The most secretive moment of Jared Harris’ Emmy-worthy tenure on “Mad Men” came to fruition with a quiet, sneaky walk onto the show’s office set. (If you still plan to watch Sunday's episode, stop reading here.)
“We had done some makeup stuff with the guy who took care of my makeup through the season (Ken Niederbaumer), said Harris, whose three-season run as Lane Pryce ended with the character’s suicide in Sunday’s episode, “and I remember when I was walking to go and do that, I had to have an umbrella just to makes sure no one took any picture of me looking like that.
“They kind of brought me around the back and hooked me up, and then hung me from the door in a harness that is incredibly uncomfortable, and then they brought the actors to set. The moment they opened the door and see me hanging from the ceiling, that’s the first time they saw me.”
Though Harris officially met his “Mad Men” maker Sunday, he, like others in the cast, had begun wondering about showrunner Matthew Weiner playing the role of the Grim Reaper long before.
“When did I suspect? There honestly was conversation around base camp before the first day of shooting,” Harris said. “There was a feeling that he likes to change things up and surprise the audience, and that somebody might be going overboard.”
Harris said he then first began to realize that the “somebody” might be himself during costume fittings.
“Lane had this fastidious sense of dress and neatness,” Harris noted, but suddenly, “there were stains on his waistcoats. I said, ‘These are not clean,’ and they said, ‘That’s what we’re going for.’ That’s not a good sign. … Obviously, the character is not taking care of himself.
Then, Harris was asked for a sample of his handwriting and told it was for a scene involving check forging.
“ ‘Fuck, that isn’t good,’ I said in my mind,” Harris recalled. “ ‘I hope he’s forging the check in the line of duty.’ ”
It wasn’t until production began on episode 10, “Christmas Waltz” (which aired May 20), that the sword of Damocles fell. Typically, Harris said, Weiner gives notes to a number of actors after the readthrough. That day, Weiner saved Harris until the end — and then asked him to come to his office.
The final word came to Harris in distinctively Sterling Cooper fashion.
“He offered me some incredibly good brandy,” Harris said, “and I said, ‘Now I’m fucked.’”
It’s not without lament that Harris leaves the show, especially because, in contrast to other character departures such as Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), there’s no chance for a return. But Harris certainly understood.
“No one’s guaranteed a job,” he said. “Those are tough calls to make and (Weiner) makes them, and you have to accept that. The only character who (you know) is not going to go anywhere until the show’s over is Don Draper.”
As for the circumstances that led to Lane’s suicide — the ill-chosen embezzlement scheme that precipitated his forced resignation from the firm — Harris said he understood them even while recognizing how preventable they were.
“I’m sure if he had asked Don, Don would have lent (the money) to him, without question,” Harris said. “What you see in that scene, Don’s office, when he gets fired, is the explanation of that scene. Don actually asks him, ‘Why didn’t you ask?’
“He feels he’s putting himself in a servile position. … The man’s pride is what does him in.”
Harris added that he completely grasped why Lane wouldn’t accept going back to England as a failure, saying that for someone in his position, “when you do come back, you need to come back on a chariot.” He says actors from across the Pond, such as himself, have many of the same feelings.
“I moved to New York first back in the ’90s,” Harris said. “It’s a big Irish community there of people who have left home to seek their fortune. There’s more Irish people living abroad than there are back in Ireland. It’s very, very difficult for them to contemplate moving back. I understand that — I feel that myself.
“In England, there’s a sort of a strange relationship they have with the idea that secretly, and particularly in (the entertainment) business, everybody wants to make it in America,” Harris added. “The holy grail is the United States. People who have gone over there to try to make it in America, there’s an enmity toward, so they like it if you come back having failed, because they haven’t risked it.”
Harris certainly hasn’t failed. He has had a long performing career, and “Mad Men” has given him the recognition that sadly eluded Lane at Sterling Cooper.
“I have always been a character actor,” Harris said, “and part of the risk of being a character actor is if you are successful, in the sense of your chameleon-like goal of being different in as many different roles as we can, people don’t associate a name with a face, and it takes longer for that part to catch up to you. I feel that’s what I’ve been doing my whole career, and I feel grateful for that.
“Suddenly, (with “Mad Men,”) people started to put a name with a face, and in that sense it has been extremely positive to my career.”