Over five seasons of "Mad Men," we've seen a number of minor characters bite the dust: Betty's dad Henry, Don's first wife Anna, Miss Blankenship. But none of those deaths hit us as hard as the passing of the firm's endearingly stuffy accountant Lane Pryce, whose financial troubles led him to take his own life near the end of last season; Jared Harris, who played Lane for three seasons, earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination this year for his work.
With Season 5 coming out on DVD this week, we got the chance to chat with Harris about the physical awkwardness of shooting Lane's death scene, his memories of the great Lane-vs.-Pete office fight, and whether we might ever see Lane again walking the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Hey, we saw Anna again, right?)
Our sincere condolences on the passing of Lane Pryce. He was a favorite character of ours.
Oh, thank you, yeah. Poor Lane.
When exactly did you find out that Lane was going to die?
After the read-through of episode 10 ["Christmas Waltz," where we saw Lane forging checks].
So kind of late in the season, then?
They don't reveal any plot lines to the actors. Normally, you find out when you read the script. Though [creator Matthew Weiner] gave me a bit of a heads-up.
At the same time, there was plenty of death foreshadowing throughout Season 5. Did you have an inkling that someone was going to die, even if it wasn't going to be you?
Not dying, I don't think. I think there was a feeling around base camp at the beginning of the season, based on some of the reports that had come out in the trade papers, that one of the season regulars was going to be thrown overboard. You know, more than that, though, actors are insecure and they're probably looking over their shoulder, you know? Everyone was wondering if it did happen, who it would be… and hoping it wouldn't be them, you know?
Were you surprised when you got the word? Because it came as a shock to viewers who didn't really know what was going on with Lane underneath the surface.
I mean, I wasn't surprised, but I was disappointed. I think Lane was in trouble from the very beginning of the season, in a sense that you could see that he had become isolated. He had no real relationship with Don in the sense that… who does, really? Because of knowing who he is. [Lane] has no respect for Roger Sterling, and he thought he'd made an ally out of Pete Campbell, but he hadn't. His biggest ally in the office was Joan, and she wasn't around. So I think from that sense, he had become politically isolated, and there's always that sense of office politics whenever you work in an environment like that.
And then, of course, in terms of what he did, it's one of those jobs that's not very sexy. People don't really respect their accountant. At the end of the tax year, they figure out what you owe. You don't know quite how they did it. You're grateful that they've done it, but you don't want to know any more about it than that, you know? He hasn't got a sexy job, and of course, in the end, people didn't put value in it. For me, when he says to Joan after the fight with Pete Campbell that she could do the job, I knew that Lane was definitely in trouble at that point.
It seems like Lane was making an effort to reinvent himself as this successful American businessman but he never quite got there.
Yeah, that's what appealed to him about America: the idea that you can reinvent yourself. But he's not American; he's English. The thing that stymied him is his Englishness. And it stopped him from being able to shed the past and move forward as though it hadn't existed, in the way that Don did. He made an attempt in Season 4, the episode with the Playboy bunny ["Hands and Knees"], at living this sort of risqué, Don Draper-esque, Roger Sterling-esque life in the city. But as soon as he comes up against his first major obstacle, which is his father's walking stick, you know, he crumbles instantly and goes back to his old life.
So the specific scene where Lane's body was discovered hanging in his office: Was that difficult to shoot physically?
Well, it's uncomfortable more than difficult. You're trussed up in a harness. And to get the right sort of alignment of the rope to your neck, this harness has you sort of almost bent over, you know? Once you're strung up, gravity pulls you out and flattens you out a bit. But you know, it's a harness that's attached at the back of your neck and then there's a separate thing that goes around your neck so it looks like you're hanging from a rope. But I mean, there's someone hanging on the end of that, tugging on it, going, "Is this too tight?" And you're sort of there, going, "Ehhhhr, yeah." But you know, it's all part of the sort of the childish fun of acting, that sort of thing.
On behalf of "Mad Men" fans everywhere, thank you for beating up that grimy little pimp Pete Campbell. We appreciate it.
Oh, Vincent Kartheiser [who plays Pete] is such a fantastic actor; he's nothing like that character at all.
Yes, he's very engaging in person.
Yeah, he is. He's a lovely guy. And, you know, I think often what happens is when you play characters like that, I know from my own experience… you're playing characters that are unsympathetic. People don't put the same amount of imagination into the work that you've done, whereas when you play a character that is designed to create empathy for. You have to work harder when you play characters like that. But he does an amazing job with that character.
So tell us about shooting that scene. Was there actual fight choreography involved?
Yeah, of course, there was. You know, it was a clash of styles. It was sort of the old-school English, stand up straight with straight jabs and crosses, versus the American bob and weave. You know, Matt had an idea of the comic potential of having these two guys fight. Neither of them would win a fight against anybody else. I mean, Roger Sterling or Don Draper would knock them out with one hand tied behind their back. You know, it was sort of these two dorks fighting each other. In that sense, it was funny. And then, of course, you have this sort of clash of styles as well.
Watch the epic Lane-vs.-Pete fistfight in this clip from "Mad Men" Season 5:
We also want to give you a belated congratulations on your Emmy nomination.
Which episode did you end up submitting, your final one?
The last one, yeah ["Commissions and Fees"].
Is that a tough decision: to comb through your work and choose one episode that stands out?
I think it was pretty obvious. I mean, I think that would've been the reason why I was nominated is Matt decided to write the character off and give him a big sendoff. It was the impact of that decision, really, amongst the fans. I obviously had bigger episodes.
Is there any chance that Lane could reappear on the show: like, in a flashback or anything like that?
No. I mean, I can't see… they did flashbacks once, didn't they? When you saw how Don Draper got his start at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. But you know, the whole story is told through Don Draper's perspective, so I can't imagine a flashback that Don Draper would have that would include Lane in some way, you know what I mean? And I can't imagine anyone stepping out of the shower or anything like that.
It was all a dream?
Yeah, the old "Dallas" thing.
Season 5 of "Mad Men" is available on Blu-ray and DVD this week.