Ed Harris: Ed Reckoning

We meet at The Rose Cafe in Venice: I'm nervously lurking by the postcard rack, clutching a copy of Movieline. Ed Harris arrives a few minutes late, buttoned up to the neck in blue.

Just as I'm thinking about the odd nature of interviews: two strangers, thrust together by well-meaning parties on both sides, for a brief encounter that will hopefully yield good results for all. Yes--very much like a blind date. Harris looks at me with a "what will this one be like?" expression in his light blue eyes.

Ed Harris's lengthy career has included his high-profile portrayal of John Glenn in 1983's The Right Stuff and the lead in James Cameron's extravagant underwater adventure The Abyss, plus several films that critics and audiences (and sometimes both) have failed to pick up on. Harris has given many a fine performance--everyone agrees that he's a talented actor--yet he's never hit the big time.

Why not?

Harris smiles, but his eyes are wary. "I haven't been offered the leading parts I'd really like to play."

Such as?

He ponders, then says, "Oh... Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ, or Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs." Hmm, well, who wouldn't? What does he look for in the roles he does play? "Some depth, some development of character, a part I can do something with..." Hmm, well, who doesn't? A careful guy, Harris is staying about as buttoned-up as his shirt.

I try again. Has he ever turned down a role in a screen hit? "Jonathan [Demme, who directed him in Swing Shift] offered me the FBI agent in The Silence of the Lambs. I turned that down." Why? "I didn't find him very interesting." So guess what Harris plays in this summer's The Firm: "An FBI agent!

But it's three years down the road, it was three weeks' work, I wanted to work with Sydney Pollack... and he was a more interesting FBI agent." Are the directors he works with important to him? "Yes." By now I'm getting the drift: Ed Harris doesn't really like talking about his work, especially to strangers. And I perhaps know he has deeper thoughts on his mind right now.

In about four days, Harris and his wife, actress Amy Madigan, are having their first child.

How does it feel, I ask? Harris relaxes visibly. "It's extremely difficult to take in that something like this--" he does the pregnant Demi Moore pose from Vanity Fair "can turn into something like this--" he gestures again, cradling a baby in his arms.

Do they know if it's a boy or girl?

"We know. But we're not telling. It's our secret." He pulls out a cigarette--gratefully, so do I.

There's one more thing to discuss: this month's Needful Things. "It's based on a Stephen King novel," explains Harris. "Max von Sydow plays the devil who opens a shop where you can buy anything--for a price. I'm the local sheriff, who can't understand what's gone wrong in his small, sleepy town. I'm pleased with the film," Harris allows.

It's over: we both know it. But the problem with blind dates is how to end them. I hand him my copy of Movieline, the one with the 100 dumbest things Hollywood's done recently.

"Only a hundred?" wonders Harris. "And can you believe that since Unforgiven won the Oscars, every single studio is announcing Westerns? Wouldn't you think they'd be looking for the next Big Trend?"


Jenny Craven

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