Personal detailsName: Ed Harris
Born: 28 November 1950 (Age: 63)
Where: Tenafly, New Jersey, USA
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe, nominated for 3 Oscars, 1 BAFTA
All about this star
Filmography: The Complete List
Complete this list: Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Miranda Richardson, Toni Collette, Eileen Atkins and . . . No, complete it with a male actor, a male actor who's bright, sensitive, courageous and strong enough to survive and shine amidst the greatest female cast in decades (if not ever). That's what was needed for The Hours, about the effect of Virginia Woolf on successive generations of women. They had to find that man, a real man who would have presence but wouldn't dominate. Russell Crowe? Too rough, too moody. Tom Cruise? Too megalomaniacal, too much of a film star. No, they needed a guy of actorly presence and great human dignity, who could convince but not feel the need to steal every scene. It simply had to be Ed Harris.
Harris spent the first period of his career as a guy everyone liked but no one could remember. Perhaps this was due to his rare talent and intelligence. Always imbuing his characters with conflicting personalities and desires, Harris never appeals directly to our baser instincts. When he's a hero, he has dreadful failings too. Thus people don't want to be him like they want to be Mel Gibson - because he's acting the part of a real person and isn't simply a celebrity actor playing himself. And when he's a villain, he has a clearly recognisable good side, or at least understandable. Everyone chuckles about the comedic nastiness of Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter, they quote his lines, they even gave him an Oscar and let him turn up on countless chat-shows doing that funny thing with his mouth. Yet, as Blair Sullivan in Just Cause, Ed Harris was the most convincing psycho-killer in recent memory and no one mentions it. This isn't simply because Just Cause is not a great movie, but because Harris was too disturbed, too turbulent, too real. Yet his incredible ability paid off in the end. Since Just Cause he's been Oscar-nominated four times.
Edward Allen Harris was born on November 28th, 1950, into a family of devout Presbyterians in Tenafly, near the Hudson River in Englewood, New Jersey. He describes the place as very middle-class, "a sort of idyllic Fifties thing, four miles from the George Washington Bridge". His father, Robert, was a singer in Fred Waring's chorus. Waring had been a popular dance-band leader in the Twenties and later recorded with the likes of Bing Crosby but, by the time of Ed's birth, he'd moved on from radio to TV, to even greater success. Robert would appear many times, notably on the Perry Como and Carol Burnett Shows.
Ed would grow up in Tenafly, along with elder brother Robert and younger brother Spencer, cared for by mother Margaret. Attending Tenafly High School, Ed did not participate in school drama projects, unlike many of his film-star peers. Quite the opposite, in fact. For all his famed sensitivity onscreen, at school Ed was a major jock. He'd hang around Tenafly with the other kids, with his collar up and his hair (he had hair then) combed into a quiffy pompadour (this was pre-Beatles), but what he loved most was sport. And, God was he good at it. Ed was a mere 5' 9", and not particularly fast, yet he starred in two disciplines, playing catcher in the baseball side and fullback at football.
In his senior year, Ed led the football team to the league championship, and won a sports scholarship to Columbia University. But here it began to go wrong - or very right, depending on how you look at it. As with many kids who spend their early years on the straight and narrow, college opened Ed up to a new world of possibilities. "It was just overwhelming to me, the amount of people and the noise". There was the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), there was marijuana. "You start experimenting," Ed later explained "You start thinking about things a little differently and you realise you've got to do something different with your life. I stopped playing ball".
So, in 1971, after his sophomore year, Ed dropped out and followed his parents back to Oklahoma (they'd both been born there and had recently returned), earning money with odd jobs like modelling tuxedos at the Oklahoma State Fair. Having become interested in attending the theatre, he soon began to join in and spent a year in Oklahoma University's drama programme, before dropping out to perform with local theatre groups. "At first it was about attention", he'd later say "people applauding. But as I got into it, I saw acting as a way of looking at life". Opened up by college, the counter culture and, maybe, drugs, Ed started listening to different music, reading different books, trying to appreciate art. Suddenly, those years spent perfecting his sporting abilities seemed wasted (though they certainly helped make him the extraordinarily deft physical actor he is today) and, now wishing to be an aesthete, he had to catch up.
As he gained confidence onstage, so he gained it off-stage. He'd always been terrifically shy with those he didn't know. He'd found conversation with a stranger absolutely excruciating. That began to change. He graduated through bit-parts to the role of King Arthur in Camelot, for which he received his first standing ovation. Now he knew where his future lay and, in 1973, he took off for Los Angeles, enrolling at the California Institute of Arts and, in 1975, graduating with a BA in Fine Arts.