‘Sherlock Holmes’: Jared Harris pulls Moriarty out of the shadows

Dec. 17, 2011 | 10:30 p.m.
harris4 Sherlock Holmes: Jared Harris pulls Moriarty out of the shadows

Jared Harris portrays Professor Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

British actor Jared Harris has made a career of disappearing chameleon-like into his roles — the pop art icon Andy Warhol in “I Shot Andy Warhol,” the rough-and-tumble sailor Capt. Mike in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the fastidious bean counter Lane Pryce in the AMC television series “Mad Men.” For his latest performance, Professor James Moriarty in the new film “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” he brings the arch-villain out from behind the curtain and into the spotlight.

Harris takes center stage as Moriarty to duel the megawatt duo of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, who reprise their roles as the world’s most famous detective — re-imagined as a streetwise but still inordinately perceptive brawler — and his capable sidekick, Dr. Watson, in Guy Ritchie’s new sequel to his 2009 blockbuster. A fan of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories and the old movies starring Basil Rathbone, Harris enjoyed Ritchie’s steely take on the Holmes mythos and was undeterred by the notion that it was inauthentic.

“The traditional view [of Holmes] is a sanitized view,” Harris, 50, said recently over a cup of coffee in West Hollywood. “It’s one that’s been passed down through whatever prism or filter they had about that era back in the ’50s or the ’40s or whatever. But I would bet that if you could get into in a time machine and go back to that time, it would probably be a lot closer to Guy’s version. It was filthy and dirty and violent and dangerous.”

As Downey does with his rakish version of Holmes, Harris brings grit and edge to the detective’s nemesis, whose outward appearance as a respected academic conceals his true identity as a ruthless criminal engaged in warmongering and arms dealing. Moriarty is a dark inverse of Holmes: equally brilliant but sociopathic and able to match the detective’s brawn as well, being a former boxing champion at Cambridge.

harris2 Sherlock Holmes: Jared Harris pulls Moriarty out of the shadows

Robert Downey Jr., left, and Jared Harris in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." (Warner Bros.)

Susan Downey, a producer on the film (and the wife of Robert Downey Jr.), said that Harris was cast for his ability to play both sides of Moriarty convincingly, and that a more recognizable star might not have inhabited the character as completely. “With Jared, he can play the intellect, and then when he needs to flip the switch, you can see the menace behind his eyes,” she said.

Harris said the greatest challenge in playing Moriarty, arguably fiction’s first supervillain, was avoiding cliches. “I didn’t want to do the bad-guy monologue,” he said, “and I didn’t want to say anything unless there was a really good reason for it.

He responded with a less-is-more approach, figuring that much of Moriarty’s power comes from his sheer inscrutability. “I think that he doesn’t have that morality chip that other people have,” Harris said. “He just looks at things and says, ‘If I can do it and it can be done, then why not?’”

harris Sherlock Holmes: Jared Harris pulls Moriarty out of the shadows

From left, Jared Harris, director Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." (Daniel Smith/Warner Bros.)

Harris identifies a bit more closely with his character on “Mad Men.” Like the actor himself, Lane Pryce is a British expatriate enamored with his new home. “He loves it in America; I feel the same way,” Harris said. “I think there’s the opportunity to become the person that you fantasize yourself being.”

For Lane, that has meant coming out of his shell and forming the new ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. For Harris, that opportunity initially took the form of leaving London to attend college at Duke University, where the fame of his father, the actor Richard Harris, wouldn’t weigh on him.

“I went somewhere where no one knew anything about me and I could do what I wanted to do — which actually was, I really wanted to try acting,” said Harris, who graduated in 1984. “I couldn’t do it in England. In England, they would have looked on it as a sort of appalling lack of imagination.”

harris3 Sherlock Holmes: Jared Harris pulls Moriarty out of the shadows

Jared Harris, left, and Robert Downey Jr. in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." (Warner Bros.)

Despite their biographical similarities, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner said Harris and Lane are very different from each other. “I look at him like someone who puts on a mask almost to play [Lane],” Weiner said. “He’s such a real person, and he’s not related to Jared at all. It’s pretty astounding.”

Weiner added, “That character could have been such a one-dimensional blowhard, and [Harris] immediately imbued it with this mixture of rigidness and a sense of humor and being bewildered sometimes and also being powerful. You can’t write that.”

Harris’ success on the big and small screens has won the actor the opportunity to play one particularly high-profile role next year. He will portray Ulysses S. Grant in the Steven Spielberg historical drama “Lincoln,” which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president and a number of other marquee actors, including Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

“You know you’re on to a winner when the part is robbing you of sleep,” Harris said.

— Oliver Gettell


'Avengers': Hulk (Marvel)

Avengers’: Marvel’s new approach to Hulk

‘Sherlock Holmes’: Downey’s ‘recovery group’ idea

Cap’ writers: Today Cap would be on watch list

Thor 2′: Hemsworth sad to see Branagh go

Johnston’s default: What would Indy do?

Evans: It’s not about the flag, it’s about the hero

Joss Whedon talks ‘Avengers’ and more

Spider-Man’: Marc Webb reinvents the hero

Avengers’: Downey Jr. on Joss Whedon

‘Iron Man 3’ and Downey start Shane Black era


8 Responses to ‘Sherlock Holmes’: Jared Harris pulls Moriarty out of the shadows

  1. Marcie Modreau says:

    Will someone please give this guy a spinoff movie series about Moriarty? He was so good, I was rooting for HIM to win by the end of the movie! It’s time to start watching Mad Men.

  2. articlepills says:

    very nice and detailed article.

  3. StPaddysDay says:

    Arthur Conan Doyle must be spinning in his grave. I know the real Holmes character intimately and this IS NOT HIM. I know the Canon forward and backward, the 56 short stories and the 4 novels, and THIS version of the Great Detective is a sick joke.

  4. StPaddysDay says:

    “You know you’re on to a winner when the part is robbing you of sleep,” Harris said.

    A compound fracture will do the same thing.

  5. gary says:

    im not sure about this one gary eason friendswood

  6. Revbidski says:

    He has that kind of face that makes you think ' He reminds me of …..' while making the role entirely his own. He played Moriarty brilliantly because there was absolutely no ham involved – such a temptation for an arch villain – which made him all the more dangerous. Stuff the purists! Don't they realise that a narrative truly comes alive when used as the frame for a new interpretation. This was a real salute to Conan Doyle who, I hope would have admired the craftsmanship and been flattered by this plaudit.

  7. phil lewis says:

    Mermaids will be the next hollywood trend.Kung Fu Fighting Vampire Mermaids was wrote by Phil Lewis about ten years ago.dark fantasy fiction.

  8. phil lewis says:

    Mermaids will be the next hollywood trend.Kung Fu Fighting Vampire Mermaids was wrote by Phil Lewis about ten years ago.dark fantasy fiction

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

E-mail It
Powered by ShareThis