Put Jared Harris into your television series, and it rockets your chances of having a hit show. The British actor talked through some of his career highlights – playing advertising exec Lane Pryce in AMC’s “Mad Men,” King George VI in Netflix’s “The Crown” and Soviet inorganic chemist Valery Legasov in HBO’s “Chernobyl” – in a 90-minute masterclass during Canneseries Live.
Harris recalled how Emmy award-winning “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner called him into his office after the read-through of episode 10. “As soon as Matt is offering you a huge slab of whiskey in the middle of the day, I knew something was wrong,” Harris said.
Then came the apology alongside the news that Lane was being killed off. “But when he told me how he was going to do it, I literally fell off my chair laughing because I knew how clever it was,” Harris added.
While the 59-year-old admitted, “A good death scene is an invaluable thing to have.” He caveated, “It’s also a pain in the ass because it means you have to look for a new job.”
However, Harris postponed the job search after making a deal with Weiner, negotiating to be released during the shooting of his own final episode to do press for Warner Bros. Pictures film “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” in which he played Professor James Moriarty. In return, he agreed not to participate in the next pilot season, so nobody would know his character died.
“I understood it was important for my profile in the business to be part of the London press junket,” says Harris. “I told my wife about being killed off, but I didn’t tell my agent or manager. They only found out when the episode aired.”
It wasn’t the end of Harris’s deal-making. On his final day on set, Harris asked Weiner if he could direct a future episode. “He was open to the idea because he liked it when people who knew the show directed episodes. Harris says, “I shadowed Michael Uppendahl in season 6 on the episode ‘The Crash’ and then the opportunity to direct came up in season 7.”
Although the “Time & Life” Mad Men episode is commonly cited as his directorial debut, Harris admitted that at Duke University he directed a film, “Darkmoor,” a copy of which he keeps under lock and key because, “It’s over-intellectual.”
Directing television has its limitations, says Harris. “On television, they are not in charge. The showrunner tends to be the overriding vision.”
Although, that was not the case on “The Crown” when successful director Stephen Daldry directed the series’ first two episodes. Harris described a conversation between Stephen and Vanessa [Kirby] where they felt there wasn’t a strong enough connection between Princess Margaret and King George VI. “Everything that she was about to embark on was a result of her father dying. Vanessa said they used to sing at the piano all the time.” So, Harris and Kirby improvised the famous singing scene.
On “Chernobyl,” Harris described how far he’s willing to go to get into the mind of the parts he plays. “I can explain the basic principles of how a nuclear reactor works.” On a more serious note, Harris also voiced how concerning it was that climate change and environmental disasters are still such a relevant topic today.
Canneseries Live features further masterclasses, open to the general public, with, for example, Kyle MacLachan and ‘The Bureau’ showrunner Eric Rochant, among many others. https://canneseries.com/en/live/