Ed Harris doesn't like the M-word.

"Someone called it a

miniseries, and I wanted to throw up," says the star of HBO's Empire Falls. "It's not a miniseries — it's a damn movie!"

If so, we hope Harris doesn't see the cable network's promos, which bill the star-jammed adaptation of Richard Russo's Pulitzer-winning novel as a "miniseries event." In any event, HBO will split the three-hour-plus small-town drama over the evenings of May 28 and 29 — all the better to qualify for a best miniseries Emmy.

You can't blame Harris for his unfamiliarity with TV terminology: He hasn't appeared on the small screen in nearly 10 years, since his 1996 TNT Western Riders of the Purple Sage. "I've been asked to do a bunch of TV stuff, and I came close a couple times," Harris explains. "But nothing quite grabbed me as much as I needed to be grabbed."

Then came Empire Falls' Miles Roby. When Harris first read the novel, he didn't picture himself in the part of the divorced dad trapped in a dead-end job managing a Maine diner. Neither did the author when he wrote it: "The guy I described in the novel was a big, sloppy guy, and I was expecting a different body type," Russo says. "But Ed had the inner guy down perfectly, and that's much more important."

The project also gave Harris, 54, the opportunity to work with executive producer Paul Newman (who steals the movie as Miles' reprobate dad, Max) and his wife, Joanne Woodward, as the town's icy matriarch. "Her character's a bit of a bitch," Harris says. "But she certainly isn't."

Harris shares his strongest scenes in the film with relative newcomer Danielle Panabaker, who soulfully embodies Miles' beloved teenage daughter, Tick. "Danielle was a joy, man," Harris says. "Actually, I miss her — I haven't seen her since we finished shooting [18 months ago]."

That's because he's been busy playing three movie roles, including the titular composer in Copying Beethoven, which he's currently filming in Budapest. But Harris' TV roots run deep; before his big-screen break in 1983's The Right Stuff, he made guest appearances on such shows as CHiPs, The Rockford Files and Lou Grant. "I just have to laugh," he says, recalling those days. "My memory, basically, is just trying to get a damn job." Hell, at that point in his career, he might've even done a miniseries!Empire Falls airs on Saturday and Sunday at 9 pm/ET on HBO.