Playback: Ed Harris on ‘Kodachrome,’ ‘Westworld’ and 35 Years of ‘The Right Stuff’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris stars in the new film “Kodachrome,” which hit Netflix last week after being acquired following a Toronto Film Festival bow in September. Alongside co-star Jason Sudeikis, Harris crafts a moving portrait of a professional photographer committed (to a fault) to his work. It’s built on a familiar father-son-reconciliation dynamic, but for Harris, the way into keeping those tropes fresh was simply playing it as honestly as he could.

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“I didn’t have any reference point of anything similar myself,” Harris says. “I’m sure I’ve seen something similar along the way, but to me, you get a script and that’s your bible and its own reference point. So you just try to tell the truth of that story. It was interesting because when you just read the script, the character read a lot more kind of flamboyant or caricature-ish. But as soon as we shot one of the very first shots, it was like, ‘No, no, no. It just lives where it lives.’ I mean the guy is old, he’s feeble, he’s had a great career and he’s basically paid no attention to his family for years. There’s a part of him that wants to rectify that, as painful as it might be. So it was just playing the truth of that.”

It’s sort of ironic for a film shot on 35mm as a love letter to the dying art of photochemistry and a discontinued film stock to be acquired by a company like Netflix. For Harris, the streaming giant is a bit of a mixed bag, providing an invaluable home to the kinds of movies that struggle to get made (or find theatrical real estate) these days, while also driving the experience of film-going away from the big screen altogether. As a filmmaker himself, Harris is conflicted, and candid, about that.

“I have very mixed feelings about it, to tell you the truth,” he says. “I’m glad that they wanted to put the film out in theaters, even if it’s just a week. The fact that they have, I don’t know, 188 million viewers in 90-plus countries or something like that, what can you say? The difference between seeing a film on the big screen and in your living room is huge to me. Any film that works, works better on a big screen. It just does. You get more out of it. But then again, the access to things — you go to any major city or movie complex and they’ve got four ‘Avengers’ in there and a couple other films. There’s no place for films to be seen. It’s a mixed bag.”

Harris is also coming off the unique experience of Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!,” which released last year. So we catch up on that as well.

“It was pretty bizarre, really,” the actor quips. “I really like Darren a lot. It was a tough shoot because he’s very, very meticulous. By his own admission, he gets to exorcise his OCDs when he directs. So you’re doing 30 takes, 32 takes. And since the whole picture is shot from Jennifer [Lawrence]’s point of view — it’s either on her, over her or what she’s seeing — a lot of times Michelle [Pfeiffer] and I would be walking up the stairs in the background while there’s a scene with Javier [Bardem] and Jennifer in the foreground, and we’re doing that 32 times. After a while you’re like, ‘Come on, man.’ Because I’d be really curious when he gets in the cutting room which take he’s using. He’s probably using take number four! But you kind of know that going into it. He’s a total visionary.”

For more, including thoughts on the upcoming second season of HBO’s “Westworld” and the 35th anniversary of “The Right Stuff,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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