Easily one of the most underappreciated actors currently working, Harris has shown an impressive range, fully capable of leaving a huge impact even in the smallest of roles - which have made up a fairly substantial portion of his career thus far. With powerful, emotional performances as well as comedic and transformative ones under his belt, there are few actors who can draw you in quite like him. Several people I know have been thrown off by his peculiar screen presence in films he's not meant to be likable in, but that's part of what makes him so great. He isn't the leading man who only takes on simple roles in pop movies, but rather a very dynamic character actor who may or may not become thoroughly unlikable, depending on the character he portrays. Several of the performances on this list are fairly small, but that doesn't keep them from being strong work.
So here they are, my 10 favorite performances by Jared Harris:
Definitely one of the smaller appearances on this list, only showing up in a small handful of scenes, but despite the sparsity of screen time he has and my preexisting knowledge of his appearance here, I was still very impressed by how well he transforms into Ulysses S. Grant. In a movie filled with historical impersonations, this one stands as one of the better ones.
9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
Standing your ground with actors of RDJ and Law's caliber is an impressive enough act, but one-upping them is something else entirely. In an ocean of Moriartys, Harris stands out as one of the very best I've ever seen (Vincent Price's Ratigan from Disney's The Great Mouse Detective would probably take that title), in spite of the movie's overall shortcomings. While most actors would have overdone this role (I'm looking at you, Andrew Scott), Harris adds an air of menace while adding a subdued charm. Effectively diabolical.
8. How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog
One of the more bizarre performances on this list, and certainly among the most entertaining. Only appearing in a small handful of scenes in the second half of the film, this role is a personality-mirroring, wacky impersonation of the film's lead character played by Kenneth Branagh. Prone to outbursts and general unpredictability, this brief appearance easily stands out as the best aspect of an otherwise forgettable film and offers a majority of its laughs.
7. B. Monkey
As a whole, I did not like this movie much at all. And while Asia Argento is given a majority of the material to work with and Harris is essentially handed the scraps, he still somehow manages to come out ahead. The romance scenes and moments of isolation seen in his role are what work the best here, and an incredibly subdued Harris is what makes them work. Without him, this movie would have no heart, and would be a complete waste of time. But being one of his few leading roles, it is still worth looking into.
6. The Quiet Ones
Another mediocre movie elevated by a strong performance by the subject of this post. This is a very slow-paced horror/thriller that gives several of its actors time to shine, and Harris does just that. A fairly mutifaceted role that could have easily been drug into the realm of campiness in the hands of a less capable performer, but thanks to his excellent range, is saved and given a much more satisfying treatment. Not a great movie by any means, but a great performance nonetheless.
Standing out in a movie like this is pretty much impossible, especially considering how insanely fantastic Dylan Baker was in it, but the fact that Harris was able to draw me in so much with this performance and fully convince me that he was this slimy Russian is something I have to see as impressive. A fairly small role, but his few scenes are fantastic and his accent - which most actors couldn't manage - is especially convincing. Keep in mind, Jared Harris is English. I'm guessing people didn't notice how great this performance was because they didn't realize he wasn't actually Russian. Incredibly underrated performance, and my inspiration for making this list.
4. I Shot Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was an interesting fellow. An awkward enigma that could easily be imitated, but is much more difficult to bring to life as an actual human character. Jared Leto has been cast to play him in an upcoming biopic, and I'll let you guess just how layered THAT will be...as it stands, I doubt anyone can top this personification. Though he isn't the main character here, I still feel he stole the show, giving a lot more than just a simple impersonation as could usually be expected. But Harris isn't a typical actor, so how could you expect anything but something great?
I'm usually pretty forgiving of horror movies, but I can say beyond any shadow of a doubt that this movie was pretty bad. It was an unnecessary remake of a classic horror movie that managed to do very little to even attempt any improvements on the original. But even with all this bouncing around in my head, the one thing that stuck with me most walking out of the theater was just how fantastic Harris was here. Bringing every drop of humor and charm capable of fitting into this movie, and managing to be every bit as fun and effectie as Zelda as the same basic character in the first one. This one legitimately barely missed out on my top 10 favorite male performances of 2014 (he landed about 14th on my shortlist), a feat made much more impressive by just how forgettable the film is as a whole.
2. Two Of Us
As another famous figure in the world of art, Harris here takes on the difficult role of embodying John Lennon. Opposite a weirdly-cast but ultimately effective Aidan Quinn as Paul McCartney, Harris manages to steal every scene, spitting venom one moment and becoming an incredibly tragic and sympathetic character the very next, all the while managing to maintain complete sincerity and authenticity in his performance. Handling a role like this is pretty difficult, and much like how well he dealt with Warhol, this one never feels like he's doing an impression of a famous figure. This is total immersion, and with some of the best material he's ever been given, he proves just how powerful of a presence he can be.
1. Mad Men
Yeah, this one was a fairly easy choice, and ultimately almost unfair to include on this list due to just how much material he had to work with here. But even if you take away every single episode he appears in apart from his performance in the second-to-last episode of the 5th season "Commissions And Fees", this would still be number 1 on my list. Emotionally devastating, frantic, desperate, and unforgettable, it was no surprise to me at all to find out just the other day that he was nominated for an Emmy for season 5 (this episode specifically). Behind only Don Draper himself, Lane Price was my favorite character on Mad Men, a show which features more interesting and we'll developed characters than almost any other show in the history of television. It's nothing you haven't heard before, but yes, this show is amazing. And Harris stands out here as well as pretty much anyone could.
So there you have it, my top 10 favorite Jared Harris performances. I haven't seen everything he's ever done, but of the things I have seen, these are the ones that stood out the most to me. Sadly, he isn't the kind of actor I can see winning too many awards anytime soon, which is only made more forgivable by the fact that several of my other favorite actors never really earned much as far as universal praise. An underrated actor who always brings something special to every role, and I can only hope he gains a little more noteriety sometime in the future. Perhaps The Crown will do this for him? We shall see.