided on, and something I’m happy about, is that the character would never explain himself or tell Sherlock Holmes what he was doing or why he was doing it. It was all about leaving Holmes to work it out, much like a chess game…

One last question. Would you return to Fringe if the producers asked you and found a way to bring your character back?

I’d love to. There’s obviously a version of that character on the other side… They haven’t contacted me or said anything [about a return], but I’m a big, big fan of the show and I watch every episode and I love it. So I’d be delighted to should they ask…

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