Monday 23 September 2019

'It took so much for him to get out of there and create a career for himself that he was in no rush to go back' - Jared Harris on father Richard's complicated relationship with Ireland

The English actor talks family, following his father into acting, and his role in Sky Atlantic's new series Chernobyl

Jared Harris in Chernobly, Sky Atlantic
Jared Harris in Chernobly, Sky Atlantic
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Ask Jared Harris to explain his affinity to Ireland and he serves up a pretty confusing answer.

While the son of legendary big screen star and Limerick icon Richard Harris is hugely proud of his family traditions, Jared admits he has something of a confusing relationship with his ancestral homeland.

“I was born in England, I was raised in England, but a part of me will always be Irish,” Harris tells Independent.ie ahead of the launch of Sky Atlantic’s spectacular new five-part series Chernobyl.

“This might sound strange to some people in Ireland, but I support the English football team when they are playing in the World Cup and then I support the Irish rugby team when they are in action, so what does that make me?" he says.

Jared Harris in Chernobly, Sky Atlantic
Jared Harris in Chernobly, Sky Atlantic

“I guess when you have a history like my family have in Ireland and this name that will always be associated with my dad, I have to embrace my Irish heritage and I will always be proud of what he did.

“To be honest, I didn’t spend too much time in Ireland as a kid. It took so much for him to get out of there and create a career for himself that he was in no rush to go back.

“It was a while before he returned to his homeland, but towards the end of his life we did go back quite a lot and it was wonderful to see where he was brought up.

“Now people talk to me about my dad and I love that. To hear the stories of the crazy things he got up to, he was a rule breaker and didn’t turn up to things on time, but I love my dad and will always be proud of him.”

Cautionary tale: Richard Harris, star of John B Keane’s ‘The Field’, which was based on a story of a murder in 1958
Cautionary tale: Richard Harris, star of John B Keane’s ‘The Field’, which was based on a story of a murder in 1958

Jared admits his father, who starred in films including The Field, Gladiator and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and who passed away in 2002, took some time to embrace his eagerness to follow him into acting, but it has proved to be a wonderful career choice for the 57-year-old, who is about to unveil one of his most ambitious characters yet in the stunningly emotive Chernobyl.

Telling the chilling story of the disaster at the Russian nuclear plant in April 1986, this is a tale that reveals how close at least half of Eastern Europe came to extinction, as the Soviet state tried to cover up details of the accident to shield their embarrassment in the eye of the watching world.

Their eagerness to mastermind a cover-up came close to having catastrophic consequences. Harris plays the role of brave Valery Legasov, who was the leading figure in altering the Soviet state’s response to the Chernobyl disaster.

“We were closer than ever to a nuclear disaster that would have made a large portion of Europe inhospitable for humans for 100 years, which is remarkable to consider,” continued Harris, who admitted he was shocked by the potential scale of the disaster when he started working on the big-budget drama.

Nuclear fallout: Emily Watson and Jared Harris in Chernobyl
Nuclear fallout: Emily Watson and Jared Harris in Chernobyl

Read more: Go behind the scenes on the set of Sky’s new series Chernobyl with stars Emily Watson and Jared Harris

“The consequences of what could have happened if Legasov and Ulyana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson) did not step in and try to put forward some facts that eventually changed some opinions in the Soviet government.

Jared Harris in Chernobly, Sky Atlantic
Jared Harris in Chernobly, Sky Atlantic

“Legasov is the guy who understands what can go wrong, but the trouble is the people around him refuse to listen to facts and only want to hear their version of events.

“We are seeing something similar now with the climate change debate and it’s scary to think that some people in positions of power are willing to cover up facts to fit their own narrative.

“It’s not like we can go and live somewhere else if we mess up this planet. This is a problem that has been kicked down the road for too long and now people realise the gravity of the situation.

“Those making decisions for this world have not shown an appetite for taking this seriously. That’s why we see millions of kids around the world attending climate change protests. They are the ones who will have to deal with the consequences of all this and the adults are the ones screwing it up.”

Chernobyl airs on Tuesday May 7 on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW TV at 9pm.

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