I recently got the opportunity to talk to Barbara Eve Harris about her role in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. Here, Barbara talks about her time on-set and how she got into acting in the first place…
My pleasure, Matt; and thanks for reaching out. Somehow I’ve always felt a kind of tie with the UK – (past life deal?) but have never visited. So, I’m delighted to connect this way, especially to discuss ‘Spider-Man’. Great movie!
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
How’s this: young man, bitten by techno-mutant spider, acquires super powers good for kicking criminal butt and impressing girlfriend while driven to find his uncle’s killer. I’d summarize it as a self discovery tale – where life traumas metamorphose into one’s greatest strengths.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play Miss Ritter, Spidey’s English teacher and the final character you meet. In mid lecture as I hit on the big literary question, “Who am I?”, he strolls in, late as usual, but as if on cue – that very question being his current challenge. I scold him half-heartedly and he humours me, which takes us to the end. Interestingly, an alternate ending had my lecture continuing after he left, but becoming a voice in his head – asking ultimately “Who am I?” Then boom! To black. Either version worked for me – not that they asked me…
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Normally, my reps will receive either an audition request or a direct offer. Then we assess whether to proceed. This instance – such a big movie that would certainly be well produced – was a no-brainer! When it came through, I had already committed to another film, shooting concurrently, but scheduling magic allowed me to do both. Coincidentally, that other film, ‘People Like Us’ - (Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer), was written and directed GORGEOUSLY by Alex Kurtzman… who’s writing the ‘Spider-Man’ sequel! How random… in a “worlds collide” sort of way.
How would you say this film is different and unique to the original trilogy?
Aside from the obvious 3-D difference, this version is edgier, cooler, and dare I say, sexier. I’m referring to qualities of the production itself – there’s a sexiness about it. I mean, think of some of the ideal traits in a lover: sensitivity, dynamism, presence, intelligence… um… impressive equipment used with consummate skill… need I go on? Seriously, I could see all that in elements like: the story structure with its rises and falls, tensions and releases, balance between the intense and the humorous; the editing style, assertively dictating the pace while still considering the viewer, who doesn’t end up feeling taken for granted; the special effects and photography offering the wow factor as well as the intimacy; etc. Very satisfying.
The film stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan and Campbell Scott – with Marc Webb onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
Marc Webb – (can you believe the name?!) was terrific – very easy-going, and he obviously cares about actors and crew. He gets what he needs but checks to make sure make sure you’re happy too… which echoes back to the ideal lover analogy, yes? Really, Marc’s attitude was largely responsible for the wonderful atmosphere and great energy on set. Everybody felt respected and appreciated, and it paid off.
Casting was brilliant – no, not referring to myself. Having seen Andrew Garfield’s previous work, I thought “genius call”! A tremendous talent who, clearly, approached this like a serious, full on actor – regardless of the fantastical nature of the character, he was the perfect choice. I’d say his work was on a par with many Oscar nominated performances. Yeah, I’m a fan. I worked with Garfield and Emma Stone – both nothing but delightful. Their demeanour with me was extremely cordial, humble, and respectful. It’s fun looking back at how well they seemed to get along and the great chemistry they developed. Taking it to be simply two professionals working at creating the effect needed for the camera, I didn’t realize I was witnessing the budding of a genuine romance. I believe they’re still together. Beautiful thing!
Let’s talk a bit about you Barbara. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
It seems fate, or maybe some unconscious guidance got me here. I had studied theatre in High School and University, enjoyed it, but didn’t consider it a serious career option. Set on Law School, offers of admission and scholarship in hand, my epiphany came just in time. I headed to New York instead, took the plunge, and so it began.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
DON’T DO IT!!! Kidding… sort of. Okay. First ask yourself: Do I absolutely have to do this? Do I have any other career choices I could be happy with? After trying for years and not succeeding, can I see myself saying “no regrets”? If it’s “no”, “yes”, and “no” respectively, stop. Get out NOW! Too much potential for disappointment, frustration, unfairness, temptation to compromise yourself, the list goes on. Too much to endure if you have a choice about it. Plus, the odds are ridiculous. Still in? Then know that luck takes you only so far without your backing it up. Training, commitment, focus, care for your instrument – (body/mind/spirit) will form a solid basis for a career. The luck element kicks in… whenever… and only maybe. Realistically, it’s necessary too, but it needs that solid basis supporting it in order to be of meaningful benefit past the “happy dance” moment. Another thing, some dismiss the value of unions, but I’m here to say thank goodness for them! Starting out, non-union work is useful for getting your feet wet and acquiring footage for your demo reel, an essential tool. But I’m so grateful for the protections and other benefits I receive as a member of ACTRA, UBCP, and SAG/AFTRA.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV series – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with so far and why?
So many highlights! Still, I readily cite my experience with William Fichtner – (my ‘Prison Break’ boss, Alex Mahone), as one of my most enjoyable and rewarding collaborations. I felt privileged to work with him in those final three seasons. His creativity, generosity, skill, and smarts allowed me a sense of complete freedom and trust – which is everything for an actor… and, yes, a lover too. Not that he and I… no, no, no… just riffing on the recurring analogy. I’d also add Louis Gossett Jr. as a highlight. We worked together on two projects in the past, and are friends now, but my first time on set with him was remarkable in that I became inconveniently mesmerized – in the middle of the scene! I have never been one to be star struck, and though I was pleased to meet and chat with him before filming, I didn’t feel at risk of derailing or anything. On “action”, though, I was startled to see this fire ignite inside him. I thought “Wow, that’s so awesome! But, um, I’m in the middle of filming here so let me try to focus and stay in the scene”. Never been fazed like that before or since — even when working with Lou subsequently (that initial heads-up helped), but that “flame” burning in his eyes remains an indelible, inspiring memory.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
Well, I bought one just recently, and only at the behest of a friend who “needed” me to get with the program. It has everything from classical, to musicals, to jazz, to rock. Call me a Luddite but, honestly, the only action it gets is when I lovingly remove the dust that it’s been gathering. When I’m just out, I prefer being present to my surroundings. I find I-Pods hinder that, especially for human interaction. At home I play CD’s – sometimes in my car too. Mainly my car radio’s tuned to classic rock because it juices my driving. Can I just give a special shout out here for Lynyrd Skynyrd to thank them for “Free Bird”!
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
First let me say my dinner parties are about fun and conviviality, not heavy discussions (bad for the digestion). So, Barack Obama: on top of everything else, he seems like a very cool guy whom I expect I’d enjoy. Next, Angelina Jolie: again, on top of all of the obvious, I think she has a magnificent soul. I’d love to share some thoughts and stories that I imagine would resonate with her – (can’t say how well those two would get along. Fingers crossed!) Third, the Dalai Lama: An extraordinarily enlightened human being, yes, but funny too. He’d have us laughing our asses off. VERY good for the digestion! Would I be taking liberties allowing plus ones? I’m a great admirer of Michelle and Brad also. Sounds like a party to me.
On your off-days, how do you like to kick back and relax?
I live in a high-rise and my favourite spot is a divan facing out the window. I can scan the sky – equally fascinating to me day or night. And it’s great for reading, meditating, which I do a lot… or just crashing.
What’s coming up for you in 2012/2013?
On the series, ‘Rizzoli & Isles’, I’m Camille Frost, mother of Barry, a young detective – (played by the way too hot Lee Thompson Young). It’s their third season but I’ve just wrapped my first episode so it’s still early days for me. Also, I look forward to continuing as Sheriff Sherry Liston – (‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’). This season will be my second, but the show is in its thirteenth and still going strong – number one in its time slot. I’ve discussed with the writers some ideas for my character, which they seemed quite excited about. So, hey, I’m excited too.
Thanks for the interview!