IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jared Harris talks 'The Ward'

Friday, 08 July 2011 08:15 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jared Harris talks 'The Ward'

You may not recognize veteran character actor Jared Harris by name, but you would definitely recognize his face and his accomplished body of work. The English born actor, who is also the son of legendary actor Richard Harris (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), is probably best known for his role as Lane Pryce on the hit AMC show Mad Men. But the actor has also appeared in numerous film and television projects including a recurring role on the Fox series Fringe, as well as high-profile parts in movies like Mr. Deeds, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Lady in the Water, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In fact, the actor will soon be seen in the pivotal role of the villain Professor Moriarty in the upcoming film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. But first you can catch Harris’ excellent character work in legendary horror director John Carpenter’s new film The Ward, which opens in theaters on July 8th.

The movie is a psychological thriller that revolves around a young girl named Kristen (Amber Heard from Drive Angry) who is admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1966 where she begins to believe that a mysterious and deadly ghost is haunting her. As the specter gets closer and closer to her, she starts to realize that the true threat to her life … might actually be herself. In the film, Harris plays the creepy Dr. Stringer, the man in charge of the psychiatric hospital who may or may not be trying to help the girls. The movie also features Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick Ass), Danielle Panabaker (Sky High), Mamie Gummer (Taking Woodstock), and newcomer Laura Leigh as Kristen’s fellow inmates at the hospital.

I recently had a chance to speak with Jared Harris about The Ward, and the actor spoke candidly with me about working with John Carpenter, his difficult role in the film, how he approached it, and the film’s clever twist and turns. Here is what the talented actor had to say:

To begin with, can you talk about working with a legendary horror director John Carpenter? Were you a fan of his work before you made The Ward?

Harris: Yeah I was a big fan of his work, absolutely. I love all of his movies. I saw Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, Starman, and Escape From New York. I love, love, love, love his movies. Basically, when they said it was a John Carpenter film, I think at the time they had the offer out to somebody else, but they didn't like it or think it was going to work and would I be interested. I basically said, "It's John Carpenter, so yeah send me the script!"

As an actor, what’s it like working with him on set? Is he very collaborative and understanding of the acting process?

Harris: He has tremendous respect for actors, for what they bring to each part and the ideas that you have are welcomed. He's willing to try things out. He has a good relationship with the actors and that partnership. You can't do too much tinkering around with the script particularly with a script of this nature because they're constructed to kind of run in a specific direction. With a story like this, where there is a reveal at the end, you're watching one set of circumstances and then you're given a new piece of information at the end that alters that set of circumstances that you're watching. They're kind of like a train track and you've got to be careful. You pull out a piece of the rail and the train will just come off so you don't want to mess with the structure too much at that point once you get there.

Since you brought it up, is it difficult as an actor to appear in a film like this where there is a twist in the ending and the audience might not be fully aware of what is really going on with your character until the final scene?

Harris: In terms of how I approach the scene, I have to consider that the scene had to work from two completely different set of circumstances. One was a certain circumstance that you're aware of as an audience member watching the story unfold in real time, and the second would be the moment they get the information at the end of the story. You immediately run your mind backwards and check to see if everything holds up in your mind. For me, I was aware of playing each scene so that it would conform to those two sets of circumstances and it was good fun. There were legitimate reasons for giving a red herring to an audience because I'm withholding information from the character. There's a reason why I'm withholding information from the character and I can't tell that character why I'm withholding information. But they sense that I am withholding the information so it seems as though I'm complicit in some kind of conspiracy. For me, I love that challenge of being able to satisfy two completely different sets of realities.

If you are playing two separate sets of realities, as you just said, is it hard to create a back-story and character arc for a role like that or is it just like playing any other part?

Harris: In that sense it’s not so much back-story, but the circumstances around what you're doing are exactly the same. It wouldn't be a different scene, it's just that the audience will experience it differently when they see the film for the first time, but they'll be seeing it a second time too. Because once you know what the outcome is, then you experience the scenes in a different way. That particular set of circumstances that you're referring to, for me is what made me so fascinated by that part. I would remind myself of who was actually present in the room rather than the character that I was talking to. There's a certain element of that when you're dealing with people who have lost a grasp of reality. I've noticed that just from being around people when they're having a nervous breakdown, or they have a problem with reality, it's scary. It makes the person who thinks that they're living in reality doubt the circumstances of their reality. It's almost like a small fire, which if you allow it to get out of control it can start to affect everything around you. I felt as though there was a certain edge to the character when he's dealing with this person that he's slightly afraid of.

So based on what you are saying, if someone was to watch the film a second time, they would be able to see nuances in your performance that they did not catch the first time around, is that correct?

Harris: Yes, you're always aware of it, and particularly in something like this where you want it to hold up the second time they see the movie.

Finally, you have some pretty brutal moments that you have to perform in the film with actress Amber Heard; can you talk about working with her in those scenes?

Harris: Amber's extremely committed. She's strong and she's fit and she's young. So some of those scenes are very, very difficult. The other thing I experienced was that there are crazy scenes like delivering the electric shock therapy and all that kind of stuff. It's really unpleasant to do even though you know it's fake. It's really unpleasant to do. Even though it's fake and there's nothing happening, the concept of putting someone through that … it's almost like torture I suppose. It's really unpleasant. It just made me really uncomfortable in a weird way. Now if that was really going on, the people who would be in control are the people who are performing the act, but you know when you fake it, it's the person who's on the receiving end of it, they're in control of the whole event. But Amber is a very, very committed performer and she's got all these great instincts of working, producing, and performing events of the scene realistically so that you're not going to be caught acting. She's very talented, she's extremely ambitious and she loves what she does.

The Ward opens in theaters today!

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