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Actor Ed Harris - Pollock

For ten years actor Ed Harris worked hard on bringing the life story of Jackson Pollock to the screen. Ultimately directing the film Pollock, he succeeded not only in translating his vision of Pollock to the screen, but also managed to be both nominated for an Academy Award and have his leading lady, Marcia Gay Harden, win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. We had a chance to talk to Ed Harris just as Pollock hit DVD.

What was it like sitting down almost ten years after you first started this project, after it had won an Academy Award, after it had come to completion, and then talk about it in a commentary?

It was kind of trippy, you know? It wasn't unlike making the movie. Basically you took a deep breath and just said, "Let's go." You know I'd never heard any of those before. I didn't have any kind of preconceived notion of what it was supposed to be so it was pretty much just a stream of consciousness just talking about stuff

On the Pollock DVD, there are several deleted scenes. Did being a director and putting this DVD together change your feelings or perceptions about deleted scenes?

I spent months and months and months in the editing room and anything that's not in the movie, doesn't belong in the movie. I feel very confident about that. To me it's just more of an interesting thing of look what didn't make it in. There are a lot of scenes that didn't make it in that I wouldn't put on the DVD because they really suck. There were a few that I thought actually worked as scenes but didn't fit in the movie. I thought we should put them on the disc because they might be of some interest to people.

How involved were you in determining what would be on the Pollock DVD?

Well, Marcia Gay's husband did the "Making Of" piece. He'd been working on that for quite awhile. He'd show it to me and I'd make comments about it. I thought it should be included on the DVD because it's got some good stuff in it. In terms of deleted scenes, I went back through a lot of the footage I had and decided on the ones that could work. Also I agreed to sit down and do the commentary. And you know it comes with the package. The guys at Sony were great about working with me to make sure we had a great DVD and I was consulted and involved at every step.

A number of DVD's include interviews from The Charlie Rose Show, what was the thinking of including that on Pollock?.

Charlie really takes his time with people. It's not like popping up on Jay Leno or something for five minutes. It a fairly in-depth interview. Charlie researches his things well. He asks good questions. He's a good listener and so that's probably why they show up on these things.

Did you have much exposure to DVD before the Pollock DVD?

I got a DVD player about six months ago. Not a portable one, you know one in my house here. I've watched a few films on it, but I haven't really had a lot of time to sit down and really check out all the special features of many of the movies I've seen.

Have you had a chance to see some of your other movies on DVD like The Rock, Criterion?

I've got the DVD of The Rock, but I don't really generally look at my films, you know? Other than the initial screening of them.

Must have been an interesting experience then to not only have to look at it, but to have to talk about Pollock when you were doing your commentary.

Yeah, it was kind of fun actually. It's kind of weird because it's like a one-time deal. I didn't do it twice or anything. I just sat and watched it one time and I'm sure if I sat and watched it again and did the same thing, I'd talk about different things. But I felt pretty comfortable doing it.

Do you think the next time you make a movie the experience of putting together the Pollock DVD would change the way your approach your film?

Next time out I'd like to get someone dedicated to doing a behind-the-scenes thing. Maybe a little bit more formal than what Marcia Gay's husband did, because he was really kind of doing it on his own. But I've got to tell you, as an actor, I hate that stuff. I hate watching actors rehearse or do a scene on a video camera when they're shooting on film and when the video camera is not even capturing the real performance. Whenever you see that, it's like people just look stupid. It takes the magic out of the filmmaking. That's why a film is what it is. It's not about a live shot of the crew and everybody standing around and watching two actors talk to each other in the midst of a field or a room somewhere with the cameras all around them. It's about what you see on the movie, so as an actor, whenever I'm on a set, I always say "Look, these people can be here, but they're not going to film me rehearsing or acting, period.

Pollock is such an intense character and you seem to embody him so deeply in each scene. How were you able to both concentrate and focus on Pollock and have the distance and perspective to direct?.

I don't know. I just did it. You know I had to do it, so I did it. It was difficult. It was all-consuming. It was non-stop. It was very exhilarating. It was also very demanding and exhausting, but I didn't want anyone else to direct the film. I had worked on it long and hard and felt very intimate with it. In terms of playing Pollock, I just had been living with the guy and the thought of it for so long that I would just do it. We'd rehearse and stuff, but it was weird. Because yeah, I'd shift. I'd act and then I'd go back behind a camera and check what we did. But I was able to kind of separate my mind a bit so when I was playing Pollock, I was pretty much just in there. Sometimes I'd carry it a little bit over into the directing aspect of things. I might lose my temper a little bit or get a little abrasive or something. Because I was in character somewhat, but most people understood that was part of the deal, you know?

Yeah, I've seen a lot of your work and I've never seen you embody a character the way you embody Pollock. It was staggering. A lot of times you watch a movie, especially with an actor who has such an impressive collection of work, and there's part of your brain that sees the character, but there's a little part that goes "Oh look, there's Ed Harris." But I think in Pollock, the line between Ed Harris and Jackson Pollock was very blurry.

Well that's the job. Thank you.

So how is it being in such an intense environment and then having to direct your wife?

You'd have to probably have to talk to Amy about that. It was a little bit difficult because I was living in this world day in and day out and Amy would come in and do her thing on occasion, but she wasn't there really experiencing this whole effort like I was. So sometimes she'd be a little surprised at how things were going, but we got on fine. You know we've been together for awhile now and we're both pretty forgiving individuals and understand each other. She was probably more curious than she was anything else.

I know that Pollock is often described as an independent film and made on a tight budget, but how many days of shooting did you have?

Well we shot forty days and then we broke for six weeks and then we shot ten more days. A total of fifty days.

Was the break when you came back and you had a beard?

Yeah, we broke for six weeks so I could gain some weight.

Yeah. How much did you have to gain to play the older Pollock?

I didn't HAVE to gain anything, but I wanted to. I gained as much as I could. I gained like thirty pounds.

Wow.

Well, it was very important to me that first of all that it be real and not be fake stuffing or whatever, and it was so representative of where he was, where he got to in his life and how he thought about himself. It was kind of a psychological demise in some sense, so it was very important to me to do that.

It seemed from the movie that there was a really important crossroads in Pollock's life where he had asked his wife for a kid and she refuses, and it seems to be around the same time that he finds his muse to go in his direction. Do you think if Pollock had had a kid, things would have turned out differently?

Oh, who knows. I don't know exactly because I don't know Pollock. I didn't know him. Nobody really knows much about that aspect of things that were spoken in that conversation obviously and they didn't have children. He didn't want and never did have kids. I think for a guy like Pollock who, you know, was so self-obsessed, I think that a child if anything would have been one thing that could possibly have put his attention elsewhere, not on himself.

And I can't see where that would have been harmful, but then again, who knows? I don't know. But in my romantic idea of him, it would have made a difference in his life, but I don't know if it would have.

Were you able to spend any time with Ruth Kligman, the woman who survived the crash?

Ruth still lives in New York. I spent some time with her, you know, but she wanted money. We didn't have any, so she only said so much. But I did meet with her a couple of times.

One of the things I noticed a lot in the film was your use of silence. Through great periods of the film there are very few words of dialogue.

Yeah.

A lot is communicated through looks and people just kind of interacting with each other. How did that come about and how was that when you were shooting it?

I love that stuff myself. Films are a digital medium and to get to know a character,, if they're not talking, you watch them. If they're talking, you listen to them. And what they're saying. And if they're not, you pay attention or you close your eyes. Pollock was intensely non-verbal at times. It was part of who he was. If I could have made a 2-hour film about two hours in his life consecutive, I would have done that. I just didn't know how to do that because it was really about inhabiting the guy, but it felt important to me to have time be real time.

Right. Which is very rare in film.

To just let it be. That was very important to me. I think it gives the film a certain...not gravity, but it gives it gravity in the sense of presence. And that we're not trying to tell everything about this guy. We're trying to experience along with him about what it must have been like to be him on some level. It just was really important to me.

So, on screen, it seems like you do a tremendous amount of painting. Are most of the things that we see when you're painting, you?

Oh, everything. Yeah.

Wow. How much did your spending time in painting and being in the world of painting affect you in terms of painting with the film? I mean, how much did that affect you as a director? The medium of painting?

Well that's a good question, you know? I don't know how to answer that. I know that my main goal in painting over the years prior to making the film was to experience what it must be like to be a painter in one's life. You know? The need to do it, the way you think about it, dream about it, go down there and spend hours where you're doing nothing but concentrating on painting concentrated. It made me feel like it was really important to the film to see the man work because that's what he did. I don't know if it affected me visually necessarily.

I've always been aware of framing. I've been aware of the way things are balanced, so it probably enhanced that a bit. Spending time looking at work and especially his work, and seeing how even seemingly random it might be how truly intentional it all is.

Buy Pollock DVD

- Geoffrey Kleinman

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