Maybe it's his frequent appearance in period films, or his stint on "Mad Men," but Jared Harris feels a little bit like he's from another time.
When I met up with him in New York, he was wearing a vintage tie that he'd gotten from a Toronto thrift store recommended to him by "Mad Men" costar Christina Hendricks. He looked dapper and from a bygone era, which is pretty fitting considering we were chatting about his new movie, "The Quiet Ones," a Hammer-produced horror thriller set in '70s England in which Harris's university professor tries to dispel the notions of the supernatural by taking part in a scientific exorcism of a young girl.
Among the topics we discussed: what his relationship with horror movies is like, what scares him, and what his roles in the upcoming "Poltergeist" reboot, Guy Ritchie's "The Man from UNCLE," and Laika's newest animated film, "The Boxtrolls," are all about.
Moviefone: What did Hammer mean to you? And were you excited to be a part of that legacy?
Jared Harris: I'd seen lots of Hammer movies as a kid growing up. We would rent them and play them on an old 16 mm projector. We loved them. We loved horror movies and action movies and Westerns, because my father [actor Richard Harris] loved Westerns. But, yes, I loved Hammer.
What were some of your favorites?
I remember "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde." Some of those Peter Cushing Frankenstein ones. There was a Jack the Ripper one, I remember.
"Hands of the Ripper"?
Was that the one with the daughter?
That's the one.
Did you model your performance on any of those movies?
No. I didn't think about that specifically. Really, stylistically, in terms of costume, we looked at Serge Gainsbourg. That's what all the smoking is about. I thought the guy, who is rooted in the '40s or '50s, saw himself as being a revolutionary, who was bucking the world from the '60s. That's where his fervor had come from, in terms of changing the world. Then there was a little bit of Lenin in there, with the shape of the beard.
I was going to ask you about the beard!
Yeah, the tapered thing and the jutting forward thing. We looked at pictures of Lenin and honed in on that. Because he really saw himself as a revolutionary, even though that field of science at the time was perfectly legitimate, it was still on the fringe. There was a sense of being outside the norm, and changing the rules and changing the status quo of things. There's a revolutionary zeal to the guy.
What are your thoughts on the supernatural?
I haven't experienced anything. I'd like to. I feel left out. My uncle did. My father did. My elder brother has. My mother has. I'm feeling left out.
You've been in a few of these scary movies. What's the appeal for you?
You know right away if they're working or not. People leap out of their seat and grab each other. And, in a sense, they're similar to comedies. If people laugh, the joke landed. And if people leap out of their seats, then the scares are working. They're really fun to do because you're in a situation that you hope you'll never be in in real life, and you can run around screaming and yelling and it's good fun. There's no such thing as too much in a horror movie.
You're in the new "Poltergeist" movie, too. Who do you play in that?
I'm a ghost hunter who has come to help them solve the problem.
Are you the Zelda Rubinstein character?
Well, her character doesn't appear in the movie, but I am serving that function.
How was that?
It was great. I love the original. It's fantastic, it's the high bar for that kind of thing.
You're also in "Man from UNCLE." What can you tell us about that?
I play a CIA agent. They're keeping it under wraps, but it's "Man from UNCLE." It's set in the '60s. And it's got Guy Ritchie's signature mix of really good action, comedy, very clever plotting and wild visual cinematic effects. And it was great fun to do. It's a very relaxed atmosphere in his sets.
Are you a bad guy?
I'm not going to say anything. [Harris looks around the corner as if expecting Ritchie to bust him for spilling the beans.]
He's not here!
They actually did say that, because they know that we're going to get these questions, they want to wait until they're doing their thing before information is released. But that much I can say.
The last time you worked with Guy Ritchie was on "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." The story was that you were wearing all of Daniel Day-Lewis' clothes because Ritchie had been so convinced that he would score him for Moriarity. Is that true?
I don't know if it's true because we had to do a costume fitting anyway. One of the things I decided that I wanted to do was to have the audience's first experience of the character be him as Professor Moriarity instead of the guy with the stovepipe house. And we hadn't seen that. His cover is that he has a legitimate job as a professor at university. But all of the designs of the costumes, they all looked striking like Daniel. I teased them about that. I have no idea if that's true or not. There are all sorts of rumors that fly around and nobody will actually tell you.
What can you tell us about "Boxtrolls"?
Wow. I went up to their studio in Seattle and it's incredible. They have an entire studio but everything is in miniature -- so they have costumes and prop departments and set departments and it's all in miniature. When I got there, they were just finishing up "ParaNorman," so the main street where the witches come down, they had just done that. So I got down on all fours and crawled down main street. It's so exciting and evokes that childlike wonder. And the precision and the work that goes into it... It's just fantastic. I was completely taken. I'm the mayor of Cheesebridge.
One of your more memorable roles was in "Mad Men." What was it like shooting that? Because it was so traumatic to watch.
There was an enormous focus on secrecy because Matt is famous for not wanting anything to get out and wanting the audience to experience it the first time when they watch it. So they covered my head in a brown paper bag as I walked from the make-up trailer to the set. Because photographers do hang around there, but they're trying to catch January or Christina and they would have accidentally gotten me and said, "What the f--- is happening with this guy?" So there was a lot of focus on that. And it was sad. There was obviously a sense of finality about it. I really loved the character, and it got to the point where I knew what he smelled like, I knew what kind of aftershave he used. I had a visceral connection to him. It was sad to say goodbye.
Unlike "Fringe," where your character was brought back to life nine times.
Well, that was "Fringe," where anything can happen. Multiple universes, man.
What was that like? Because he was really a mad scientist character.
Well, the first season was so paranoid. I had started watching it before they called me up. I was three episodes in before they called me and asked me if I was interested in. I was hooked. Because it was full of paranoia and conspiracy theories, which I absolutely love. So I was a big fan of the show already. And it's science fiction, which I love. Then when they described what the idea was, they did it in vague enough terms, and I was on board. You didn't know whose side he was on.
And then, for Season 4, it was all about Leonard Nimoy. Because when the first season ended, I was like, "God dammit Leonard Nimoy is on the show and I didn't get to meet him?" They said, "Well, if we work it out that he was on it, would you come back?" I said "Absolutely!" So that was it for me -- coming back was all about Leonard Nimoy.
How was he?
It was such a trip. He was such a nice man as well. My wife is such a huge "Star Trek" fan, such a huge Leonard Nimoy fan. We were filming, and I said, "Could we call her up?" And he said, "Yes, of course." So he called and she couldn't answer so it goes to voice mail. So he left a message on her voice mail. Afterwards, I told her what happened and her head exploded and she said, "I can't believe I didn't answer the phone." I said, "Yeah, but you've got his voice on your voicemail for the rest of your life."
You've been in your fair share of scary movies and, in the case of "Fringe," TV shows. What really scares you?
"The Quiet Ones" opens everywhere Friday, April 25.