This entire season of ‘Mad Men’ seems designed to try and answer the question posed at the outset of the first episode: Who is Don Draper?
But a growing number of ‘Mad Men’ fans want to know: Who is Lane Pryce? And who is the actor that plays him, Jared Harris?
Fancast went in search of Lane, the British expatriate who became a partner in Sterling Cooper Draper & (now) Pryce at the end of last season. For answers, we asked the man who knows him best (other than ‘Mad Men’ creator Matt Weiner) – Jared Harris himself.
On the phone from L.A. the other day, Harris, 48, filled us in on Lane (and Lane’s trademark glasses), talked about his own family history (he’s the son of Irish-born actor Richard Harris and the stepson of Rex Harrison – Jared’s mother, Elisabeth, married and divorced both of them), and explained why America is considered a land of opportunity for so many Brits.
Who is Lane Pryce?
We already know he’s married and that his wife is unhappy and doesn’t want to live in America, that he does [want to live there], and he’s fallen in love with America and he has this fantastic opportunity which she doesn’t show the same enthusiasm for. I think Lane’s changing. I don’t think he ever thought of that possibility before last season. I would say that Lane has been a company man, he has bought into the English idea of keeping your head down and doing the right thing and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts if you wait your turn. I think that changed for him when he realized that all the good work that he’d done with his company didn’t mean much and he was about to be sent off to India without even him being asked whether that was something that he wanted to do. They just saw him as a functionary and then he realized that once the company was being sold that they hadn’t secured his future, that he was just tossed over the side and they didn’t really value him. And he saw in America that there’s this romantic notion that you can re-create yourself.
Aren’t you an expatriate yourself?
I’ve been here since 1990.
Are you doing a Lane Pryce kind of thing, reinventing yourself here?
In 1990 I was with a friend and I’d just done a season at the [Royal Shakespeare Company in England] and I managed to get an audition at the Public [in New York]. I got to play a part that I would have had to wait a lot longer to get a chance to do in England, and then maybe wouldn’t have even had that chance. I feel the same way [Lane feels] about it and, in that sense, it’s been very easy to play Lane Pryce and to understand what he finds attractive about America. I’m here and I love it. I don’t want to go back.
Watch a sneak peek of Sunday’s episode:
In light of your family history, was it preordained or something that you would become an actor?
It wasn’t. I was very shy growing up and they sort of thought my younger brother was going to be the actor really. He had a lovely voice.
How has your experience been on ‘Mad Men’? How does it stack up with other things you’ve done?
Well, it’s the best show on TV. It’s amazing to be working on something where, every time you show up and you read a new script, it’s always exciting, it’s surprising, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what you’re going to start digging into. You have no idea what’s going to be going on with yours or anyone else’s character and everybody plays a guessing game on-set as well. I’ve loved it. It’s one of the top jobs I’ve had. It rates right up there with being at [the Royal Shakespeare Company], with ‘[The Curious Case of] Benjamin Button,’ the Warhol film [‘I Shot Andy Warhol’]. It’s absolutely brilliant. From a creative point-of-view, it’s fantastic.
As an actor, what do you get out of having an opportunity to work on this kind of TV series?
When things are as well-written as this is, you don’t have to work as hard. And you can really be a lot subtler. With material where it’s underwritten or hasn’t really been explored or it’s not very good really in terms of human interaction and behavior, you tend to start getting a little cartoonish with it and you get a bit garish with your choices. But you don’t have to work as hard when it’s as well-written as this because a lot of things that you’re trying to get over to the audience and have them see about your character, it’s all there in the writing. [Weiner has] thought about all that and he’s thought about what you’re not saying, so it becomes implicit, and people can read between the lines and he has thought about what’s between the lines.
Lane wears those great black-rimmed glasses from the ’60s (or maybe even the ‘50s). How does a prop like that help an actor “inhabit” a character?
A lot of people have focused on the glasses! They were kind of a last-minute thing really. I was trained over in England and fell in love with the idea of being an actor watching American movies so I approach [acting] from both ways. A lot of the American approach is, you need to try and get inside the inner life of the character and present the emotional currents of the character. And there’s the traditional approach in England which is much more external, which has its history in the theater where you couldn’t just think it because they wouldn’t see it past the first three rows. So that’s where the external approach comes from. I enjoy both. I’m a character actor, I’ve always enjoyed trying to be different in everything I do. I don’t like to do two parts back-to-back that are similar. I get bored quite easily, I guess, and I like surprising people. Nothing pleases me more than when people say, ‘Holy s—! That was you!’