[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's Mad Men. Read at your own risk.]
Jared Harris is having a tough year.
Earlier this season, his Fringe character, who was previously chopped in half, was killed. On Sunday's Mad Men, Harris' Lane Pryce took his own life after Don (Jon Hamm) discovered that Lane had embezzled funds from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Don asked Lane to resign and encouraged him to start a new life for himself.
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But for Lane that's easier said than done. Rather than lose his visa and return to England a failure, Lane tried to suffocate himself in his new Jaguar before ultimately hanging himself in his office. TVGuide.com spoke with Harris about Lane's choice, how series creator Matthew Weiner broke the news to him, and what he'll miss most about Mad Men.
You've died twice on TV this season! Is there something in the water?
Jared Harris: [Laughs] I hope not. If so, I need to start drinking a different water.
So, when did you learn about Lane's imminent demise?
Harris: At the end of the read-through for Episode 10. Matt always asks everyone to hang around after the read-through because he wants to talk and give you notes. I noticed that he was leaving me to last. Then he said, "Let's go up to my office." That was your first hint. Then he offered me some really, really good brandy. Second hint that this isn't going to go well. Then he went, "So, I have something that I want to talk to you about." I went, "Uh-oh." He goes, "Yeah. I'm sorry."
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What did he say about reaching that decision?
Harris: Matt's always looking for ways to surprise his audience. I think that he felt like the character had built a great rapport with the fans of the show. It was dramatically useful. In terms of the character, I think [Lane's] become marginalized in the office. His main political alliance in the office is with Joan. We can only know from the episode before what they think of her. He genuinely tried to build a rapport with Pete and that hadn't happened. He doesn't respect Roger Sterling at all; he thinks he's an idiot. And Don Draper is completely unknowable. He's marginalized at the office. It felt right in terms of the trajectory of the character. He'd sort of been denied everything else. [So], he would be denied the opportunity to be a success in America as well.
What was your reaction to the news personally?
Harris: It was tough. I shed a tear in the car on the way home, I have to say. It was bad. It's been a great experience. I've loved working there. It's been one of the easiest jobs I've ever had in the sense that you don't need to worry about anything other than your performance. They look after you incredibly well.
You said Matt wanted to surprise the audience, but there have been a lot of hints throughout the season. Did you pick up on those?
Harris: I had little inclinations earlier. I went to the costume fitting and there were stains on some of his clothes. I would say, "This isn't clean. They'd go, "That's on purpose." [I saw] he's not taking as much care of himself, and that means something pretty significant. So yeah, there are little things like that. We didn't really know who it would be, if it was going to be anybody. Peggy leaves, so you think maybe that's it. But Matt's a good writer. Foreshadowing is a good technique to use. I don't feel like it was overdone in any way. I don't think we knew who it was going to be. I think a lot of people thought it might be Pete. [Matt] managed to fake people out.
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I kept thinking during that conversation with Don that Lane was going to talk his way out of it. But he just kept making it worse.
Harris: I saw opportunities for him to turn the situation around. There were chances where he might have done a better job, but he doesn't. Matt constructed the scene deliberately that way. You're left with the question of: Why doesn't he do that? Then you get the answer. Don asked him, "Why didn't you come to me?" His reaction is why put one's self to that kind of debasement over a 13-day loan? The madness of that response is the reason why Don has to let him go.
Don seems convinced that he's doing Lane a favor — giving him a chance to reinvent himself.
Harris: Don can say that because he assumed somebody else's identity. But it's not the same thing at all. You have to go back and answer the questions of who you are. I think that's a little bit of convenient thinking on [Don's] part. He's basically saying you can start all over again. But he doesn't understand that you cannot go back. That's just not possible. Lane can't go back [to England]. He would endure a decade of humiliation.
Is that when you think Lane made up his mind to kill himself? As soon as he left Don's office?
Harris: I would imagine he'd been entertaining magical thinking for a while. [He thought], "I'm going to be rescued from this situation by somebody." He sits in the office all day long getting drunk and nobody comes into his office to relieve him of it. I don't think he knows what to do. I think the idea to kill himself comes the second he sees the Jaguar and the irony of it all.
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He was pretty determined. He kept going after the plan with the car didn't work.
Harris: That good old English spirit! [Laughs] The reason he doesn't ask Don for the money is the same reason why he kills himself: pride.
Do you think Lane hanging himself in the office was vindictive toward his co-workers who'd marginalized him?
Harris: Without question. Absolutely, it's a vindictive act. It's a passive-aggressive act. Hanging himself in the office is sticking the finger out and saying, "F--- you." It's the aggressive part of that action. The passive side is leaving a note that explains nothing.
How much work went into shooting the scene where his body is discovered?
Harris: I think it was maybe two hours in makeup. Then they stuck me on the back[ of the door] and hooked me up to the harness and hung me from the roof and then brought the actors in. The reaction on their faces, was their reaction to seeing me for the first time. It was [difficult to shoot]. They said, "Cut" and they all just stood there with their mouths open going, "Jesus Christ." But it was good to go out with a bang.
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What will you miss most about working the show?
Harris: I'll miss working with all my colleagues there. I really, really enjoyed their company. ... I was very lucky to join the show after it was already a success. I know that it's going to just get bigger and bigger as it gets toward [Season 6] and Season 7. And I won't be part of that. That makes me sad.
Mad Men's Season 5 finale airs Sunday at 10/9c on AMC.