By Joseph Hurley
Scientists searching for some as-yet-unknown theatrical gene might do well to take a look at, along with various Barrymores and Fondas, the three sons of Limerick-born actor Richard Harris.
The brothers, all in their 30s, are variously and successfully engaged in theatrical endeavors. The eldest, the Los Angeles-based Damian, is a film and TV director.
The middle one, Jared, has built a solid career on New York’s off-Broadway stage, with his most notable appearance being in The New Group’s long-running production of Mike Leigh’s "Ecstasy." In addition, Jared Harris’s film career took off in 1995 when he played the title role in Mary Herron’s "I Shot Andy Warhol," and, more recently, played a leading role in Michael Radford’s "B. Monkey," a British production scheduled for New York release on Feb. 26.
Now Jamie, the youngest, is working on a New York stage, in another production of The New Group, Joe Penhall’s "Some Voices," which is running through Saturday at the Theater at St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street.
"Some Voices" isn’t Harris’s local debut, although it offers him the best opportunity he’s had to date to show what he can do. About a year ago, he appeared at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage II in the local premiere of "Dealer’s Choice," an early play by another British playwright, Patrick Marber, who will be represented locally when his current London hit, "Closer," begins Broadway previews on March 9.
In "Dealer’s Choice," Harris played one of a group of card players, workers in a London restaurant, who play a compulsive series of poker games after business hours.
In "Some Voices," several of whose 18 brief scenes take place behind the scenes in a struggling London eatery, Harris is Ray, a borderline psychotic released from a mental hospital into the somewhat dubious custody of his brother Pete, who is fighting to save the restaurant he inherited.
Last week, Richard Harris, accompanied by Jared, went unannounced to see "Some Voices." Much to the young actor’s satisfaction, his father saw the show twice and was positive about the experience.
"You kind of know when he’s around," Jamie Harris said. "Besides, it’s not all that big a theater."
The 30-year-old actor tends to downplay his connection to his father, since, understandably enough, he’s eager to forge a career on his own merits.
"I just don’t play that particular card," he said, letting it go at that, but added: "He’s a wonderful father. He’s always been very supportive."
His brother Jared agrees, but amplifies a bit. "The strongest things in our lives has always been the relationship between my brothers and myself," Jared Harris said. "When our parents separated and then divorced, we were sort of between 3 or 4 and around 7 or so. We went to boarding schools, right from the start, and at least once, we were all in the same school together."
That school, Ladycrest, in the town of Seaford, in Sussex, doesn’t exist any longer, which Jared Harris seems to think is all to the good.
"They were famous for discipline, with cold showers every morning," he said. "You were never known by your first name there. You were either called by your number, or your last name. Since there were three of us, Damian was ‘Harris Ma’ for major. I was ‘Harris Mi’ for minor, and Jamie was ‘Harris Minimus,’ being the youngest and the smallest."
When Jamie Harris thinks about his school days, his mind seems to zero in on Downside, the Catholic boarding school in Somerset to which both he and Jared moved following Ladycrest.
"It was run by Benedictine monks," he said, "and I was there from the time I was bout 6 until I was 18."
Singer in a rock band
After Downside, he didn’t have a particularly strong urging for further education, and the discipline it would involve, so he went to Ireland and became a member of a rock band.
"The year was about 1983 and I was the singer," Jamie Harris said. "The band was called Halcyon Days. I also played guitar, but not very well. I hoped I get better as time went on. We had a two-year run, and it was a lot of fun. It was great. We lived in Rathmines in Dublin and played a lot of places, like the Judge and Jury, a great, dingy little place across the Liffey. We played a lot of places like that. It was a great learning experience."
Eventually the band decided to try a move to London. "That was a mistake," Harris said. "We weren’t anything special, and there were a lot of bands around. That move was our downfall, really, and it wasn’t very long until we disbanded.
After the band broke up, Harris took a job as a runner on "The Field," a Jim Sheridan film that starred his father. Adapted from the play of the same name by John B. Keane, the film contains one of the best performances Richard Harris has given, but it wasn’t an entirely easy experience for his son.
"I was the lowest person on the unit, and I worked from 5 in the morning until midnight every day," he said. "It’s fairly well known that the relationship between director Sheridan and Richard Harris wasn’t always amicable, partly due to the intensity of the schedule.
"I have tremendous respect for Jim Sheridan and I managed to get along with him even when he and my dad were at odds."
Despite the hard work and the internal problems, the actor remembers the location shooting schedule in Connemara with pleasure.
"It’s one of the best times I ever had," he said. "I fell in love with a girl on the film and I learned a lot. As far as my father and Sheridan are concerned, they had an incredibly passionate and volatile relationship. They either loved each other or hated each other, and you could never be sure which it would be on any given day."
It was Sheridan, in fact who urged Jamie Harris to act. "I didn’t really want it," the actor recalled, "because when I was growing up, every dinner table conversation was either about religion or about movies and acting. It was sort of assumed that I might be the one who’d wind up as an actor, because for a time, Jared really wanted to be a lawyer, which my father approved of, since it was a ‘good, solid profession.’ "
Apart from encouraging Jamie Harris to act, director Sheridan gave him his first significant job in front of the cameras, in "In the Name of the Father." "I was one of the English guys in the beginning of the film," he said. "I was the one who went to the police and turned them in."
It’s difficult to know how much good the actor’s carefully crafted, deeply moving performance in "Some Voices" will do him in terms of future work, but Harris hopes it will help him remain in New York, where he’s decided he’d like to live.
He loves working on stage, as most good actors seem to do. Just before his current job, Harris did a 10-performance workshop of a little-known play by Luigi Pirandello called "No one Knows How." Before leaving California, he did two one-acts by Anton Chekhov, "The Proposal" and "The Bear."
Part of Jamie Harris still wants to be a singer. Recently, he tried out for a Los Angeles revival of "The Rocky Horror Show." "It was the part of Riff Raff, the hunchback," Harris said, "but the music was too high for me and I couldn’t hit the notes, so I didn’t get the job."
That’s probably just as well, since had he been cast, he wouldn’t be here now, doing a galvanic, unforgettable job in "Some Voices," giving precisely the sort of performance that generally leads an actor to further work.