Exclusive: Jared Harris Stars in AMC's The Terror

Jared HarrisTonight after The Walking Dead, AMC previews its new series, The Terror. Set in 1985, the suspenseful thriller follows the crew of a British Royal Naval expedition, who while searching for the Northwest Passage in uncharted territory, face not only treacherous elements, but is attacked by a mysterious predator. Though partially fictional, the story is based on Dan Simmons’ novel, which was inspired by a real life expedition where the crew unexplainably vanished.

The series, which will have an official full two-hour premiere tomorrow, March 26th, stars Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier, who recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview.

Jared Harris
Can you talk about how you first got involved with the series?

JARED HARRIS: I got sent the scripts; I was one of several people they sent it out to for interest. I read it and immediately recognized that it was exceptional material, and I said, “Yes, definitely I am interested.”

Then I met with David [Kajganich] and Soo [Hugh], and we had lunch and talked about the entire project and what they had in mind for it. I really loved what they had to say, and they also wanted to know what my thoughts about it were, what my feelings were. So, it was a sort of feeling each other out before they made official offers and stuff like that.

And I knew immediately from reading the script that they had an interest in taking a character-based approach on the story, and I loved it. I loved the world; I loved the writing; I loved the restraint, the storytelling. I loved their patience; I loved their confidence. So, I wanted to be involved, absolutely.

This is based on something that really happened, so did you do research into that or anything else besides what you got from the script?

You try to get your hands on as much stuff as you can. I obviously read Dan Simmons’ book; that’s the first stuff I went to. Then, you start digging into the historical records, and I managed to get my hands on a whole load of Crozier’s letters that he’d sent to [James] Ross before the journey started. You read about other adventures like [Ernest] Shackleton’s trips and [Robert Falcon] Scott’s trips, and there’s actually a really good documentary about Scott’s trip. It was another failed expedition with footage from the time period.

So, you know, you’re trying to make yourself as familiar as you can with as much information as you can, but at the end of the day, you’re looking for things that spark your imagination, because it is an imaginative process. Even though Crozier was a real person, it’s crazier distilled through Dan Simmons distilled through David and Soo.

What was it specifically in the character that you connected to the most, maybe something similar to you - the easiest part to connect with as an actor.

Well, you know, as the lead on the show, you’re responsible for looking out for the rest of the company - the cast - and you’re able to voice your opinion and be heard in a way that other actors with smaller roles aren’t able to. And I think that in that same situation - it’s a tradition that comes from the theater, but you’re responsible for looking out for their interests as well, as much as you care for your own, because you have a voice that they don’t have. That’s something that’s true in the theater, that you’re expected to lead; you’re expected to lead the company.

Jared HarrisCan you talk the period costuming, which is so great in the series?

That was Annie Symons, and by the time one gets involved as an actor, a lot of those decisions have already been decided. There had been a lot of conversations between the creators of the show and the various heads of the department about what they wanted to do with that. You know, how they want to add to the storytelling. I mean, from that point of view, I thought those outlines and those costumes were pretty well known.

From my point of view, my character, I noticed that in the photographs that they took, the official pictures that they took before they set out on the journey, Crozier was the only one who didn’t wear any signs of his status, if you like, the gold braids on his shoulders, the gold on the hat. He had a kind of slightly drabber costume, a slightly drabber captain’s outfit. So, that was an interesting way of differentiating himself from the other two. They had slightly more of that peacock aspect to themselves, and his was a more practical approach.

Can you tease a bit about the fictional aspect of the series?

There’s a genre aspect to the story, and that’s in Dan Simmons’ book. I suppose that in a way, that part of the story is almost a kind of metaphor, if you like, but, I mean, without that genre aspect, this would be something on The History Channel or National Geographic. It’s a real story in that this was a real expedition where they went into the ice in [1845], and they disappeared. So, it’s a fictional account of what happened to them, and the genre aspect that you’re referring to, is like an added element of what they encountered.

This took place in obviously cold, harsh conditions. Was it hard to get into that mindset, or, was it actually cold - I’m not sure where you filmed it. If so, was that difficult?

It was filmed in Budapest, and it was freezing cold. They saved themselves a lot of money not having to refrigerate sets!

That helps make it easier.

All those things that you do once you’re on the set below decks, and you realize how cramped the space was, how claustrophobic it was, how on top of each other all of them would have been, you start to get an [understanding]. They’re all additional aspects to increasing the pressure and the tension on these characters, because you imagine, there’s sixty people all huddled into this basically one deck of the ship where they ate and slept, and they lived, because it’s too cold to be above decks. You know, if you’re not on duty you wouldn’t be up on deck, because it was too cold to survive up there for very long.

Jared HarrisAnd you realize that it had been that aspect of cabin fever, of over familiarity with people. It would break up into cliques quite quickly. You know, those are all aspects that you start to understand about how the environment and the survival aspect would have had different pressures on different people, and people respond to the pressure in different ways. So, all that helps.

And there’s one point in the story where we have to start hauling the boats over the terrain, and as difficult as it was, these people had to do it for real, every day, for months, to try and escape the circumstances that they were in. You start to appreciate the bravery they had, their resilience, their fortitude, their determination to survive, and then you start to understand that that’s an important aspect to the story in that it is about discovering that survival instinct within yourself, which they were doing at the time.

Do you have a favorite scene you can tease about without giving too much away?

It’s really difficult. I mean, I was in so many [laughs]...I suppose in the first episode, the go for broke scene. In the second episode, I got to have a scene with Blanky up on the deck where he shares his misgiving of Blanky. That was the first intonation that he has an ally and a friend on the ship, because up to that point he’s been pretty isolated. And it helps that the actor was Ian Hart, who I’ve known for a long time, and this is the third job that I’ve done with him.

And I mean, one of the pleasures of doing this was getting to work with Tobias [Menzies], who I hadn’t worked with before, and I’m a big fan of him and Ciarán [Hinds] from the Rome series. And I’m working with Paul Ready; I’m working with Adam Nagatis, and, you know, it was really thrilling to be playing with such good actors. They’re so strong, and they knock the ball back across to you, and they challenge you to be on your best, so it’s difficult to pick one out.

Can you talk a bit about his relationship with John Franklin (Hinds) and how that develops through the series?

If I answer that question in detail, I’m going to be giving quite a lot away. Other than that, the relationship with Franklin is incredibly important in the sort of backstory, before we arrive, which is intonated in those scenes at the opera house. And there’s a sense of having been - I mean, he’s a sort of a father figure to him, but he didn’t approve of Crozier’s relationship with his ward, with Sophie (Sian Brooke), and really put a stop to his hopes of his prospects of them being married. So, there’s a sense of supposed betrayal, but yes, it plays out, but I don’t want to answer that too specifically, because there’re important story plots that you’ll understand once you get past that first episode quite quickly.

Can you describe your character in three words? What he is to you?

Jared HarrisIn three words? That’s all the space you have for it, three words?

Okay, four words. [laughs]

...Well, I would say in a series of three words. He starts out as someone who’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he discovers that he has a powerful survival instinct. He surprises even himself with how strong that desire is to survive and to see these men through this experience. I think his leadership ability is something that he would have been aware of, but given the situation that he finds himself in after episode three, having been kind of a loner, he starts to appreciate - this is way more than three words [laughs], but he starts to appreciate that it’s much easier to be second in command than it is to be in command, and he starts to appreciate some of the problems that Franklin had in a way that he didn’t before.

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