Jared Harris’ run on AMC’s Mad Men came to a conclusion on Sunday when Lane Pryce mad a shocking choice after being confronted by Don Draper over a forged check.
On Monday, Harris spoke with a group of journalists/bloggers about his run on the cult hit series – and Lane’s fate in particular.
Hey Jared. Thanks for your time today.
Jared Harris: Hi how are you doing?
As a fan of Fringe and Mad Men I feel like I’ve lost you twice this spring.
Harris: I feel that way too. I feel your pain man.
Not to get too grisly, but tell me how you shot that scene where they found Lane.
Harris: Yes, they found him. We – it was about two hours of makeup with (Kenny) who looked after me all season. He did the makeup. There were some (unintelligible) beforehand.
Anyway they sort of snuck me into the back of the sound stage with, you know, my head (and all that) in a paper bag or something — an umbrella – so that no one could see it.
The makeup effect — they strapped me up to, you know, a harness and they hung me from the ceiling. And then they brought the actors in. So that’s pretty much their reaction.
So there’s a harness at play there to keep you from getting hurt or anything.
Harris: Yes (it’s sort of) – things need to be very carefully placed if you know what I mean.
I can imagine.
And then in a follow up I was curious. Were you sensing that maybe they were eventually steering towards – before you got the bad news were you sensing they might be steering towards a Lane-Joan hookup, a romance?
Harris: Well, I mean, I remember when we did that episode 5 where — oh no episode, it was 2 — and she brings the baby around and I’m holding the baby. And I remember Christina suddenly saying, ‘Are Joan and Lane going to fall in love?’ because he’s about the only person, the way he took proper interest in her baby, you know.
And but, you know, I think she respects him, but doesn’t have those kinds of types of feelings for him at all. So no.
Harris: I mean, that would be a contrivance if they did that. You know, I don’t think that she feels that way for him, you know.
I was curious about what the mood was on set during the filming of that episode.
Harris: That episode — yes, I mean, people sort of find out at different times. Normally John Slattery is – he normally finds out before anybody else because he knows where the scripts are hidden.
Harris: And so he – there’s sort of a little game that we go on across services of he’d go, ‘Hey Jared I hear you’ve – hey I read the outline for episode 12.’ I’ll be like, ‘Oh yes is it good?’
And he’d go, ‘Oh you don’t know?’ And I go, ‘What do you know?’ And he’d go, ‘I mean, I don’t know anything.’
I go, ‘Didn’t you just read the outline?’
‘Well yes but, I mean, do you know?’
And I go, ‘Do I know what?’ And he goes, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.’
So (you) just – I mess with him a bit. But eventually people would find out earlier than that, you know, than we start shooting and then put their arm around you and say, you know, ‘Going to miss you,’ and stuff like that.
But on the day that we shot the actual hanging scene it was pretty grim because (Kenny) did such an amazing job in the makeup.
Well you – the makeup was really amazing and you almost looked like you were ready to join the cast of the Walking Dead. But, I mean, what was it like to – when you looked at yourself in the mirror and saw that — that grisly face they had given…
Harris: I mean, you know, he did a pretty good job and you practice. The tricky thing with that look was the, you know, tongue because when you – when we looked at photographs of people who had hung themselves the tongue protrudes out the mouth.
And you try and figure out how you can get the tongue to stick out in that sort of weird lifeless way. But then your tongue has a life of its own and it twitches and it doesn’t like being, you know, put into that position. And (it will) start to just (retract) of its own, you know, (unintelligible).
So it was the little things like that what you end up focusing on — you know, making sure (they) can’t see you breathe and being really loose so that you bounce on the door properly and you don’t just come to a sudden stop and things like that, you know… the technical things that you focus on.
And you said that the cast members who were there when you were, you know, discovered in the room, that that was the first time they had seen you in the makeup. I mean, it was pretty ghastly, but was there any gallows humor going on as well as…
Harris: Well, I mean, you know, the thing is there’s so little time to shoot. I mean, the hardest thing was for me. I just kept on wanting to break into a Monty Python song, you know, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life while I was hanging there and start dancing.
But, you know, (we) put them off because they’re trying to – they were trying to (access) that, their reaction, in a genuine way. And you just don’t help really. You just make it more difficult for them, so. And there’s no time. You know, we shot maybe two takes or three takes and you’ve got to move on, so.
It was pretty somber I’d say. The atmosphere was pretty somber.
You played two integral characters on two big TV shows. Do you think the deaths of Lane Pryce or David Robert Jones will have more of an impact on upcoming story lines?
Harris: Gosh, I’m not sure. I mean, by which show will it – I mean, I would have – I think that probably just because Matt’s — his way of writing is that it’s all within a cumulative effect.
You can see him laying things down, that, you know, he’s playing off things in this season that he’s laid off – he laid down in season 2 — you know what I mean — I think in sort of maintaining story threads and something like that. That possibility’s probably more prevalent with him and his style of writing, you know. But I don’t know.
They haven’t spoken to me. Neither of them have spoken to me about what they’re thinking for the next seasons of their shows.
And last night with the Jaguar not starting during the first suicide was sheer brilliance. I mean, I thought that was fantastic. And, you know, Lane could have pretty much hung himself anywhere. But…
…he choose to hang…
Harris: It was vindictive. He was angry and it was an expression of his anger. It was a passive-aggressive act and the…
His choice of doing it there was a f*ck you to the office, to the people who work there particularly to Don. And the passive side of that was in the letter (with) the (brilliantly)-placed suicide note which explains nothing.
So, you know, he’s trying to dig a hole for the people, you know, that — particularly Don — to make them feel bad about what he’s done. I mean, you know, it was a cowardly thing to do. He did it to try and hurt them the way that he feels that they’ve hurt him.
I was shouting at you when you were trying (to) get responses, but you couldn’t hear me.
Harris: …when I was forging the check or when I was…
Well my question about the seriousness of filming, that hanging scene, for someone like me I probably would have tried to — you know, if everyone was being all quiet — and try and jump up and scare people or something. Was it very serious when you were filming that? Or did you…
Harris: You know, it – I mean, it was serious. I mean, the trouble is that you have so little time to shoot on the schedule. You have eight days to shoot all that stuff. So I mean the whole episode.
So I had – it’s similar to what you’re saying. I felt like breaking into song when I was hanging there from the door every time they’d call, "Cut."
But, you know, the actors were trying to maintain a mood and a feeling. And I didn’t want to be disrespectful to how they felt. My job was a lot easier than their job. I just had to hang limply from the door and stick my tongue out, you know. They still had to deliver a performance and their reaction.
So but yes I know what you mean. I felt like taking the piss (out of their ear).
And earlier in the season we got to see you playing kind of stand up for (unintelligible) the fight…
…when you were fighting Pete Campbell…
…was that pretty choreographed? Did you guys actually, you know, like accidentally hit each other or anything like that or?
Harris: Oh no it was choreographed. Those things are all incredibly safe, you know. There was no – there were no wayward punches or anything like that.
I think, you know, he got more damaged from hitting the side of that table and bouncing off of it than – you know, we – that’s something that you got used to when you were learning stage combat, is how to either fake punches or pull punches. So we were all pretty good from that.
The interesting thing about that particular scene was the two different styles of fighting, you know, whereas, you know, Pete had that kind of more recognizable American bob-and-weave style of fighting and that Lane had that sort of old-fashioned upright (picker stance) and, you know, have a jab-like-a-piston type fight.
I’m wondering what conversations the writing staff or Matt Weiner had with you prior to this episode. And when you found out, you know, were you on board with this ending? Or were you surprised?
Harris: Well, you know, you’re not given the choice about whether you’re on board with it or not. I mean, it’s Matt’s show. It’s his vision. You know, there’s – you know, (it’s something) about something that had worked incredibly well. So why question it now that it’s (slightly an) an inconvenience? But you have to – the man (his dramatic) and storytelling abilities are, you know, unquestionable – so you – unquestioned. So you wouldn’t start doing it now.
Yes they – he told me after the read-through for episode 10. And he basically – after the read-throughs every episode he asks everyone to hang around so that he can speak to you and give you notes because he’s going to be working while shooting. He doesn’t always get down to the set.
I could see he was leaving me for the last person. And then he said, ‘Let’s go up to my office,’ which I knew wasn’t a good sign. And then he offered me incredibly expensive brandy and that just – then I was like I knew this wasn’t going to go well.
And then he said, ‘,So I have something I want to talk to you about.’ And, you know, I knew at that point. I went, ‘This doesn’t sound good.’
And he went, ‘No it’s not. I’m really sorry.’
But I – you know, he explained why he wanted to do it. And he – the whole – you know, he’s really been building up to it for the season. And I could see, you know, from an acting point of view it was to my benefit to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, you know.
At the same time I know that Mad Men is just getting bigger and bigger as it builds towards season 7. There’s already an obsession with, you know, the episode of season 7. And I’m sad that I won’t be a part of that, you know, of that build of the show.
But then again I joined late. So there’s no reason why I should be. I’m very, very lucky to have been a part of it.
Well we’ve been lucky to watch you. Over your time on the show what was your favorite Lane Pryce moment?
Harris: Gosh my favorite Lane Pryce moment — it would have to be the fight. I really enjoyed that. That was such a good scene. It would probably be that one. And the Jaguar not starting. I laughed my ass off when he told me the Jaguar wasn’t going to start. I just fell off the chair laughing.
You know, you talk a little bit about, you know, Lane’s choice of committing suicide. And the Jaguar was a f*ck you to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and it didn’t work out.
But, you know, kind of bigger picture, how would you…
Harris: No the Jaguar wasn’t saying fuck you to them. The Jaguar was – I mean, doing it in the office was saying fuck you to them.
Harris: I didn’t think the Jaguar was – once he sees the Jaguar I think he gets the idea at that point there’s a sense of irony of it that he decides to do it in there.
But once he does it and when he decides to go then and do it – try again and do it in the office I think that’s a vindictive act. It’s – you know, he’s trying to make them feel as bad as he – they have made him feel.
And discovering him in the office it means they have to handle all the messy paperwork. If he had done it in the garage none of them would have seen, you know. They…
Right. Well so my question was kind of broader about Lane Pryce as an overall character. How would you describe him?
I mean, he kind of was a fan favorite. But, you know, we saw these little glimpses into his private life — you know, his father calling him weak and with him yelling at his wife and making a lewd comment to Joan. So like where do you – I mean, is he a good guy, a bad guy, just a guy?
Harris: I (just) don’t think there’s such a thing on this show — the good guy and the bad guy. That’s why I think people (are alike). It’s – I don’t think that, you know, Matt’s writing doesn’t talk down to an audience in that sense.
People are human beings and people have good moments and they have bad moments. And there’s things that – if there was a camera following you around every day of every moment of your life there are things you’d like to edit out of it and other parts you’d be proud of showing people, you know.
And that’s what he’s doing. You know, I think that he’s – I think that’s probably the most surprising thing of this season, is that you had a pretty strong sense of a moral code about Lane and he seems to have broken it.
But that goes back to last season and the night on the town with Don. And the way that Matt talked to me about that was that he was being corrupted by Don. And, you know, once you’ve been corrupted (usually) you can’t, you know, there’s no way of going back if you like. But that’s assuming that that was – he had – you know, that was something – that’s from a moralistic point of view. But yes.
You know, the season was completely wrapped before it even premiered. So you obviously knew about your…
Harris: I did…
…character’s death at PaleyFest and…
Harris: …for a long time. I lied…
Yes so how hard was that?
Harris: It’s tough. I mean, I couldn’t tell my agent. I couldn’t tell my manager. I couldn’t take part in – I didn’t take part in the pilot season this year because I knew that, you know, if I signed on to a new show people would know something had happened. And it was to my interest to keep it as big a surprise as possible.
And Matt was very kind to me in that he allowed me to go off and shoot the Spielberg movie whilst I was shooting these episodes. You know, they arranged the schedule for me so that I could go and shoot Lincoln.
So, you know, I – you know, one feels there’s a generosity towards – that they expected towards me. And, you know, I felt, ‘Well then in that case, you know, let’s make sure that this is as big a surprise as possible.’
And now, you know, I went – I (wanted to avoid) looking for a needy job until after it’s come out if you like.
I had two questions. The first is did you feel that his death came a little bit suddenly because, you know, there’s the foreshadowing of the check and then just a few episodes later he’s gone.
And also he seemed really capable with that Jaguar knowing how to kill himself. Has he thought about it before?
Harris: Yes. Well, I mean, his preparation you mean, yes. I mean, actually if you go back there’s a line in the second hour of the first episode of season 5 where he’s on the phone with Dolores trying to persuade her to come over to the office to pick up the wallet.
And he says – when she says she might drop by he says, ‘Well, you know, I’ll be here the rest of my life."’ So yes it was sort of laid in there early.
Do I think that it happened too quick? No, I mean, from – would I like to still be working on the show? Of course I love being there. What a great place to work and fantastic people to work with.
So, but it – I appreciate that they used it as part of the momentum to build towards the end of the season. So, you know, I mean, I don’t feel like it happened too quick from a dramatic point of view.
Also, you know, those sorts of things you’ve got to sit on and figure out well how long can you string that out, you know, before people get wind of what it is. You know, it still ended up being a surprise. People were caught by surprise. So that means it was a success.
The second part of your question though (I didn’t) – have you thought about it before? That’s a really, really good question.
I’ve related being a fairly thorough man. And, you know, that was in the idea that he goes off to the – he gets all the supplies that he needs from the hardware. And, you know, he’s certainly thought about it fairly thoroughly from that point.
But has he thought about it before? I don’t think ever really practically. I think maybe in moments of depression we all as human beings sit there and think about – you know, when things are really, really shit you think about maybe it’ll be easier just to not feel this anymore. That’s part of the reason why people get so shit-faced drunk, is to numb their feelings, you know.
So I would have – I don’t know if that sort of level of planning ever happened before. I’m sure he would have felt that bad that he wished he didn’t feel that bad before. So I don’t know if that helps to answer your question.
Can we talk a little bit about the emotional preparation for the scene with Don and Lane? Because Lane goes through a range, you know, of justifications and rationalizations and mea culpas during this scene.
And so you had to play a fairly wide range of reactions to what Don was laying down for you. Can you talk about that preparation for that scene?
Harris: Well first of all those are the sorts of things that you want to be given as actors – as an actor, you know. I mean, what a great juicy scene. And they’re much more fun to do than the scenes where you sort of have to go, ‘Who wants to go and get French fries?’
They’re much, much, much more fun. And that’s – you enjoy the challenge in terms of how you’re going to do it.
The preparation, you know, is well you just read it many, many, many times and try and figure out what your instincts are, what your reaction would be. That was interesting for me because when I read what my reaction would be, I saw that Lane wasn’t taking advantage of certain opportunities in that scene. That seemed to me to be those opening doors there.
And that of course was part of Matt’s strategy in terms of how he writes the scene, is as an audience member you can see there’s better answers that he could give and there’s better opportunities. There’s ways that maybe he could talk his way around this.
And he doesn’t do it and you start to wonder why he doesn’t. And then the answer comes, is that the man’s pride prevented him from it – from doing it. And even in that situation it prevents him from doing it.
And, you know, that – the tactics and the change of emotions and everything I think it’s interesting when you’re constructing a scene like that from a performance point of view, is you want to try and arrive in as different a state as possible, you know.
So that was the idea behind the 4As thing. And he was slightly – he had some false modesty about, you know, I hope that’s not a problem. And then of course it turns into a completely different situation and then the fact that he’s going to try and bluff his way out of it and lie about it.
And then eventually when he – I don’t think he thought that he would get fired over it. I mean, I think that he thought that maybe if he had been called into Bert’s office it would have been different. But the fact that it was Don he thought maybe he could get away with it.
If it was – and ultimately of course he just – he didn’t intercept that – the mail, you know. I think ultimately his plan had been he was just going to get hold of that check and just, you know, rip it up, you know, and make it disappear when it came back from the bank.
So, but I – again, you know, those are the sort of opportunities that you look forward to. So you want to try and do justice to them.
Well just as a quick follow up were you given a great deal of latitude in how you took on that particular scene? And did you take several runs at it playing it different ways?
Harris: Yes we did. I mean, what happens when you normally do those things is you never get all of it — or hardly ever you get all of it — in one take in terms of you feel like you’ve got it all right. There are some parts you feel work and other parts you want to – when you do the next take you focus on getting that bit right, you know.
And then sometimes — it’s a strange thing — you know, sometimes it can be just that you’re – the way your body is angled might be wrong and, you know, or the way sometimes that you’re – you need to be touching something. You know what I mean? It’s a tactile thing.
And you have to respond – whatever you’re feeling at that time you get an instinct. So like you sort of pick a current up from somewhere. And if you suddenly find that you’re – for some reason not holding a pen is giving you access to something well then, you know, pick the pen up at the right moment even though that might not have been there so that just whatever reason that your mind is connected to that thing, that that’s what is going to give it to you, you know, so.
And then I know there’s one specific take that we did where I felt like I didn’t know what point it would be useful in the edit, but there should be just one take that we did where he was very still and he – you know, all of the hiding his head away and burying in his hands so Don couldn’t see him which felt right.
But there needs to be one take that we did where he didn’t move at all for the whole take because there would be some point during the edit where that would be really useful. So, you know, I did it that way.
I guess my big question is you came in after the show had already established itself after two seasons.
Did that influence how you played Lane and how you interacted with the rest of the cast at all?
Harris: Well you need to fit into the world that they’ve established. And, I mean, actually yes. The answer to your question specifically is when I watched the end of season 2 and I saw that Duck Phillips went head to head with Don Draper in front of (Lex), you know, the English guys from (PPL), that – when it came down to it they chopped off Duck’s head and kept Don.
They – and so therefore Lane was aware of that having happened and he knew that when – if he forced an issue they would choose Don over him always and that he was therefore expendable.
So he had to be careful about how he dealt with Don because, you know, Don’s the golden goose, you know, the goose laying the golden egg type of thing and that – so that he – it changed my attitude towards – if I had confrontation scenes with Don about how I dealt with him because I knew that if I pushed the situation to an ultimatum I would lose, that my bosses in England would go, ‘Well it’s time for you to leave. You obviously can’t hack it.’
So we had heard Matthew Weiner say before that there’s a little bit of him in every Mad Men character.
And we’re wondering what part of Matthew Weiner do you think is in Lane?
Harris: Wow that’s a really good question. You know, honestly I’ve never, ever, ever thought about that. So you’re absolutely right.
Matt seems like a very, very devoted family man. And certainly in the, you know, the Lane from season 3 – I mean, I – I mean, the overall impression of Lane is someone who’s being denied. Every time something goes well for them they get slapped back down.
But I don’t know. I mean, you know, things are going pretty damn good for Matt. I’m not sure. That’s a really, really good question. I’ve got to ask him when I see him again.
Okay good. Well thank you for just…
Harris: Sorry I couldn’t give you a better answer, but…
No it’s okay. I didn’t mean to throw a curve ball at you.
Harris: Yes it was a good one. It was a really good curve ball.
Had Lane not killed himself had you envisioned how the character would end up?
Harris: Yes. Someone asked me that a while ago. I just – I think that he envisioned that if they – when – if they could just get over this hump that they’re in, (they’re) slowly digging themselves out this sort of fun – they’ve lurched into these financial problems.
And things seem to be going good and then they lose Lucky Strike. And they have to downsize again. And then things seem to be going well again.
And if they can just get a break then they’ll be on good firm footing. And, you know, he’ll be – his personal financial things will be cleared up. And it’ll be (worthwhile), you know. But I think that that’s what he saw, that he believed that it would still work out for the company and that he would be a part of that success.
(I know) on, you know, one level it already was a success for him because his name was on the door. He was no longer working for other people. He was working for himself in that sense.
Personally Jared Harris envisioning where Lane would go — I don’t – I didn’t think about that sort of stuff on this show because, you know, there’s no point getting attached to ideas. You don’t know what Matt’s going to decide and, you know, you’re – it’s his vision. And that’s it.
So my – I would never think about that. I did not think that – since I just signed a three-year contract I did not think that I would be – I wouldn’t be on for season 6. (And so) I am extremely happy that I got to go out in such a sort of big and significant way, you know, with such a great effect. That part I can see is only beneficial and, you know, is – I’m lucky that he entrusted that to me.
You know, I just thought of something quickly about that question before about how Lane might be like Matt Weiner. All season long this season I wore one of Matt Weiner’s handkerchiefs in my top pocket and it was from the Playboy Club. Anyway go on.
Since the big revelation last night have you heard any reactions from fans online about their being upset, being in shock. How in general have you…
Harris: I haven’t at all. I mean, this is – you know, I’ve been on the phone doing these interviews for the last couple of hours. But I haven’t – it’s – I haven’t looked because I’m working on a movie here. So I haven’t had a chance to look at (all) that stuff yet.
Why? What’s going on?
I’m just curious of your thoughts — lots of upset people. But I guess from general then…
…last night’s episode over your course on the show how have you kind of reacted or noticed how powerful the fans are? Where have you – you know, have you seen a huge fan base grow around your character?
Harris: Have I seen the what?
Have you seen fans get excited about your character whether…
Harris: I think that’s one of the reasons why, you know, from a sort of a – from a dramaturgical point of view why it makes sense for Matt to do this because, you know, he was a character that the fans had gotten very affectionate over. And it was – so in that sense it would be a really juicy, powerful way of surprising the fans and, you know, in doing it.
So I think that yes from that point of view it’s a way of getting something very powerful out of the end of the season, you know.
This – you’ve done – you’ve played a lot of roles in your career, a lot of different types of characters. Do you think Lane will be kind of a defining role for you as you go forward?
How does it…
…in with the rest of your characters?
Harris: I have played so many types of characters. You know, I really have. So I don’t think – I mean, in terms of – I mean, being on a show like Mad Men will define your career in a very, very positive and beneficial way.
And these types of experiences really only come once in an actor’s life unless you’re Elisabeth Moss because she was on the West Wing as well. Wasn’t she? So, I mean, it’s very, very rare.
So in that sense yes in terms of – (put out) to you as an actor. But I think in terms of the character I really made a deliberate attempt to be as different as I can be from role to role.
So, I mean, for me personally I feel like this has been, you know, from a performance point of view, this has been another in a long line of really great characters that I’ve been able to play. It’s obviously a famous one because of Mad Men, you know, I mean, the effect that that show has had.
But, you know, I mean, if you stack Lane Pryce next to Captain Mike from Benjamin Button and alongside, you know, John Lennon or along playing Ulysses S. Grant, you know, for me that’s what I’m – that is what gives me pleasure, is that you look from one to the other and it’s the – you know, difference between the characters is what I enjoy.
Great. Hey, thanks a lot.
Harris: You’re welcome.