Mad man to bad man: Jared Harris on his winning TV streakMay 23, 2021
The son of hellraiser Richard Harris has come into his own as one of the most sought-after actors of his generation. Now the star of Chernobyl and The Crown has a juicy role as a ‘creep’ in a new British thriller
In The Beast Must Die, a TV series adapted from a dusty 1930s thriller by Nicholas Blake (AKA the poet Cecil Day-Lewis), Jared Harris plays a man who may, or may not, have knocked down a child while driving his sports car too fast around the Isle of Wight. A nouveau riche horror show in chinos and deck shoes, his character appears to have not a single redeeming feature: if you heard his booming, entitled voice at an airport check-in, you’d pray all the way to the gate not to find him in the seat next to yours. But on screen, it’s a different story. Harris is the greatest television actor of his generation. Every scene in which he appears is electrifying. Every one in which he doesn’t cries out for his return.
Who inspired this creep? Someone he knew at boarding school? He laughs. “Oh, you know,” he purrs, his refined, almost old-fashioned voice more or less undisturbed by the years in LA. “One has encountered them. There are people one has known and then there are the people you don’t know, but who are quite prominent in the news cycle. He has this veneer, that he’ll sail through life and never lose. Essentially, he’s a complete narcissist: all he cares about is how you make him feel about himself.” Was playing him enjoyable? “Yes. He’s such a prick. One of the things people say is that you have to like characters to play them. I don’t believe that and it’s dangerous when that starts getting talked about on set. When you’re asked which characters you empathise with: actors go into SOS mode when they realise that’s the level of the discussion. They start trying to make sure they don’t end up on the wrong side of it, rather than accepting that you’re telling a story, that you leave it up to the audience to decide. It’s reductive to ask if you like a character. No one would invite Hannibal Lecter for dinner. But you’re fascinated by him and that’s the important thing.”