Jared Harris Talks About Playing Ulysses S. Grant in LINCOLN and Returning to MAD MEN and FRINGE

     December 4, 2011

Jared Harris slice

In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, actor Jared Harris plays iconic villain Moriarity with the perfect blend of menace and charm. He is the intellectual equal of the world most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.), but without a moral compass, allowing his capacity of evil to be endless.

At this weekend’s press junket for the film, Collider got the opportunity to speak with Jared Harris and, although we will run that portion of the interview closer to the December 16th theatrical release, we did want to share what he had to say about taking on the historical figure Ulysses S. Grant for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and working with Daniel Day Lewis, who stays in character throughout the shoot. He also talked about how he’s currently filming the next season of Mad Men and how lucky he is to have the opportunity to work on that show, as well as his return to Fringe. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: How daunting is it to take on a historical figure like Ulysses S. Grant for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln?

jared-harris-image-2JARED HARRIS: I like challenges. If you’re involved in filmmaking, you want to challenge yourself. You don’t want to repeat what you’ve done before. In terms of playing that character, I would love to do a whole series on that character. He’s fascinating. I absolutely love him! He’s a complete enigma.

Within this, you have to just do what it is that Tony Kushner wants you to do. He’s constructed a story and there are requirements that he needs from each of the different characters. There are loads and loads of characters in the story, and you have a requirement, in terms of the function of the story.

Having done it before, playing Warhol and John Lennon, I don’t feel like I played John Lennon or Andy Warhol. I feel like I played Mary Harron’s conception of Andy Warhol (in I Shot Andy Warhol), and the writer of The Two of Us, his version of John Lennon. You go off and do all this research, and you might find that your research is at odds with what the person has written.

You either reconcile that with the writer, or you must accept that it’s not your version. If you want to do your version, go off and write it. You bring your knowledge to it, and you can use that to shape it and color it, but it’s someone else’s version of that character. You’re not actually playing the real person.

What’s it like to work with an actor like Daniel Day Lewis, who stays in character all the time?

HARRIS: The man is awesome. He’s awesome. I understand what that’s about and why that is. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration and focus. It’s quite easy to start to discover that you’ve drifted off of it, when you start chatting about the best place to get a steak in town, or the football game, or whatever. You do all this work to get yourself in the zone, and it’s not that long. You show up to work, you stay in the zone, you’re focused, and when you’re done, you go off. I’m sure he doesn’t speak to his children as Abraham Lincoln. It’s for the period of time that he’s at work, that he does that. jared-harris-mad-men-image-2

How is it to return to Mad Men and reprise that role again?

HARRIS: We’re shooting that right now. I was on set on Thursday. I love it. It’s great. Matt Weiner is an amazing writer. He’s one of the best, greatest writers that’s ever written for television, or just written. I know how lucky I am, having an opportunity to work on something like that show. The scripts that come in, you’re thrilled to read them, whether you’re in them or not.

Was it fun to also get to return to Fringe this season, with so many fans of the show wanting to see your character come back?

HARRIS: I love that show. I love the whole madness and conspiracy theory of it. It appeals to part of my character. The paranoid element that that show has, I love it.