ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we're collecting stories of triumph, big and small, moments when people make great leaps forward in their careers. We call it My Big Break.

Actor Ed Harris has taken on some memorable roles, everything from astronaut John Glenn to painter Jackson Pollock. But he feels his most memorable performance came back in 1973.

ED HARRIS: I had studied acting for just a year at Oklahoma University. I'd been pretty much a jock up to that point, played football and baseball, and realized that wasn't going anywhere. The teacher that I had, who was a wonderful teacher, he was directing a production of "Camelot" in Oklahoma City the following year and asked me to audition.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARRIS: I was working as a night watchman in an apartment complex during that time. And we did the audition. I really had not done very much theater. I mean, I've done a few plays at college. And then I got a call from him that he wanted me to play King Arthur. And I was very excited. It was at JewelBox Theatre, 220 seats.

I had put a yardstick up on my back, and they tied it to me so my posture would be good during rehearsals. I remember the songs, you know, (singing) how to handle a woman. There's a way said a wise old man. A way known by every woman since the whole rigmarole began. And it, you know, goes on. Anyway...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARRIS: ...one night, we did the show, and I don't remember doing the play at all. Really, I mean, seriously, I did not remember doing the play. I was just in another zone. I was in it. I only remember coming off the stage and hearing this roar go up and went back after the curtain call, and 220 Oklahomans were on their feet cheering. And I had this feeling of complete ecstasy, probably the most high I've been ever in any way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARRIS: What it did was not only convince me that this was something to pursue, but ever since, you know, you try to get back there. I mean, it's almost like you spend the rest of your life trying to get back to that state where you're just present, doing it, no thought other than doing this character in this play or this film. I don't know if it'll ever happen again that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARRIS: The "Camelot" experience, obviously, is not a traditional kind of big breakthrough in terms of a career. But it was a big break for me personally as a human being who has decided he wants to act. It was an internal realization that you have no choice now, buddy. This is what you're going to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris. His new film, "The Face of Love," is in select theaters now. We want to hear about your big break. Send an email with your story to mybigbreak, all one word, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.