Since making his movie debut in 1978's "Coma", Ed Harris has consistently been cited as one of America's finest actors. His breakthrough role was as astronaut John Glenn in "The Right Stuff", and he's subequently received Oscar nominations for his work in "Apollo 13", "The Truman Show", and "Pollock" (which he also directed). Now he's got a fourth chance of an Oscar for his performance as an AIDS victim in "The Hours".
Were you familiar with the Michael Cunningham novel upon which "The Hours" is based?
Yeah, I'd read the novel prior to any knowledge of the film being made. Actually my wife had read it and then recommended it to me. It was a really neat book. I was kind of surprised I was asked to play the character, but I was glad of the opportunity, especially when I found out Meryl Streep was playing Clarissa. I said yes without asking how much they were going to pay me.
You play a man with AIDS. Was that something which was personal to you?
I actually had some really dear friends who died from AIDS - one in particular. His family wasn't around and he didn't have that many friends. I'd gone to school with him, and I spent a lot of time with him in his later days. It was tough, and I drew from that.
Did a part like this leave you drained afterwards?
In one sense you're playing this man who is ailing and who's really had enough of life, which emotionally is difficult. But you're working on a really nice piece of material, playing a very interesting character, in a very interesting relationship with one of the best actresses that ever walked the planet. So it was exhilarating, it wasn't draining. The work experience was so fulfilling, it counterbalanced the emotional balance of the situation the character was in.
What was it with those Vauxhall car ads you did?
[Laughing] Do we have to talk about that?! They shot that in Sydney, Australia. It was the first ad I ever did, and probably will be the last. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.
So it was purely financial?
Did you think it was a creative decision? You don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure that one out.
How do you feel about being nominated for an Oscar again?
The recognition is nice. If I'm going to go, I'd rather win it than have somebody else's name called out - it's only natural. I was reading this interview with Jack Nicholson, and he was saying whatever you feel about the Oscars, it gets into your nervous system and infiltrates your life. It's strange.
But acting is not a competition to me. One of the first things I learned about acting was, the only person you compete against is yourself.