To The Ends Of The Earth
William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The
Jared Harris plays Captain
The family resemblance is there: the tall lanky frame,
the handsome face, the sensitive eyes and a fierce intelligence. Jared
Harris is clearly the son of his late father, Richard.
However, whereas the latter was as famous for his allegedly
wild private life as for his acting, his middle son appears to have resisted
the temptation to follow quite so literally in his father's shoes. He
was shielded from the wilder elements of his father's character by a stable
childhood and a very close family despite his parents' divorce.
He says: "I was very close to my father when I was growing
up. He was great fun. He loved kids and enjoyed being with us; he was
a very free spirit. There were no rules, which is great fun as a kid.
He made an effort when we had our holidays - his rule was that he wouldn't
be working and if he was, we'd go out and see him.
"To me, my father was a different man from the way he
was painted by the tabloid newspapers. He was a great father, and when
I was young I wasn't aware of that part of his life - I wouldn't have
been able to go out carousing on the town with him.
"When I was older we'd hang out, for a laugh and
a giggle. He was really good company. He lived in the Bahamas, and over
the years we saw lots of different bars open and close."
From a young age, the three Harris boys would visit their
famous father on movie sets, such as The Molly Maguires and Orca and his
father's life must have been a strong influence on Jared's own career
"I didn't grow up with a burning desire to be an actor
and I didn't act when I was at school. I was very shy and no one in my
family thought it was something I would naturally gravitate towards.
"I began acting when I went to Duke College in America,
in North Carolina. I think at that time I was narrowing it down to working
as an actor in film and theatre, or as a director.
"Those were the things that excited me. When I started
acting it was the first time I picked up a book and enjoyed doing work
and research and figuring everything out. Before that it was just a chore.
"When I was at boarding school in England I thought I
was going to be a lawyer. I was very argumentative - I never lost. Like
my father, who was also argumentative. He loved it. He was Irish and the
Irish like a good fight!"
A fearsome temper - at least one borrowed from his father
- puts Jared in good stead in his latest role as Captain Anderson, the
gruff, solitary master of the old war ship in To The Ends of the Earth.
Harris accepted the role because, he says: "I liked the
script, I liked the fact that all the characters were ambiguous in terms
of how the author wanted you to feel about them. Each character was presented
with flaws and virtues.
"Captain Anderson is a crusty old seadog. He's not particularly
imaginative; he's an isolated loner who isn't good with people - socially
inarticulate. There is an interesting ambiguity in all the characters.
As it's a first person narrative, the characters aren't necessarily as
Edmund sees them.
"Personally, I'm not at all like Anderson, and in
fact the only thing I ever captained in my life was my football team,
and that was on my birthday!"
It's not often that Harris is seen on British television,
having spent most of his career in independent movies. "A big fat hit
now and again would be good, " he says, "But I've done a lot of indie
films because it was the sort of material I was interested in. In lesser-known
independent movies you can still experiment, try and see what you can
and can't pull off, and take risks.
"The sorts of parts, even if you're playing the main
guy, in one of those stonking blockbusters are really tedious. Very very
simple cardboard characters who mostly just have to glower, smoulder and
say witty lines quietly. They're not human beings at all: they don't resemble
"I think that one of the most shocking things is
how fear rules the movie business so much. It is the terror of being fired,
terror of failure, which makes me think fondly back to the days when I
was at drama school where you'd be encouraged to fall flat on your face,
to try things out."
He moved to New York from London in 1990, when he finished
training at London's Central School for Speech and Drama. At the time,
work in UK television was scarce, even for experienced actors, so theatre
roles were also at a premium.
"I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work in America,"
he says. "I guess there's that old romance about the land of opportunity.
There aren't quite as many glass ceilings and you don't confront class
issues. They have stereotypes of their own, but it doesn't seem as restrictive
as over here."
For many children of acclaimed actors, their parents'
fame can be a drawback rather than an asset. "I'm sure being Richard Harris'
son has been a hindrance on occasions," says Harris.
"I remember at one time I auditioned for a man who my
father had just fired. It was definitely a hindrance then! Probably the
difference in America is that people think that maybe the talent is genetic
and they are curious. In England they are much more scathing about people
going into the same business, unless you come from a respected dynasty."
He's now decamped to LA. "New York has changed; the great
independent movie scene that was happening there has pretty much gone.
Theatre has become pushed out more to the fringe. It's either musicals
or event productions. In 1990, an off-Broadway play would create momentum
for your career - people would come and see it.
"The big agents from CAA and William Morris came
to see me in a Shakespeare play I did off Broadway, but now? Forget it,
there's no way they'd come to it."
A turning point for Harris was the London revival of
the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in which he played arch seducer the
Comte de Valmont. While not garnering the best notices of his career,
it proved to be a life-changing experience nonetheless.
The actress Emilia Fox played Madame
de Tourvel, one of the women Valmont seduces for a bet, but unexpectedly
falls in love with. They had never met before rehearsals, as Harris recalls.
"All I can say is that now it seems impossible that I
didn't even know her. How that play ended up was an absolute farce, but
I'm grateful that I met her, so it was a success as far as I'm concerned
and really important.
"I knew fairly early on that this was a really serious
relationship. I think she's wonderful and I'm so lucky to have met someone
who I am that excited about and totally sure about."
A true romantic, Harris planned a unique surprise marriage
proposal for Emilia on her birthday. While she slept in their bedroom,
unbeknown to her he had arranged for a top florist to come to the house
they share at 4.00am to fill it with flowers.
He says: "When she got up, it was just such a pleasure
watching her walk towards the bedroom door, knowing that the surprise
was all about to begin as soon as she opened it. It was great for both
The 'surprise' didn't end at the house full of flowers.
Jared led Emilia to the bottom of the garden, where a little statue was
hiding the ultimate surprise, a beautiful diamond engagement ring in the
shape of a heart. Harris laughs.
"I stacked the deck pretty high! It would have been a
pretty hardhearted person to turn me down at that point. Emilia told her
sister Lucy about it and she thought it was lovely. Her sister's husband,
however, was not thrilled by how I'd done it.
'Bastard!' he said, 'Christ, that's really over the top.
I think it smacks of insecurity and if he was really confident he'd be
accepted he would just have asked her!'"
Indeed, Harris' immaculately planned romantic surprise
would make it hard for many men to live up to. He justifies his actions
by saying,"With all these wonderful moments in your life you think, 'When
we're with our kids and they asked how I proposed, I couldn't imagine
Emilia saying 'he asked me on the tube'.'"
Next for Harris and Emilia will be a big family wedding
in Dorset this summer. Family is very important to Harris, who is very
close to his two brothers. "We did everything together when we were young,"
he says. "We were sent off to boarding school together and when my parents
divorced we'd go between the two. We've always been very close.
"Our parents were very conscious of trying to soften the
blow for us when they split up. Afterwards, they managed to become very
good friends and for the last 15 years we used to all spend Christmases
together. My mother and father were very good friends."
Harris and his new bride will be commuting across the
Atlantic for the time being, until they have a family of their own - when
they will decide where to settle.
As the Harris and Fox acting dynasties unite, it is likely
that there will be Harrises on screen for a long time to come.