Of all the headline-grabbing moments in Mad Men's fifth season, two have remained on fan's lips long after the June finale: Joan's debatable career-advancement decision and Lane's unexpected office-set suicide. Both incidents marked the apex of the respective character's sensational season-long story arcs and earned Christina Hendricks and Jared Harris Emmy nominations.
Now, with season five making its DVD debut, Harris called up ETonline to talk about the watercooler moment, life after Mad Men and what fans can expect from his next project: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln!
ETonline: I know you were unaware that this season would be Lane's swan song, so what did you like about what creator Matthew Weiner gave you to do?
Jared Harris: I think Lane was somebody who had two seasons worth of material [and that] Matt probably knew from the beginning what he was gonna do and he wanted it to have an impact. So, in the first half, I thought, "Wow, this is amazing!" In the second half, once I knew what was gonna happen, it was bad. I knew this was gonna be the last time around, but I couldn't tell anyone, so it had a feeling of melancholy about it all.
ETonline: What kinds of reactions did you get after Commissions and Fees, the episode that featured Lane's suicide?
Harris: Lots of text messages, like, "Noooooooo!" [laughs] I got one from a really good friend, who was kind of joking, but half-serious, saying, " I can't believe you kept that secret from me! I'm your best friend!" I have to say he was slightly hurt. But Matt was just fantastic, he gave me such fantastic material and such a great storyline. It just came with a heavy price.
ETonline: Do you have a favorite Lane moment from season five?
Harris: Well, since England will never win The World Cup in my lifetime, it was special that I got to be present, and experience that on the show. Genuine tears of joy for me in that scene. Obviously the episode where I have the punch up with Pete was a lot of fun. It was Lane's highest point I guess, but also then his lowest, because right after that he realizes that he's become irrelevant. And when I had that line, when I read that, that was a red flag for me. It's not a good sign when you're no longer necessary to the success of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. That's when you know your days are numbered.
ETonline: I always loved Lane's relationship with Joan, but there was also that episode where he tries to kiss her. As Jared, did you think, "Lane, no! You're ruining this wonderful relationship?"
Harris: It was interesting because in episode two, Joan brings her baby around and the only person who really pays any attention to the baby is Lane. After the take where he holds the baby, Christina [Hendricks, who plays Joan] asked me, "Are Joan and Lane gonna fall in love?" What was good about that is that Lane, along with most of the men in the world, has a crush on Joan and has for a long time. But it's not reciprocated. I mean, why would it be? That's where the genius of the writing is, because it's all about unfulfilled desires, and unrequited desires. Then I started to think and it lined up with a lot of things in previous seasons: confusion over the roses, asking him to get some chicken with her by saying something like, "Would you like breast or thigh?" [Weiner] had been building it up slowly, he knows exactly what he's doing.
ETonline: Does being a part of Mad Men with a showrunner like Matthew, who is so cognizant of what he's doing, how he's doing it, and where he's going make it difficult to move onto the next project?
Harris: Yes, particularly with Mad Men because it all starts at the top. There's a quality control he insists on. [Weiner] has such good people working for him in every single department. So it does make it difficult in terms of thinking of going on to other projects. I talked to my agent and managers about it, and you know on the one hand, there isn't another Mad Men out there. They don't come in twos, you know? So you look for projects that have the same aspiration towards quality. It's a tough act to follow, that's for sure.
ETonline: Well, your next project is Steven Spielberg's Lincoln biopic, so it seems like you've located another meticulous auteur.
Harris: I was actually filming that whilst I was filming my last three episodes of Mad Men. That's another thing I am deeply indebted to Matt for because it was a pain in the ass for them to organize the schedule but he just said, "It's just too good of an opportunity. Working with Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, we have to make this happen for him."
ETonline: I read an article where one of your co-stars said although he worked alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, he doesn't feel like he actually worked with Daniel Day-Lewis given how immersed he was in the role. Did you have a similar experience?
Harris: No. Here's the thing, he asks that you respect the fact that he wants to stay in it by not having bullsh*t conversations with him about the football game or playing your X-Box. You just respect that he wants to stay in it. You don't have to, you're not obliged to. But he simply doesn't want to be pulled off when he's in a zone. You can still have conversations about normal things. You don't have to endlessly improvise historical conversations, but it's slightly abstracted. He doesn't want to make small talk and I enjoyed that challenge. I enjoyed the fact that he and Steven set the bar incredibly high. That's the reason why you're excited about being there. To see if you can measure up in any way at all to the bar they've set. It's exciting.