ED HARRIS Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Ed Harris is an impressive guy – in 1995 alone, he plumbed the depths of human depravity as Just Cause (1995)’s brutal serial killer, soared to the heights of heroism in Apollo 13 (1995), and reincarnated enigmatic conspirator E. Howard Hunt for Nixon (1995). His square-jawed, clear-eyed, rugged good looks are straight out of a Marlboro ad. He is intense, meticulous, and hard-working. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Ed Harris is that he has made a name for himself in Hollywood despite the fact that a) he almost never gets to play the lead; and b) he has lost most of his hair. Surely, that explains how fame eluded him for so long.


A two-sport star in high school (he was a catcher for the baseball team and fullback for the football team), Harris led his gridiron teammates to a league championship his senior year. His football prowess won him a scholarship to attend Columbia University. In 1971, after his sophomore year, Harris’s interest in football waned, and he dropped out to follow his parents westward to Oklahoma. He enrolled at Oklahoma University, where he developed an interest in theatre, first as a spectator and later as a participant. Harris honed his skills for a year in O.U.’s drama program, and then quit school to pursue acting. A string of small parts in local theatre led, finally, to a big part in local theatre: he played King Arthur in a production of “Camelot,” and won his first standing ovation. Convinced that he had discovered the path his life was meant to follow, Harris made the leap so many others had before him: he moved to Los Angeles. With the objective of beefing up his résumé and refining his abilities, Harris entered the California Institute of the Arts, which granted him a fine-arts degree in 1975. Over the course of the next several years he compiled an impressive list of stage credits – including roles in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Grapes of Wrath” – but as far as the I.R.S. was concerned, he was a house painter. His first sizable film role, as a killer, came in the Charles Bronson vehicle Borderline (1980), and he followed up by reprising his King Arthur – this time on a Harley – as the lead in a cult fave, Knightriders (1981). Neither film scored at the box office, and Harris returned to the stage for a year before snaring the role of astro-pioneer John Glenn (III) in 1983’s Right Stuff, The (1983). Though the film was only a modest success commercially, the critics raved over Harris’s performance; he even made the cover of Newsweek, and Hollywood took a long, thoughtful look at the blue-eyed Jersey boy. Unfortunately, the middling financial returns for Right Stuff, The (1983) proved to be the high-water mark among his projects, which typically were well-reviewed but rarely played to packed houses. “To be in a film that’s in theatres for more than two weeks would be a milestone,” he ruefully observed at one point. His most visible roles came in supporting parts in films whose commercial successes were inevitably credited to other actors (Places in the Heart (1984), Swing Shift (1984)), and the movies in which he took on starring roles were commercial duds (Code Name: Emerald (1985), Sweet Dreams (1985)). The notable exception came in 1989, when Harris received top billing in director James Cameron’s underwater extraterrestrial flick Abyss, The (1989). A late-summer hit, the film marked a special-effects revolution (in it, Cameron introduced the famous morphing effects he later used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)), and Harris delivered a characteristically complex performance. But even this career jump-start had its lingering disappointments: its enormous budget made Abyss, The (1989) a financial loser in the final tally. Since Abyss, The (1989), Harris has been most successful taking on smaller roles in films supported by the drawing power of other actors. He smoldered with righteous indignation in 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), cast with Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, and Jack Lemmon, and the next year was chilling as a double-dealing F.B.I. agent in the Tom Cruise vehicle Firm, The (1993). In 1995, Harris nailed the role of Mission Control director Gene Kranz in director Ron Howard’s astronaut homage Apollo 13 (1995), and was deservedly Oscar-nominated for his performance. The buzz from Apollo 13 (1995) was so favorable that Harris was billed above the title with co-stars Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery in ads for the 1996 summer action-thriller Rock, The (1996). In 1997, Harris teamed up with Clint Eastwood, Scott Glenn, and Gene Hackman in the presidential scandal film Absolute Power (1997). The following year witnessed his Oscar-nominated turn as the megalomaniacal orchestrator of Jim Carrey’s televised existence in director Peter Weir’s brilliant drama Truman Show, The (1998), as well as a less demanding assignment as a divorced man caught in the middle of the tense interplay between his ex-wife and his much younger girlfriend in Stepmom (1998). Harris’ intense performance in 2000’s Pollock (2000), which he also directed, garnered him a much-deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination. Harris is married to actress Amy Madigan, whom he met in 1981, when both were appearing in a Los Angeles production of “Prairie Avenue.” They began a romance which survived a second collaboration, Places in the Heart (1984), in 1983, and which led to their marriage shortly thereafter. The happy couple has since worked together on four other occasions (Alamo Bay (1985), Riders of the Purple Sage (1996) (TV), the Ken Burns (I) documentary “Baseball” (1994) (mini), and Pollock (2000)), and in 1993 they co-produced a baby girl.