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Mad Men’s Jared Harris on Playing a Loaded Lane Pryce

In last week's episode of Mad Men, viewers saw a different side of Lane Pryce — a drunk one: Out on a tipsy man date with Don, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's typically straightlaced CFO paid for sex, caught a matinee of Gamera, and fashioned a T-bone steak into a belt buckle. A couple of days ago, we spoke with the show's always-delightful Jared Harris about cutting loose.

Lane controls the purse strings at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Now that Pete's brought in all this new business, how high can he go at the firm?
I don’t know about that because I have no idea what Matt Weiner has in mind. They don’t tell us either. But I think he’s doing something very important in terms of starting a new business, and we are a new company, and it’s really important to get new clients. They know how valuable he is.

In last week’s episode, we saw Lane let his hair down for the first time. How much fun was it to shoot those scenes?
Great, a lot of fun. It’s a pleasure. It’s going to change people’s attitude about the character — you get to peer behind the curtain of Lane. He’s been quite dry and business-oriented. You’ve never really seen that much of his personality or his private life. It’s very hard to connect with a character when you haven’t gotten a sense of who they are.

Did it help you connect better with the character, to find out he's capable of, say, slapping a steak on his crotch and yelling "Yee-haw!" in a crowded restaurant?
That actually happened. I don't know who it was, but [Matthew Weiner] said he actually saw somebody do that. I didn’t know that Lane could do something like that, because he’s fairly buttoned-up and he presents himself really well because he wants to be perceived in a certain light. People who are like that very rarely act the same way when they get home; the more determined someone is to present an image of being normal and unextraordinary, you know that something else is going on. One would expect that if you went and hung out with Keith Richards, and expected him to be drinking and whoring the whole time, you'd find out that he likes a cup of tea and doing the Times crossword. You’d go “shit.” But people have that dual nature.

Was it difficult to play drunk Lane? We've only seen him sober, so was it hard not to overplay those scenes?
I had to remind myself that I was drunk. When people are drinking, they’re always aware that they have had drinks. So you might try extra hard to appear more sober. It’s a similar thing when you’re acting and you need to cry, you want to put yourself in a position where you’re trying not to cry, because that is generally what people try and do. They try to hold on to their emotions, they don’t want to lose them. So it’s a similar thing — you get past that bit of, "Oh shit, I've had quite a bit to drink" and start overcompensating. It’s great fun to do. It gives you a license to do almost anything.

Do you think we’ll see more of that side of Lane in future episodes?
I don’t know. I have to pretend I don’t know.

You and Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper) were both promoted to full cast members this season. In practical terms, what does that mean?
I think about the only thing it makes a difference of is the billing. It’s a very egalitarian set. Everyone has the same trailers, everybody eats the same food, everyone’s treated the same way, and it’s not starry. There’s a little more peace of mind — I’m contracted for this entire season. Last year I was week to week, so I was out looking for work all the time. But not this season. Though we’ve only got one and a half episodes left and I’m going to be unemployed by September.

Sunday’s episode was directed by John Slattery. What was it like being directed by a fellow cast member?
It was great. He knows how to talk to actors. When someone’s coming to give you information, you’d like it to be very concise — you don’t want a long chat about the history of the Cold War at that time. And we were all tremendously supportive of him. It was exciting for one of the cast members to be given that sort of opportunity. Total confidence in him from Matt, and he trusted the cast, that they wouldn’t freak out when one of the cast members became a director. The general atmosphere on set and the sense of corporation — people’s egos were in check. No one was going to get freaked out by it. We could actually enjoy it, and he’s a lovely guy, and very funny.

They're selling off props from the old Sterling Cooper office on eBay for charity right now. Did you get to keep anything yourself?
Are they? I hadn’t heard about that.

Lane’s lamp is up for auction ...
Really, Lane’s lamp? I don’t even remember the lamp. What about his suit of armor?

I don’t think that’s up there ...
What's on there?

Lots of desks, chairs, and couches. Which set do you like better, the new office or the old one?
I really like the new one. It looks great, and I think Lane likes the new one. I think he likes the idea of it being cool and modern. I think that’s the reason why he wants to stay in America rather than England. I think he wants to break out, he wants to change, and he likes that in America you can reinvent yourself. But he’s still a cautious and conservative personality. So he’s going to take a lot of coaching to get him out of his groove.

Peggy has probably changed the most, fashion-wise. Will we see Lane’s fashion change as the sixties go on?
I’m not sure. If Lane comes back next season, you’ll probably see a few little changes. That’s a discussion between Matt and Janie Bryant — I just put on the clothes. Sometimes you might not like a tie or something like that, but really, you’re not going to be able to discuss with those two on the same level of expertise. If Lane comes back — and I have no idea whether he does or not — his story is about responding to and enjoying the changes in America and the opportunities you get to re-brand yourself. It’d be pretty funny to see Lane running around in a tie-dye T-shirt, stoned out of his head on LSD. I would pay money to see Lane on LSD, actually.

A few people pointed out that Don Draper’s prostitute looks a little like Joan, and Lane’s a little like Peggy. Do you know if that was intentional?
I wouldn’t even agree with that. That might be just people trying to see Jesus on a piece of toast.

Well, Mad Men is certainly a show that invites that attention to detail.
It definitely invites it. But I’m sure Matt would say that he creates this whole world and it all comes from him, but once he does it, it’s really not his anymore. He lets it go and what you get out of it is not wrong, but he might not have put that in intentionally. It says as much about the people who are viewing it as it does about the person who created it.

Photo: Patrick McMullan