In The Quiet Ones Jared Harris plays an English professor who educates university students on the paranormal and supernatural. Set in the 60s, the professor is determined to prove that there is a scientific explanation for the seemingly supernaturally possessed Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). In our roundtable interview, the Mad Men star talks about shooting the film, the sets, social skills, character inspiration, and more. Hit the jump to read our interview.
[After memorizing all our names] All part of the job as I would imagine.
You know what, I think that’s a skill they should teach at school, along with balancing your checkbook, and basic automotive care, electrical and plumbing skills, remembering people’s names is very, very important. Social skills, you know.
Let’s start with your character, where did you gather inspiration from, and did you do any research on the Philip experiment?
Yes. You know it’s an imaginative exercise when you construct the character. In terms of the look of the character, we looked at a lot of old stuff, pictures, from the 60s, and we figured this guy, this conception of who he was, would have been concretized in the 60s. We sort of settled on Serge Gainsourg, which is the idea behind the suits, and the constant smoking, and the cigarettes. And then he fancied himself as a revolutionary, so there was a hint of Lenin in the beard. So we gave him hints of Lenin in the beard, and stuff like that. And then, in terms of – the Philip Experiment I became aware of it through John Pague, and it was very interesting up until a limited point. What was interesting was what didn’t happen, and the reason why it didn’t happen. The guy who ran that experiment was a responsible human being, and whenever anything sinister or potentially threatening happen, he ceased the sessions and send everybody home. Obviously that is not that good for a horror movie, and the writers essentially saw that experiment – liked the premise of it to prove through scientific method, that there was a different source, a human source for the supernatural, and then use that for the basis for the story. Once they started to – once they said “what if,” and they started to construct the fictional story, they pulled from a lot of different sources. So the other stuff, I looked at just as much, the group psychology experiments that were done in American universities, Stanford and stuff like that. Because there was a strong element of that in a certain point of the story where you start to think “maybe that’s what he’s doing, he’s really fucking with all of these people” and he’s studying their behavior.
Can you talk about meeting John [Pogue] for the first time?
I met John out here, and got sent the script by Simon Oates. Read it, and then discussed it with him, and then he felt comfortable with some of the suggestions, and my thoughts on the script, and then he put me together with John Pogue. Really what it was – you know the tricky thing about the story being set in the 70s – at that time there are a lot of experiments going on in Paris, psychology departments in universities, it was a legitimate form of study. The problem is that, they seem crazy now. They are largely being discredited, and no one has those departments going in universities. So really it was trying to find a way that we could use that, but it had to seem still relevant or possible. So we sort of shifted the goal to how he was conduct the experiment, how he was trying to activate, olivia’s character to more of a psychological approach. And it was really – the whole thing was a rewrite of the character to put the whole focus on that.
Character’s impotence obsession over redemption or arrogance?
A vendetta on his part, he believed he could – he believed he was capable of saving his child, and that his wife’s overreliance and belief on a religious aspect and that he was some how he was transgressing in a sacrilegious way is what prevented him from being able to cure the child. So in a way, he blamed her and he blamed God, it was more of a vendetta that he had been hurt so he wanted to hurt back, he wanted to even the score if you like.
What is it about the supernatural that makes for a great film?
It’s – we don’t know – supernatural stories are normally connected to the idea of there being an afterlife because of their focus on ghosts, and devils, and demons, and sort of religious aspect like that. And we really don’t know, it goes back to our very early primal understanding or questions we would have. It’s a rationale that is adopted about – human beings are naturally disposed of trying to come up with an explanation for everything no matter how sparse the information that you have, to give you an explanation. We have come up with this explanation. It’s on some level encouraging, we don’t want to believe that once we die it’s all over, but at the same time it’s terrifying. I think the appeal of horror movies – I think we as people, as human beings we need to exercise our emotions. I think it is a safe way of exercising terror and fear, without having to risk anything significant. You are going to come out of it alive at the end. To me it’s like taking a roller coster ride, it’s two minutes of – it’s fun because you know it’s safe. It’s the difference of knowing being on a roller coster ride and on a plane that drops 20,000 feet, you know?
Are you a fan of the genre, do you have any favorites?
Tons of them, tons of them. You know horror is interesting because it covers such a huge spectrum. If you think about it Jaws is a horror movie; Alien is a horror movie; I thought The Others was a great horror movie. Rosemary’s Baby, the [Roman] Polanskis, there all horror movies in different ways, it’s a huge, huge banner if you like. I mean I love them. You know Jaws. I still went I go into the ocean, you hear that fucking music. I remember after seeing that movie when you go into a swimming pool, you still look behind you. You know?
Do you have a favorite in those sub-genres?
I feel that the films that stay with me are the ones that get into your head. Their sort of visceral. I don’t like violence porn. I saw Hostel, and I had to take about four showers after, just to get experience – it really upset me so much. I have to say it was brilliantly constructed in terms of script, the way it slowly unpacked the mystery at the heart of it, when you finally get to what it was about, it was just the most disgusting aspect of human depravity. So I take psychological horror films, that’s about my limit.
After you punched Pete Campbell on Mad Men, it was very interesting to see you and Sam get into it.
Yeah! I got him with a right hook. I got Pete with a left I got Sam with a – actually Sam’s was a sucker punch, that was actually a topic of conversation – in the script it said – for it to be completely believable we have to get into one of those things were people are holding you back, otherwise this guy is going to be beat me up. And it is always the guy who – whenever you see these things where two people started to fight the one person who gets in the way of it gets punched, or the person who gets suckered punch, the person who is the pacifier.
Where did you find the balance in your character, because at the beginning, I believed your character cared about Jane the entire time, but you don’t show a fatherly side, that slowly develops, I was just curious where you found the balance?
Well I think he was genuine in his belief that he could help her. At the same time I don’t know – once he started to get results out of her, he probably would have kept her in there for a really long time. So it’s kind of a balance between these opposing forces within your nature, within somebody’s nature. There is an altruistic reason behind it. At some point – I read a biography about Robert Oppenhimer, and in the way they were describing the Manhattan experiment, project, one of the things they were discussing was the possibility of once they set the chain reaction off, when would it stop. And there was a huge group of those scientists who thought that the chain reaction would continue until it ripped the atmosphere off the Earth and killed all life. They weren’t sure that it was going to happen, there was the possibility that it could, they still pushed the button, you know. There is a certain element, once your on a train, once your set on one of these goals, I think it’s hard to get off, but I think what happened to him was that initially he believed he could help her and cure her. But once he got these results from her, I don’t think he would have let her be on the train, I think he would let her out. And that’s a question of which things would be appropriate for the audience to see, it’s part of the structure of the story. There is also an element in the script that is still a little bit there, but there is a kind of a you quite weren’t sure if there was a fatherly thing, but there might have been a sexual attraction that he had to her as well, which was obviously a whole other lever of freaky in the script. That is what I liked about it, it was playing on a lot of different feelings, and a lot of different emotions, it was finding different ways of making you uncomfortable.
Regarding the location, and the house you filmed in, was the vibe you felt?
The Victorian house was attached to this business center. The business center had been built in the 60s or 70s, and the whole place had been abandoned for about 50 years. To get to the Victorian house, you had to talk through this really weird sort of business center with this stinky rotting carpet. You kind of walk through – “what did they do here,” and you sort of felt it was some sort of strange scientific part where they done anal experiments. So that was actually a brilliant way of getting yourself into the mood. That went you get yourself onto the set, and open this door, suddenly you’re in this Victorian house that they had attached to the back of it. But once your in there, there are about 40 to 50 different people there at one time. But they did a great job in terms of production, set, dressing, art department, and stuff like that. You could find rooms to hide in.
Do you ever watch your own movies on your own with audience, especially for a movie like this.
I’m seeing this tonight. I saw Lincoln with an audience. I saw Sherlock Holmes [Game of Shadows]. I mean it all depends. It’s difficult to go to the Cineplex, because you look like your star fucking yourself. It’s just fucking awful. I can’t do that. It’s really just embarrassing. So that’s pretty awkward. Normally you see the reviews at premieres, and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to see it [The Quiet Ones] with an audience.
The Quiet Ones is open in theaters today. Check out our interview with director John Pogue, and Olivia Cooke. More interview with The Quiet Ones talent will be up later today.