Ed Harris has been one of our most prolific actors since the mid-1970s, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The four-time Oscar nominee, who was feted for his performances in Apollo 13, The Truman Show, Pollock, and The Hours, now has his first regular TV role as the mysterious Man in Black on HBO’s Westworld, which just wrapped up its fourth season. Roles in big-budget blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick and well-received independent projects like The Lost Daughter are among the latest film credits on his resume.
Harris has another film opening this week, Get Away If You Can, which is the furthest thing production-wise from his experience working on Westworld. He was pleased to be able to work with Dominique Braun and Terrence Martin, a married couple who serve as directors, writers, and stars for the relationship drama, which boasts a cast of just five people.
We had the chance to speak with Harris about what attracted him to this tiny project and how he appreciates working with married directors given how much he likes collaborating with his wife, Amy Madigan. We also touched on how he’s had more to do on season four of Westworld and a few other indies he has coming up.
Abe Friedtanzer: Hi Ed, it’s Abe. It’s very nice to meet you.
Ed Harris: Hi, it’s nice to meet you, too.
AF: I’m a big fan of your work, and I’m particularly interested in what attracted you to this role, in a much, I think, smaller film than you tend to appear in these days.
EH: Terrence and Domi sent me footage that they had shot maybe seven years ago, mostly of the boat, on their boat, off the coast of Chile, I think it was. They asked me if I would be interested in playing the dad, they sent me the script, and basically to help them get money to make the movie. I just really admired, first of all, their commitment and their passion about this project that they were working on together, and the footage, I felt, looked pretty interesting. It was kind of rough, and there was a lot of stuff in the boat, and that kind of thing, but I figured what the heck. Once in a while, I will be happy to lend my name and ability to a smaller film that might help them get the financing. So yeah, I said, sure, let’s do it.
AF: What was it like working with a married couple in this capacity? Is that something you would recommend to others?
EH: Yeah, they’re so connected, and they were so into it, and obviously being so in love with each other. I really enjoyed their company. The only thing they really ever told me is when I go to dinner and try to insult her, and drive her away, on some level, but we hung out a little bit, and it was not a problem. I like working with my wife, so I understand what that’s about. Amy and I really love working together, so it was just like trying to join their family a little bit, for a little while, and go for a ride with them.
AF: I like that sentiment. I think that’s nice, but somebody I don’t think is very nice is Alan. What could you find to relate to in the character?
EH: Yeah, not a particular kind of guy that I would want to hang around with, that’s for sure. But his insistence and his strong belief that this woman was not the right person for his son, basically, it’s more about his own pride, and the fact that he’s got this business down at the harbor which he’s good at and takes pride in, and really is hoping his son will take over the business, and his son doesn’t want to. His son wants to go off on this journey with this woman, and it’s like, come on, man. I think it’s more about how he’s feeling hurt or something, and his pride, more than it is anti-Domi. But I’m an actor, so I like to be able to play all kinds of people, and that’s who the guy was.
AF: Of course, and I think you do a good job with that. It’s just difficult, because I feel like a lot of people do have redeeming qualities, and I don’t think that he’s without those, but it is definitely a much rougher-around-the-edges role.
EH: [laughter] I don’t know if he has any redeeming qualities, actually. He’s not killing anybody, at least, unlike some characters I’ve played.
AF: Oh, yes. We’ll get to that, but let’s stick with this film first. I assume this was a very low-budget production overall?
EH: Oh yeah, it had a really small crew. It had a pretty good location down there in the harbor. We actually shot some in their home here, in Santa Monica, and in an office building. I don’t remember where that was, somewhere downtown, that we had some connection to.
When you’re shooting an indie film like that, especially low budget, your passion for it, in terms of them and their persistence, and we’re going to make this film, we’re going to get it finished, I don’t care how long it takes. People respond to that, and so you get some favors here and there. I think a lot of times people are willing to help you out, and give you a cut price on location, or whatever it might be, because they realize your intention and your passion. I keep using that word, but it’s true, and your commitment to doing something creatively.
AF: Do you think that independent filmmaking has changed drastically over the past few decades?
EH: Well, I think there’s a lot more being made, and it’s in sight, because especially with the technology and stuff, you can have a pretty small crew, and still get a really good production value on a film. I’ve been shooting a couple indies lately, and they’re fun, first of all, because it’s just about the work. You’re just hunkering down, and you’re doing what you got to do, to get it done. I think a lot more people, a lot more actors, are willing to do indie films than in the past., perhaps, because a lot of times, a really wonderful film will be made for under five million bucks, or a million or two bucks, and depending on the script and the people involved, you can still make a really good profit. It’s not going to be a Marvel movie, but it might be of human interest, and about people.
AF: You mentioned that you’re lending your name to this film. Were you involved in any of the fundraising process, or was it just more visibility and high-profile nature for the film?
EH: No, I wasn’t involved with any fundraising. I was just more or less, yes, you can tell whoever you want to that I’m involved with the picture, and that I’m playing this role, and happy to do it.
AF: I know that the film is coming out simultaneously in theaters and also on demand. Do you think that’s a positive thing, or do you think this is a film that should only be experienced on the big screen?
EH: Oh, no, I think they’re hopefully doing their best to get the word out that it’s coming out. I doubt it will be in the theaters for very long, so I think the fact that it’s streaming at the same time is just fine. More people become aware of it streaming-wise, I think, and hopefully it encourages a few people to actually go out to the theater and sit in the theater and watch it on big screens, but we’ll see.
AF: I’m curious about the title, because when I read that title, I see this as a dark, serious thriller that’s got to have a miserable ending, and that’s really not the case. How did that strike you?
EH: Get Away If You Can? [laughter] Well, I think it’s a fine title, because they wanted it, and they felt it was a good one. For me, it’s a little odd, because it’s like, get away from what? In this situation, it’s just kind of get away from society. Get away from the rat race. Get away from feeling like you have to be this, or do that, or whatever, to be in the world. Do what your parents tell you. It’s like, yeah, get out if you can, and live your own life, so in that sense I think it’s a pretty good title. I don’t think it’s suggesting everybody take off and find an island where nobody is and try to live out your life as best you can, but it’s about freedom. It’s about personal responsibility and freedom and living your life the way you need to. Liberation, personal liberation.
AF: Yeah, and I think a lot of scenes in this film, not necessarily your scenes, but a lot of the scenes in general, are just one or two people, but not a lot in the background. It just feels like away from civilization, and it’s funny, because a lot of your moments in Westworld, at least in the early seasons, are like that too, but I have to imagine it’s a radically different filming experience, because of the drastic difference in budget and crew.
EH: Oh, yeah. [laughter] I think it was about 100 times the size of the one we had on Get Away If You Can. The whole Westworld machine is a huge one.
AF: Has the popularity and evolution of that show surprised you since it started?
EH: It’s very interesting, because I’m not sure how the viewership has been going on the season four year, but I have talked to a lot of people that were into season one and two, and then season three was very, very, confusing. I mean, it was confusing to me. I think season four is a lot easier to digest and to understand what’s going on, so I’m hoping people are getting back into it. I know there’s this very strong cult following, that they’re all over it, asking questions and hypothesizing about what’s going to be happening, and that kind of thing, but for the larger public, I think, season four is a lot more accessible. I don’t really keep track of numbers, or viewership, or anything, but people that I have talked to who have watched this season go, yeah, it’s a little easier to grasp.
AF: It’s funny, because I liked season three a lot, and I know that I’m in the minority, but I think I like the future-facing technology more than the attempts to recreate the past, even though that’s obviously also through technology.
EH: Right, yeah. Well, it threw me. There were so many dimensions, and people could be anybody at any given time kind-of-thing. It was bewildering to me, but I just ended up just focusing on, okay, the Man In Black, this is what he’s doing. This is what he’s trying to do. Blah, blah, blah.
AF: I like that he’s been getting some more dialogue this season. I feel like he barely said anything for the first three seasons, and now he’s talking a lot, which is nice.
EH: Yeah, I enjoyed season four quite a bit, especially in the second half. The first few episodes, I felt more like, not an extra, but almost, but then in the second half, I felt like I got a little more involved with things.
AF: Yeah, and speaking of projects with very strong fan bases, you were also a part of Top Gun: Maverick. What was that experience like?
EH: I was just on it for a couple days, but I had worked for Tom years ago, on The Firm. I get along with Tom great, and Jerry Bruckheimer, I’ve done several movies for Jerry. It was fun. Yeah, I had a good time. It was very brief. I wasn’t involved in all the flying, and going up in the planes, and getting G-forces, and getting sick and stuff, but I am happy to be part of it.
AF: That’s great. You mentioned you were working on a few other indies. Is there anything else you can preview?
EH: Well, yeah. I shot a film called Downtown Owl, which is the name of a fictitious town in North Dakota, I think, and we shot it in Minnesota. Lily Rabe was the main actress, and her husband Hamish Linklater, and she directed it, and they wrote it. I loved it. I loved working with Lily. She was wonderful to work with. I had a great time. It was a small, little film. I don’t know what the budget was, but it was really interesting, and they’re in the middle of cutting it.
And then, I’m just about to be finished on this picture with Kristen Stewart called Love Lies Bleeding, which is being directed by a young English woman, Rose Glass, who made this picture called Saint Maud that I liked a lot. It’s been a trip. It’s a wild movie, man. It’s really fun.
AF: Wonderful. Well, it does sound very interesting. Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to speak with me today and looking forward to those projects.
EH: All right. My pleasure. Thanks for putting the word out about Get Away If You Can.
Get Away If You Can debuts in theaters and on digital on Friday, August 19.