“Mad Men” star Jared Harris is getting nostalgic about the 1960s.
In case you haven’t already watched the often shocking fifth season of AMC’s much-heralded look at the colorful world of Madison Avenue in the 1960s, you may want to avoid any SPOILERS ahead by taking a look – it hits Blu-Ray on Oct. 16 – before proceeding on with our chat with Harris, who plays the desperately poised, oft-flummoxed Brit expat Lane Pryce.
Thus forewarned, Harris reveals the inside details of the extraordinary character arc he was given to play in Season Five, as well as his thoughts on what “Mad Men” has meant to his career, his stint working on Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and his lengthy side-gig as the primary bad guy menacing the heroes of “Fringe.”
This was really a landmark season in an already landmark television show, and it delivered a particularly moving story arc for your character. What was it like to have that material come your way, even though it came with the bittersweet element that you would be exiting?
Yeah, it was a double‑edged sword. On the one hand, I could see that I had the tremendous material to work on from an acting point of view, and it would make a big splash because the character was a beloved character. And people, obviously, would be sad to see the guy go, so I knew it would have an impact. In that sense, I understood the value of making sure that nobody knew what was going to happen before it aired. On the other hand, yeah, I was out of a job! And it was not just any job – it was a job on the best show on television, and you don't walk into another one, do you?
What did you love about playing Lane over the years? What got to you about him?
Well, the poor guy was so frustrated. I think he was one of those people who thinks that if you do the right thing that somehow good things will come to you, and of course, that's not the way the world works, unfortunately. It should work that way. That's not to say that he was an overly moral man or anything like that, but I like that there was something just so conflicted about the guy. He really didn't get much of a break in terms of fortune breaking his way, and I found him funny.
I found him sort of affecting. There was something genuine about him. Really, I was obviously disappointed when they decided that his time had come to an end on the show because I was just beginning to really, really get a sense of him – I even knew how he smelled. I really started to get a very visceral feel for him. So, yeah, I was sad when Matt said, ‘Our time together had come to an end.’ I wasn't surprised. But, yeah, I was sad. I was very fond of the character.
You had a pretty solid career going prior to ‘Mad Men,’ but I'm sure that it was a game‑changer for you, in terms of what you got to play on the show, and in terms of how the Industry looked at you.
In terms of momentum, yes. Really, the momentum started, I would say, with ‘Benjamin Button,’ particularly because Matt [Weiner, ‘Mad Men’ creator] had seen ‘Benjamin Button,’ so I created a good impression in his mind from that. But then, of course, during ‘Mad Men’ absolutely, because I know that Joel Silver and Susan Downey and Guy and Robert and the people at Warner Brothers, they're all fans of ‘Mad Men’.
‘Mad Men’ opened doors on ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ ‘Mad Men opened doors on the Spielberg movie [‘Lincoln’] – Spielberg was a friend of Matt, so yeah, it definitely opened doors. It created momentum, for sure. I have to say also, Scott Hornbacher and Matt Weiner particularly, they made it possible for me to do ‘Lincoln,’ because I was shooting the last three episodes of ‘Mad Men’ and shooting ‘Lincoln’ and they me it possible for me to do both.
Well, while we're on that topic, what was that like?
It was literally a dream come true, I've got to tell you. I think if time machines were invented and actors were given an opportunity to go back and work with their top ten directors, Spielberg would be on every actor's list, in terms of wanting opportunity to work with him. And everyone had that feeling whilst they were there on set. He has a tremendous enthusiasm, excitement. There's a real feeling of invention occurring. I'm sure, obviously, there's a lot of preparation and planning gone into all of it, but there's still that feeling of, he's responding to what he's seeing. And he's adjusting his plan to what he's seeing.
You also had a very crucial role over the course of several seasons on ‘Fringe.’ What has it meant to you to be a part of that big science fiction, big tapestry of story they've been telling over there?
I'm a fan of that show. I'm really enjoying the new season. Last season when they told me that they were going to bring back Leonard Nimoy, I said 'If I get to work with him, I would be delighted to come back,’ because I am a huge fan of Leonard's. And I enjoy the paranoia of that show, the sort of mad conspiracy theory element to it. It's bonkers, and I love it. Anything can happen. I mean it's fantastic, and there's a tremendous emotional heart at the center of the story.
You have the love story, obviously, between Peter and Olivia which is crucial to it, but you also have this fantastic relationship that's between Peter and Walter. And particularly, I think John Noble's work on that show is absolutely stunning. It almost makes you think that there should be a separate category in all these awards for science fiction. I don't think people take science fiction seriously. It's not drama. It's not comedy. It's sort of special effects. I think it kind of falls in between the cracks, but his work on that show is absolutely stunning.
What will you miss most about behind the scenes, going to work every day on ‘Mad Men’ and the people you get to play with?
Great crew. Really good fun. Great sense of camaraderie. I'm going to miss the Turkish coffee that they serve at lunch – it's really f***ing delicious. Hanging out after you've been wrapped, you'd often see people hanging around, playing cards or dominos, having a drink, doing a couple of shots, stuff like that – chatting to each other after you've wrapped. It wouldn't be unusual to see someone who had wrapped at 2 in the afternoon and still be around at base camp at 7 in the evening, shooting the breeze.
And the excitement – everyone knows that they're working on something special, and there's an awareness of that and there’s excitement about it. It's a cool show. Often, it's either you're working on a show that – it doesn't have the success in its own lifetime or the critical attention doesn't come, but to have all those things happening at the same time with a tremendously positive attitude that comes from everyone who's working on it in terms of the enjoyment of what you do. Yet it's strict in terms of the approach to the material, but there's a great sense of fun about it all.
Now that Lane's gone, how are you going to be ahead of the curve in knowing what happens next on ‘Mad Men’? You've always had that advantage.
That's one of the things where I said, 'Damn it! That's going to really suck.’ I have to wait until the damn thing airs now to find out what happened next, along with the rest the America.