Exclusive: Jared Harris Talks The Beast Must Die, Tonight on AMC

Jared HarrisTonight, the linear premiere of the six-part British thriller, The Beast Must Die, premieres on AMC. Fans can also see each episode a week in advance on the premium AMC+. The series, which is based on the novel by Cecil Day-Lewis, follows a mother, Frances Carines (Cush Jumbo), after her son is killed in a hit-and-run. When the police drop the case, she takes matters into her own hands by posing as a novelist researching a murder-mystery and moves into the home of George Rattery, played by Jared Harris, the man she thinks is the responsible.

Harris recently talked to Jamie Ruby in an exclusive interview about working on the series, the challenges of playing a despicable character like George, working on the Isle of Wight, and more.

Jared HarrisSCIFI VISION:   So, how did you get this role?

   Nat Parker came to me about five or six years ago, and he said he was going to option this book and would I look at it? I [did], and then I was interested in the part, so I said, “yes.”

Then, he started to develop it. He went to the BBC first. The next step was to find [a writer], and they got Gabby [Chiappe] on board. She's a fantastic writer. They sent me the first episode, and I loved it, but, you know, I appear on the last page, so I said, “I still need to see more before I can firmly commit.” He sent me Episode Two, and it was just the same level of brilliance as the first one, but I got a better idea of what they were going to be expecting from me, what they wanted for me. So, yeah, I was, I guess, the second person on other than Nat. Nat was the first.

Have you read the book at all?

Yeah…When Nat mentioned it, when he talked to me about it five years ago, and there was no script, I got hold of the book, and I read it then, and then, you know, obviously, it changed.

All right. Can you talk about working with Cush?

Yeah, great, lovely, I love Cush. I mean, she’s a phenomenal actress. And, boy, I mean, it was a great part, but those are tough roles, because every day you're wading through hell, emotional hell, every day, so it's just difficult. I mean, some actors, they like to stay in it, and other actors like to distract themselves. And almost every actor, when they have a big day up, they need to just keep part of their brain always focused on that area, and you've got to fit in with the way that they find it comfortable, and you help them and support them in achieving what they have to achieve. She had a much harder job than I did. So, I was aware of that, and I wanted to help her in any way that I could.

So, other than the script and the books, was there anywhere else that you were inspired by when you were kind of creating him?

You mean do I know Georges in real life, and would I like to throw them under the bus? [laughs]

[laughs] Yeah, sure.

Yeah, and if somebody reads their name in this context, how delighted they would be! [laughs]

All right. Well, other than telling me specifics names, though, it’s somebody then from real life, I take it, but there wasn't like maybe any other characters or anything?

You know, I mean, there are people who are, shall we say, fairly prominent in the political arena, who shared certain qualities, personality traits, on both sides of the Atlantic. I mean, no one absolutely specifically.

I mean, essentially, I realized that George is a narcissist, and he only cares about how other people make him feel. His interested in other human beings is only related to, “Do you make me feel good about myself, or do you not? If you don't make me feel good about myself, then get out of my company.” And if they make him feel good about himself then, I mean, he's charming, and he's personable, and he knows how to make them feel good about themselves, you know? So, I mean…it's a pretty shallow journey through the day through life in that sense.

Yeah, I was going to say, was there a part of him that you did connect to?…I mean, how do you connect to him when [he’s like] that?

You can’t play a person unless you figure out why they operate the way they operate, why they are the way they are, how they think, how they feel, basically, the sort of standard one on one things that you do in acting class: what do I want, what am I doing to try and get it, and what's standing in my way and stopping me from getting what I want?

So, do you enjoy playing the bad guy more? I mean, at least most of the times I've seen you, you've been the bad guy. It seems like that could be more fun, I would think, to some extent.

Jared HarrisPeople say that. I mean, the bad guy is fun to play if the scripts are investigating that psychology. It's why things like Training Day are wonderful roles. You know, Richard III is a famous, great role, a very bad guy, because it's about Richard III and you're investigating that guy's mind. Normally in scripts, the bad guy is a functionary of the plot, and you're there to just, you know, maintain momentum in the story. There's very little investigation of the the mentality of the bad guy, or it often relies on just cliches that make us all slap our foreheads. But that wasn't the case in this in this, because Gabby understands what I understand, and that is if you want to keep an audience's interest in a character, you have to keep showing them things that they don't expect and surprise them. That was one of the things that I was looking for in George, but yes, he's a despicable person.

For example, when he shows up on the court after his son (Barney Sayburn)'s failed to win the match, which he was never gonna win anyway, but in his own brutal way, he conceives of it as being a teachable moment. He doesn't offer solace and commiseration and empathy to his son; he offers him what I guess we would call, what you think of as being tough love. And that was one of the things that changed. There is a rationale behind the mindset, behind the psychology. And also, the guy’s winning. He's winning in life. What’s to be upset about?

He’s having a good time.

He enjoys being George. He's very, very successful. There's nothing for him not to enjoy about his life, whatever small hiccups happen, but, basically, he's in a great place in his life.

What did you find to be the most challenging for this role?

..I mean you look forward to the challenging scenes and the ones you are looking forward to playing. The scenes on the boat, the scenes on the cliff. There was a tough scene with Lena (Mia Tomlinson) in Episode Four, but that was because it went through a lot of different versions of them trying to hit the right note that made sense for both of the characters. I mean, weirdly enough, the things that ended up being toughest are odd little scenes. And scenes in the car. They’re tough to do, because it just felt unreal. You're in a car on a low loader with a whole bunch of crew four feet from your face, huddling in the cold, and you're trying to ignore the fact that they're all staring at you shivering, wishing that they could go and get their hands on a hot cup of coffee or something.

Okay, so on the other side of that, I mean, you got to go sailing quite a bit with with Cush. I know she said that she got to direct the boat and everything, and she had a lot of fun.

Yeah, we went out on the boat a couple of times with the family. That was a big day; that was exciting. It was very windy. They were able to put the boat into extreme circumstances; that was exciting. Less so on the day that Cush and I were filming, because we had to be on the side of the boat. As it wasn't the last day of filming, they didn't want either of us to go overboard.

They don’t want you to fall over. Yeah, you don't want that to happen. [laughs]

So, I mean, obviously, you've done a lot of roles, but I'm going to ask you the same thing I asked Billy [Howle] this morning. Is there anything after doing this that you have learned about yourself, either as an actor or just as a person, just in general?

…You know, my philosophy when you're working on these things is I want the show to be the best thing anyone's ever seen. I want everybody to do their best work they've ever done. And you have to facilitate that; you have to help them do that. You have to look out for them and look out for each other and keep an eye out, because sometimes the younger artists don't realize that they can speak up. You try and keep an eye out for them, and, hopefully, they learn through the experience what they can. You know, obviously, a lot of actors, when they’re starting out, they're just so grateful to get the work, so they don't realize that they can speak up, and that it's important that they do, because their perspective is important. You want no one else to know that character better than them. They're inhabiting their character, and they've lived with it, and their insights into that personality are much deeper than [someone else's] could possibly be, the writer or the director.

I actually asked Gabby when we were doing one of these things what surprised her, given that this show had lived in her imagination first, and all these characters lived in her imagination first, and what surprised her when she saw it the first time. And she said, “Everything, because none of it is the way I imagined it.” [laughs] But she loved it.

Yeah, I was going say, hopefully, at least she was happy with it, you can hope.

She was, yes.

Jared HarrisDo you have a favorite scene?

I mean, the most important scene ended up being the scene on the cliff that is in Episode Two, because it actually got cut from the script, and Dome [Karukoski] and I, we spoke about it, and he decided that it should come back in, which I'm grateful for him for doing, because it was an important moment, not just in the story, but…it was the first time that Cush and I had done a scene together, and we built up a really good rapport. The rapport that we built up in the whole shoot started from that scene.

Also, there were certain notes in the character that I was interested in seeing if they would work or not, and that was when you started to see, “Okay, it's going to work,” because, you know, I didn't want to do the version of this character where he's a sort of giant hulking, aggressive, angry sort of, I don’t know, rugby player, you know, “the beast.” My thing was, that's the sequel. The Brute Must Die is the sequel. This is The Beast Must Die, where you investigate what is it that makes this person a beast. If he is the beast in the title, what is the nature of his beastliness? And I was trying to find a different way of answering that question.

Can you describe him in three words other than saying “beast,” [laughs] because that’s cheating. Or “beastly.”

An utter narcissist.

That works. That's true. So, what was it like filming in the Isle of Wight? The show has a very distinctive look.

Yeah, I loved it. I've never been there before. It was one of the reasons why we were successful in filming, because the lockdown had happened in England. The Isle of Wight is a summer tourist economy, which obviously hadn't happened, because of the lockdown. So, the numbers there were very low while everybody was sort of filming there, because it’s one of the safest places to be the whole year. The community was delightful. It was also, you know, shutdown. It was a pity. I wish we could have enjoyed it more, but it's a beautiful island. It's very rural. It reminds me of different parts of the county, like the Cotswolds and Somerset, and we were there by the sea every day.

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