“Pffffffffffffff! The new right wing? Sarah Palin? The Tea Party? All that shit. The only hope is that things swing so far to the right that they swivel back to the left”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

eight days with­out wa­ter. I’m sorry. That isn’t go­ing to hap­pen un­less you have camel’s blood in your veins.”

As Har­ris goes on to con­firm, The Way Back re­mains, for all its in­fe­lic­i­ties, a thump­ing good story. No won­der Weir, the ad­mired di­rec­tor of Wit­ness and The Tru­man Show, man­aged to at­tract such a fine cast. Our own Saoirse Ro­nan and Colin Far­rell join Jim Sturgess as es­capees.

“It was good to work with Colin,” Har­ris muses. “I had met him at the wed­ding of one of our agents, and that was back in his drink­ing days. That was a fun night. He’s so smart and so gen­er­ous and open. He re­alised the sub­stance abuse was get­ting out of hand and sorted him­self out. That re­ally makes him a bet­ter guy. He’s an ex­cel­lent guy.”

I’m not sure what a “fun night” with Har­ris would feel like. He is shorter and more com­pact than you might ex­pect, and comes across as an ar­tic­u­late, po­lite gen­tle­man of the old school. But he doesn’t laugh much.

Mind you, born with no sil­ver spoons any­where near his mouth, Har­ris has toiled hard through­out his life. He was raised in New Jersey by a travel-agent mother and a fa­ther who worked in a book­shop, and he man­aged to get into Columbia Uni­ver­sity, an Ivy League col­lege, where he ex­celled at sport. At one stage, his main in­ter­est was Amer­i­can foot­ball. Though very fit­look­ing, he doesn’t seem to have the physique for that vi­o­lent pas­time.

“I loved play­ing foot­ball,” he says. “I was 25 pounds heav­ier then. I was quick. But, dur­ing my fresh­man year, though foot­ball had been my life, I de­cided to study act­ing. I had seen a few plays, and liked what I saw. What am I go­ing to do with my life? I was a pretty good stu­dent, but I had no par­tic­u­lar in­tel­lec­tual pur­suit. I took a few classes and it opened up my eyes.”

He was 33 when that role in The Right Stuff brought him a de­gree of fame. He ad­mits there were dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods dur­ing his first decade in the busi­ness, but ar­gues that he never felt he wasn’t go­ing to make it. He’d pump some gas. He’d do a play. He’d work in a bar. He’d do a small role on the telly. Har­ris claims (and, not­ing his sin­cere man­ner, I be­lieve him) that he never had much in­ter­est in be­com­ing a movie star. He al­ways savoured the work for its own sake.

“But, yes, it could be frus­trat­ing. I re­mem­ber go­ing up for var­i­ous TV shows: Hart to Hart, The Rock­ford Files, Lou Grant. The cast­ing di­rec­tors re­garded you as the low­est of the low.”

He pinches a cen­time­tre of air be­tween thumb and fore­fin­ger. “They re­ally would make you feel this small. Then I got a de­cent job with John Sav­age and Gig Young on a project called Gibb­sville, based on sto­ries by John O’Hara. I re­mem­ber driv­ing back in the car weep­ing. Those cast­ing ses­sions could be tor­ture.”

Har­ris has been lucky in find­ing a suit­able soul­mate. In 1983, while shoot­ing Places in the Heart, he met up with the tal­ented ac­tor Amy Madi­gan. The two mar­ried within months and have re­mained hap­pily en­twined ever since. Res­i­dent in the same LA house for 25 years, they seem as se­cure a cou­ple as it is pos­si­ble to meet in Hollywood. “The bulk of my life has been spent work­ing, liv­ing

and lov­ing with Amy,” he says. “But it’s in­sanely tough for women in our busi­ness. As the years pass, it gets harder for women to find work. As a re­sult, when I look back I re­alise Amy has had more one-on-one time with our daugh­ter, Lilly. I wish she had an op­por­tu­nity to work more. But that’s how it is.”

In 2005, the cou­ple man­aged to get them­selves to Madi­gan’s an­cient home­land for a spell when Har­ris starred in a pro­duc­tion of Neil LaBute’s Wrecks at the Ev­ery­man Palace The­atre in Cork. It wasn’t his first time in the coun­try. A great fan of Ryan’s Daugh­ter, Har­ris had sought out the lo­ca­tions for David Lean’s pic­ture in deep­est Kerry years pre­vi­ously.

“Stop­ping at pubs all the way and driv­ing on the wrong side of the road,” he re­mem­bers in a rare moment of lev­ity. “Luck­ily, I just about got there alive.” The Celtic in­flu­ence con­tin­ues to fig­ure in the Har­ris-Madi­gan house­hold. Lilly, now 17, is study­ing Ir­ish, and has ap­plied to study at Trin­ity Col­lege. If she is any­thing like her fa­ther, she should have no dif­fi­culty achiev­ing her goals. Spend half an hour in Ed Har­ris’s pres­ence and you emerge im­pressed at the sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion of the man. He spent nearly a decade try­ing to get Pol­lock, his biopic of the key ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist, off the ground, and, when col­lab­o­ra­tors be­came thin on the ground, he ended up di­rect­ing the project him­self.

“It be­came an ob­ses­sion. I just wanted to do some­thing I could get my teeth into,” he re­mem­bers. “So I just stuck to it. Frankly, I hadn’t planned on di­rect­ing it un­til we al­most be­gan shoot­ing.”

De­spite his craggy calm, one sus­pects that Ed Har­ris is not the sort of chap you’d want to cross. Both in per­son and on screen, he wears the look of a man with strong, un­shak­able be­liefs. Sure enough, when I ad­dress his po­lit­i­cal lean­ings, he be­gins to sim­mer slightly in his arm­chair. Men­tion of the re­cent US midterm elec­tion, in which the Repub­li­cans clawed back so much ground, causes him to emit a fu­ri­ous, sur­pris­ingly noisy hiss­ing noise.

Lis­ten­ing back to my record­ing of the con­ver­sa­tion, I mo­men­tar­ily think that the ma­chine has gone on the blink. Did some sort of in­dus­trial pis­ton mal­func­tion dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion? “Pffffffffffffff! It’s dis­ap­point­ing. Big time. This elec­tion was re­ally sad. I am not say­ing Obama is do­ing the great­est job, but he in­her­ited the biggest pile of shit: the econ­omy, two wars. Half of congress in now say­ing you can do noth­ing un­less you pre­serve Bush’s tax cuts. He’s in a re­ally rough place.”

Thoughts of the head-the-ball ten­dency in the Repub­li­can Party trig­ger an­other noisy ex­ha­la­tion. “Pffffffffffffff! The new right wing? Sarah Palin? The Tea Party? All that shit. The only hope is that things swing so far to the right that they swivel back to the left.”

Make it hap­pen, Ed. The US needs such se­ri­ous men.

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