Sherlock Holmes' Jared Harris isn't an elementary foe
LOS ANGELES—There is a thin line that the actors in the film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows have to walk in order to make the movie work. This is particularly true of Jared Harris, who plays Professor James Moriarty, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.). Although there is comedy in the screenplay, Moriarty's scenes are usually outside of that. He is often ruthless and has to appear somewhat dangerous in a movie designed to be a fun ride.
In an L.A. hotel room, Harris, who is perhaps best known for his role on TV's Mad Men, says that he, Downey Jr., and director Guy Ritchie realized early in the process that the conversations between the two characters needed wit but with dark overtones. The movie opens Friday (December 16) in Vancouver.
“One of the things that we discussed and realized is that in the post–Austin Powers era, you are one bad line away from dipping into satire. So it was difficult in terms of delivering a character that people would find believable. You couldn't send it up, but you had to be in the same movie as the other people. I had this opinion that the less the audience knows about the character the better, so you don't have a back story and you don't provide motivation for his acts. You don't do the bad-guy monologue. I thought, ‘If this is going to work, we have to believe what Sherlock Holmes says. If he says, ‘This guy is dangerous,' then we believe him, and therefore we don't have to have him running around and shooting his cohorts, the things they do in a movie to convince you he is the villain. In Shakespeare, one of the maxims is that you can't act like a king; you must be treated like one.”
Harris may have had to work hard to separate his Sherlock Holmes character from traditional villains, but he admits that he had little problem finding that of Mad Men's Lane Pryce, the British ad executive who is sent to New York by his London-based company to run an American agency it has acquired. He eventually embraces everything American and works with the American employees to form a new agency. Harris could easily relate to Pryce. After living in boarding schools for most of his life, he left Britain to study at Duke University in the U.S. The son of Irish actor Richard Harris, he found the freedom to take acting classes and returned to England with enough theatre credits to get work. He says that both he and his Mad Men character only really discovered their potential after they moved to America.
“Lane Pryce is discovering himself in the sense that the world he came from and the roles he was allowed to play back in England weren't satisfying. Here in America, he gets to play roles that he fantasized about. The problem with that is that it is very hard to unlearn learned behaviour. He is redefining himself and at the same time he is struggling with the new opportunities that are available. I identified with the character on that level very strongly because the journey he is on is very similar to my own.
“I don't know if that was part of his [Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner's] thinking in terms of hiring me for the role, but it certainly helped me to understand what he went through, because once you cross that bridge, it is very difficult to go back. I feel that myself in terms of going back to England. I didn't want to go back unless I had something tangible to go back with. Otherwise, you would go home as a loser. Also, it is hard to go back once you have experienced other things and lived in other cultures. It changes you. That is a good thing, but going back to the old ways is almost impossible.”
Watch the trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.