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29 October 2014
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To The Ends Of The Earth
Jared Harris plays Captain Anderson

William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The Earth'


Jared Harris plays Captain Anderson

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 choice.


"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 anybody.


"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 of us."


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.



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