Jared Harris is practically a one-man rep company of late, with his “Mad Men” character, Lane Pryce, his recent turn as Moriarty in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” and his forthcoming role — as Ulysses S. Grant — in Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
“What a great character, what an amazing character,” he says of the Union Army General and 18th President of the United States. “The number of failures the man endured! When you consider that when the Civil War broke out, he was a store clerk in his father’s canning business, and then eight years later he was President of the United States, it’s fantastic. What a great 10-part series on cable that would make,” Harris muses. As far as Harris is concerned, “He’s been kind of maligned in terms of his military success, even his success as a president.”
Of Grant’s notorious drinking, Harris says, “He liked a tipple. Apparently he couldn’t handle his liquor. When there were in lulls in the campaign, he would commandeer a steamboat, go up the river for a day and get absolutely legless, and then come back. But he was never drunk or under the influence while the enemy was anywhere near.
“One of the things that endeared him to his soldiers was that he lived the life they lived. They were used to seeing commanding officers with 27 wagons of personal belongings following them. Grant came with one clean shirt and slept on the ground.”
Harris credits “Mad Men” — and the fact Spielberg is a “Mad Men” watcher — for the fact he landed in Grant’s saddle. In fact, he gives the 15-Emmy Winning AMC drama (freshly returned for its fifth season) credit for the heat in his career. Having grown up amid the industry, the 50-year-old son of the late Richard Harris is all too aware of its vicissitudes. “You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines. I remember watching Jack Lemmon accept a lifetime achievement award. He stopped in the middle of his speech, and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m crying because I’m so happy to receive this award, or because I haven’t worked in two years.’”