Sunday, August 11, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Jared Harris talks one on one about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and more

Toronto, Los Angeles, London, Los Angeles, Miami, London…

These last few months have been an incredibly busy time for Jared Harris.  His list of projects in the last year is almost half as long as his incredible resume.  You could honestly say he’s been nonstop since 2008.  From TV work on The Riches, Mad Men and Fringe, to movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and Lincoln, then on to play Hodge Starkweather in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.  Since wrapping on City of Bones he’s spent time in recording booths and covered in ashes for upcoming projects like The Boxtrolls, Pompeii, and The Quiet Ones.  And don’t forget getting engaged to his longtime (and adorable and awesome, but I am biased) fiancee Allegra Riggio, who kindly let him out of some wedding planning duties to sit down and talk to us for an exclusive interview. 

I got an incredible hour long phone interview with Jared a few weeks ago, right before my surgery, and I am so glad to finally get to share it.  I feel very honored to speak with someone with such an incredible talent and body of work. It was truly an amazing experience. At some point I would love to figure out how to edit the audio properly so that I may share how absolutely charming Jared is to speak to.  Without further delay, here is Jared!

Institute (Sarah): We would like to welcome Jared Harris! Thank you very much for your time!

Jared Harris: Thank you for asking me.

Jared Harris as Hodge Starkweather in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Institute: You play the very important role of Hodge Starkweather in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. How did you come into the role?

Jared Harris: I got a call to come and meet Harald at the Constantin offices in Los Angles, and we sat down and we chatted. I wasn’t aware of the books at that point. He told me about the story and the world it was in and everything and it sounded like great fun. It was one of those sort of check for interest type things. They didn’t offer it to me right away. And then once I knew they wanted me I went and immersed myself in the world, and loved it.

Institute: So, City of Ashes is up next. Have you read City of Ashes and/or City of Glass to see Hodge’s full story?

Jared Harris: I read the first book because that is what the movie was, and I knew that they weren’t going to be pulling stuff from the other books into the first movie.  I read that first book several times to understand it and to understand my part and my function in the story. What happens quite often with these things is when you get the script it is still in flux and when you go and meet the film maker’s there’s normally a read through and things can change and things always have to adjust on set. You need to have all that information ready so that you can make the right adjustment when you are on set. The first scene of Hodge went through a couple of rewrites right before we started shooting. They rely on you to have an opinion, and the only way one can have an opinion is to be really familiar with the source material. You have to honor the mythology, so any changes and ideas you have must be consistent with the mythology. I haven’t read the other books. I just focused on this because this is what they hired me to do. I read the first book many many times. I’m very excited to hear he’s in the third. I knew he wasn’t in the second book.  That is one of the things I learned from the Mad Men set since you never got the whole season and you weren’t told what was going to happen you got it episode by episode. One of the habits actors can have is to play the end. Once you know where the story is going you start playing the end. Not knowing what that was is in a way very helpful. I only read that book but I became very possessive of the mythology in that first book. Hodge is used as a way of explaining the word that we are in, so I was very possessive of making sure I explained it in a way that was completely consistent with the mythology of the book.  The tricky thing about that is you only have 90 seconds of screen time to do it.  How to concisely convey what these worlds were, what the ideas were, what they mythology was. I love that part of it. That is Hodge’s role in the books as well, passing along the mythology to the younger generation.

Institute: In the books Hodge doesn’t make an appearance in City of Ashes but does in City of Glass.  Have they contracted you yet for CoG?

Jared Harris: They have not. That is way in the future and it isn’t a deal an agent would make at this point, they would say come back to us when you are ready to make the third one. The film business is a very fickle business, so they are planning on making all of them, but obviously that depends on how well the first one does.  They are very excited about it, I know they’ve written the script for the second one and are in pre-production for it. The script was floating around the set of Pompeii, a set I just finished working on in Toronto for Constantin. They were all talking about and very excited about it.

Institute: Could you explain a little about the look of Hodge.

Jared Harris: He’s explained as having gray hair in the books, but it’s like the color has been drained out of him. He was part of that whole group from the past. The idea is that he was older than those guys, one of the oldest members of that class. It was part of the idea of this curse was that it sort of been draining the life out of him.  Then that was also part of the idea of the mustache and that look is that he seems like he is from a different generation, plus all the people I’m on screen with are incredibly young and very beautiful and it obviously makes the age gap starker.

Institute: People have been super excited to see Hodge and feel the look is spot on.

Jared Harris: That’s good! Good!

Institute: Most fans didn’t really have a “fancast” of Hodge, most seem to agree we didn’t know you were it, but you totally are “it,” if that makes sense, *laughs*

Jared Harris: My thing has always been to appear different in everything that I’ve done. For it to be hard…you don’t have that baggage of being better known than the roles that you play. You bring all of that baggage with you to every role that you play, and then it starts to become difficult for people to accept you as a character. It’s part of the tradeoff you have to make, you have to walk a fine line with. The better known you are, the more work comes to you in a sense, but it also makes it difficult to do the work you sometimes want to do because you bring all that baggage with you.

Institute: We saw that in fan reactions, a lot of “oh my God yeah I loved him in ….” Resident Evil/Sherlock/Mad Men etc. A lot of people see you and there’s that realization “He’s THAT GUY” so you have been very successful with that. You really do make a very different impression in everything that you do. You are more of a character than a typecast.

Jared Harris: Sure, that’s the idea. You want the character to be the thing that people encounter. You don’t want them to encounter your story or mythology. It works for some people doing that. I would say that every time you see Charlie Sheen in something you are seeing Charlie Sheen and you are aware of his story. He’s very very funny and it works for him, but you know if you want to do a lot of character work it can get in the way. His personal story might get in the way. Personally, I always try and deliver the character. That is what I enjoy doing, morphing yourself into someone completely different.

Institute: You mentioned working with the younger cast. What was it like? Was there any mentoring of the younger cast members by you more experienced ones?

Jared Harris: You know, the thing about the younger actors is they’ve been acting sense they were seven practically, most of these guys. They have a lot of experience, so there was no mentoring. They are extremely professional they know what they want to do and they know how to do it. So, no would be the answer to that one. *laughs*

Institute: Did you get to interact with Cassie?

Jared Harris: She came to set one of the days I was there. She was there a lot. She was busy writing the new book. I got to meet her on one of her set visits. She was great. We took some photographs together. We took a picture of our hands. One of the things that was great is I got my own personal rune symbol from her. She was very specific in terms of the runes that you would have visible on your body. She would send those notes to the makeup department. I got some very specific ones which I was very proud of. I have a pendant with one.  Everyone got one with a specific image that was for each of the characters.  She was really hands on. We got to have fun with the weapons because everyone had a specific weapon that had specific things about them.  Harald was really into Hodge. His imagination was really excited by Hodge and how Hodge fit into the mythology and everything and how he could use that character. He designed these weapons that Hodge would use, which we had some fun with. Hodge has a specific weapon which he became an expert in. it has particular attributes, things that the weapons do that other weapons can’t do.

Institute: If you had to choose for Hodge to have a parabati, who would it be?

Jared Harris: *silence*

Institute: I have stumped Jared Harris. *laughs*

Jared Harris: Well, I’m just thinking. Isabelle is pretty lethal with her whip. And she wields it really well in the movie. We saw the movie a couple of weeks ago. Let’s see. I don’t know. I am stumped on that one. I like the idea that people have these certain weapon skills. I would imagine that if you were partnered up with somebody you would want someone who’s complementing what you have.

Institute: As you said, you got to screen the movie, what can you tell us? Did you have a favorite scene?

Jared Harris: Other than my scenes darling? *laughs* Spoken like an actor. I don’t want to give anything away. I don’t know what one can say, in terms of giving away too much of the movie. They’ve done a great job.  It’s difficult when you take a book that is that dense, that has that much story and condense it down to a two hour movie, what do you leave out, what do you put in? Sometimes things that worked in the book won’t work in the movie because you just don’t have as much time to tell. They’ve done a really great job with adapting the story to a movie format. They are very careful with those words that they have introduced into the story in terms of which ones they are going to use because they are explained in the story.  Otherwise will you have to use two minutes of film time explaining what that word meant. They have a limited amount of time to tell the story. What they’ve done with this, which I think has worked really well, is set up the idea of the world, set up the mythology and they’ve left themselves a great platform in which they can introduce a lot of the ideas and more outlandish stuff in the further movies.  One of the things they were very careful about, and Harald talked about was this film HAS to be grounded in reality. It has to feel like a real world. And in that sense they didn’t’ want to do lots of special effects and blue screens and stuff like that. Sets had to be real sets like you  were living in a proper world. They wanted the effects and stunts, as much as possible, to be practically done rather than digitally done so that you felt that this world was a real world. Some of these ideas are really outlandish, and if you have that, which this film successfully does, this is opening the door to that other world.  It teases people with the possibility of what this all could be. 

Institute: So it leaves you wanting more?

Jared Harris: Exactly. Like in the book it explains that the demons are these inter dimensional beings. In this movie a lot of those answers are not given yet.  It opens up the possibility of all these things that this world can present.

Institute: We know that your father, Richard Harris, was a wonderful actor and charmed a younger generation of book readers as Albus Dumbledore in the early Harry Potter movies. How do you feel about The Mortal Instruments role in continuing this trend of bringing such magical and mysterious characters and new worlds to a younger generation?

Jared Harris: I haven’t thought of it as being some extraordinary coincidence.  It is part of what the trend is in film making at the moment, so it is not a surprise. This particular type of genre, the idea of these fantastical worlds, they lend themselves to big budget movies with the special effects, the sort of you jump out of your seat excitement studios want to go after. They are interested in developing a series of titles rather than one movie because they spend all this money educating the public about this property that they have and if it works the first time they don’t have to educate the public for the second one, or the third or fourth or fifth or sixth or seventh because the public is already aware and interested in seeing the next version of it. It’s just part of the trend that is happening in studio film making. I will be surprised if it’s the last one I do. I would think that there are others ones that one would get involved in.

Institute: Your body of work is so huge, and when we were coming up with question we had a hard time focusing on one thing. Amber’s daughter Brianna has a Resident Evil question for you. In RE, when you became a zombie you still couldn’t walk?

Jared Harris as Dr. Ashford in Resident Evil:Apocalypse
Jared Harris: Why couldn’t I walk (he finishes the question with me). Yes. It was kinda one of those things that, we thought about that, would I be able to walk? I said I wanted to be a zombie in a wheel chair, and not actually come out of the wheel chair and still be operating the wheel chair, but they said no, that’s going to get a laugh. And then we thought if I could suddenly start walking that would get a laugh. It was really to do with the moment, where it came in the story, as to what determines what I was able to do at that point. Technically speaking, whatever the regenerative process is of the T virus, it hadn’t been able to restore what had been damaged for so long.  At that point you are free to make up anything you want really.  This is actually a good example.  The answer is not to do with the specific mythology. The point was that it might elicit a laugh or the wrong response at that point. So they went with the one that would maintain the state that they were trying keep at that point in terms of where the audience was.

Institute: So, you have a LOT of projects coming up. I’ve heard that you’ve always wanted to do voice work.  How has it been doing The Boxtrolls?

Jared Harris: I’m still working on that! It’s great fun! We actually had a really really good day of recording before we left Los Angeles. You can overact your heart out. And it’s great great great fun. I love it. The tough thing is it’s been done over such a long period of time; we’ve been recording for well over a year now. Maintaining a consistency can be difficult because ones ideas of the character begin to evolve and it doesn’t match what one recorded 14 and 118 months ago. I love it, it’s great great fun and really silly. 

Institute: Have you recorded with Simon Pegg?

Jared Harris: I’ve recorded with Elle Fanning, but not the rest of those guys. They try and do that but it is quite difficult with schedules. They normally just bring you in there and you record your lines of dialog and lots of other silly little things as well. Little sounds and shrieks and pants and gasps and squeals of outrage. It’s really silly and great fun. I saw a little piece of it and it just looks amazing. I was so excited.

Institute: I saw a first look the other day.

Jared Harris: They have a little teaser on the internet.  It isn’t a scene from the film, it’s just the characters. It’s amazing work they do. They took me around their factory in Portland. It’s an amazing facility they have up there. Huge. When I was up there they were just at the tail end of Paranorman, and I got to walk on the main street after the witch had wreaked havoc on it. It was just fantastic, the detail was amazing. So beautiful. And this whole 3D printing thing they do is just mind blowing. The huge staff they have creating the costumes, painting the puppets, all of the facial features that are interchangeable. Painstaking work and beautifully crafted.  Amazing.  


Institute: So would you like to do more voice work in the future?

Jared Harris: Yeah, I would love it.
Institute: If you had to choose…I know you started in theater. There are huge differences between doing theater, film, television, voice work. Is there one that you prefer over the others?

Jared Harris: They each have their different advantages, and different setbacks. I love live performance. I loved doing theater, and would be really happy to do it again. What I don’t like about it is the entire process is geared towards getting the approval of one writer from the New York Times or a few writers from whatever papers there are in London. For me that just seems like a pointless exercise. And the idea that the financial people will pull the plug on it if the writer from the New York Times didn’t like it. Maybe he had a bad meal and had gas or something and he just wants to get out of the theater that night.  I don’t really care about one person’s opinion that much. But I would love to do, be happy to do it up in Oregon or where ever. Just having the opportunity to just make contact with the audience.

Institute: I’ve heard working in TV can be really rough.

Jared Harris: Long hours. Very long hours. But at the moment I would say the writing on television is superior to any of the writing you are seeing being done in any of the major movie studios right now. Really really exciting subjects and tackling them in interesting and original ways. That is what you have on the plus side is the material is really good. They are taking risks. And I would say probably are probably steering the material to an adult audience because adults still watch television, you know?

Institute: It’s a battle. So many good shows and the DVR can only hold so much. Thankfully we have Netflix.

Jared Harris: Yeah, that is really the only way to do it is to go to the beginning and watch those shows straight through.

Institute: I’ve been wanting to do that with Mad Men. We missed the beginning and then it didn’t replay anywhere, I am glad it is getting easier to do that.

Jared Harris: Yeah, I had that experience with The Wire. At that time Netflix and those things didn’t exist. I managed to get a hold of them all on DVD and got to sit down and watch them and what an amazing show that was.

Institute: What is your can’t miss TV show? Do you have a favorite right now?

Jared Harris: We love watching Big Bang Theory. Huge fans of that. We are both science nerds. We love science fiction. I guess that makes us science fiction nerds not science nerds. Let’s see, I’m into The Newsroom at the moment.  “Mad Men!” *Allegra hollers in the background* yes of course, Mad Men. Game of Thrones, I love it. Allegra is a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We just started getting into Magic City; my younger brother has a good character arc on this second season. He’s really good in it. We haven’t been home for such a long time; we haven’t been able to keep up with it. It’s very difficult to keep up with those shows if you are on the road.  *Allegra in the back ground * “But he’s figured out how to watch Game of Thrones.”

Institute: I love this quote of yours “I've auditioned for normal characters. But I never get cast.”

Jared Harris: *laughs* Yeah.

Institute: Do you have a favorite character you’ve played?

Jared Harris: The latest one would be, I loved playing Ulysses Grant. I really learned so much about the guy. It’s a story that has not yet been told. It’s a great American story, and he hasn’t had the biopic treatment. In a way his story is too big to do in one movie.  It would be a great 10-parter or something like that. What an amazing life he had? And I really really connected to him.  My favorite one is always my next job. That is my standard answer.

Institute: Thank you so much for your time! We really appreciate it.

Jared Harris: You are very welcome!

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