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'Mad Men' Q&A: Jared Harris on Lane's tragic episode

June 4, 2012 | 12:36 pm

Jared Harris stars as Lane Pryce in "Mad Men."

[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]

In Sunday night's episode of "Mad Men," beleaguered partner Lane Pryce, facing financial and professional ruin, took his life in a suicide that is likely to have a devastating impact on the agency. Via telephone from London, the veteran actor Jared Harris spoke to Show Tracker about Lane's untimely demise, how series creator Matthew Weiner broke the news to him, and what it's like to film his own death. 

You must be doing a lot of talking today.

Just in the last hour or so. But I haven’t seen the episode yet.

They don’t send you screeners?

No, gosh, no.

So you haven’t seen yourself dead yet?

I saw it in the makeup trailer. That was me, what happened on that was me, we did some makeup tests. They did the makeup and I put a brown paper bag over my head and an umbrella so no one could know what I looked like. I went round the back, they hung me from the harness, and brought the actors over so their reaction is the first time they saw me.

Was that difficult for you to film?

For me I had to resist the temptation to sort of burst into song. I wanted to sit there and go, “Always look on the bright side of life.” You know?  

Is it a relief for the secret to be out of the bag? 

It is. I kept it secret from just about everybody, my agents, my managers. Matt [Weiner] very kindly made it possible for me to go and shoot this Spielberg film, “Lincoln,” while I was shooting those last three episodes. And he made it possible for me to do the press tour of “Sherlock Holmes” that was happening at the same time. Part of the understanding then was I would not go up for any of the new-season pilots because obviously then if I was under contract to a new show, people would realize something had happened. There was a very deliberate attempt to make sure it did not get out. I understood that from my point of view, it would obviously be beneficial to me if it was as big a surprise as possible.

Did Matthew Weiner warn you that this might be coming, or did you just find out when you read the script?

He told me after the Episode 10 read-through. After every read-through, he says to everyone, “Don’t run away, hang around, this is my last chance to talk to you.” He was working his way around the room, giving people notes. He kept on leaving me for last, and then once he spoke to everybody he said come up to my office. Now that is a bad sign. Then he offered me really expensive brandy. That was my second bad sign. And then he said, "I’ve got something to tell you." And I went, “Uh-oh.” And he went, “Yeah...”

But you understood the reasoning behind it?

It felt like it was a good use of that character. [Weiner] likes to shake things up. It made sense in the storyline, the fact that he'd become marginalized in the office. Really his strongest tie in the office is with Joan, and she is herself struggling to be taken seriously. In terms of the pecking order, even though his name’s on the door, he was effectively way, way further down. No one really knows what he does, or respects it. They don’t respect it because he keeps telling them no. To the point where they’ve turned it around on him. They irony is they’re saying no to him now. He says, "Let’s give ourselves bonuses," and they’re saying no!   

Did you buy his rationalization for stealing the money? I actually found it pretty convincing.

Totally convincing. I think if he'd asked Don he would have said yes. That's the whole point of that scene. Lane's problem is his pride. He couldn't ask him. It was interesting from the actor’s process point of view. You sit there and read the scene, and you think, "Why doesn't he do this? There are loads of opportunities for getting himself out of this, and he doesn’t do it." Matt’s smart, the way he set that up. The question becomes "Why isn't he?" And then you get the answer. It's the same reason why he hangs himself: His pride won’t let him go back to England.  

So you think the prospect of returning home is what pushed him over the edge?

Once he doesn’t have that job he loses his visa, and he has to go back to England. No one in England would help him out. ...  He has years of humiliation ahead of him. He couldn't face it. I think he takes the coward's way out. It's his pride that prompts him to do it. 

How did you read the little moment he has with Joan after his meeting with Don?

I figured you kind of see that he's got nothing left to lose. He has a little fantasy idea of running away together, but it's one of those things that it lives briefly as an idea between them but then he turns on her at the end, doesn’t he, and makes some vile comment and walks out. First of all, she doesn't have those feelings for him. She's not going to abandon the job, even if she did have the feelings for him, it's his fantasy. When that reality check comes in, he turns spiteful on her.

Is there a dread at all among the cast, is it something you speculate about?

The only person who's guaranteed to be there all the way through Season 7 is Don Draper, and everyone knows that. You can't question [Weiner’s] judgment because it's been flawless. I can see from a personal point of view the value of going out with a bang like this. I'm grateful for that. I'm sad that I will no longer be working with them, and for him, and on that incredible material. But you can't question the man's dramatic judgment.

I know that “Mad Men” is going to be massive as it builds towards the end. Even when we were doing all the kick-off stuff for Season 5, people kept asking him about Season 7. It's just going to get bigger and bigger, and I'm very, very sad that I won’t be a part of that. I'm incredibly lucky to have been a part of it at all. I came late, and it has been really good to me.

Do you think Lane is hanging out with Miss Blankenship in heaven?

In limbo.  


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-- Meredith Blake

Photo: Jared Harris stars as Lane Pryce in "Mad Men." Credit: Ron Jaffe / AMC.