Ed Harris Charts 'The Way Back' And The Path Ahead Ed Harris has played both valiant good guys and complicated bad guys -- from the calm leader in Apollo 13 to the unhinged artist in Pollock. In his latest film, The Way Back, he plays Mr. Smith, an American engineer who escapes from a Soviet gulag during World War II.
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Ed Harris Charts 'The Way Back' And The Path Ahead

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Ed Harris Charts 'The Way Back' And The Path Ahead

Ed Harris Charts 'The Way Back' And The Path Ahead

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Over more than 30 years, Ed Harris has played a lot of villains and good guys. You may remember the indomitable team leader in "Apollo 13" or the unhinged artist in "Pollock."

In his latest picture, "The Way Back," he inhabits a character called Mr. Smith, an American engineer swept up by Joseph Stalin's secret police near the start of the Second World War and sent to a work camp in remote Siberia, one of the dreaded gulags. In the camp's mine, a fellow prisoner tells Mr. Smith that another man knows a way to get out.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Way Back")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) He has a plan.

Mr. ED HARRIS (Actor): (As Mr. Smith) Who has a plan?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) His name is Khabarov.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Mr. Smith) (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) You know him?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Mr. Smith) He has no intention of escaping. He's a liar. He's been here for years, seeks out new arrivals - me when I first came here. He just likes to talk about escape. I've known others like him.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Why should I believe you?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Mr. Smith) Nothing is for nothing in the camps for you. He gets your energy, your spirit. You feed his dream of escape.

CONAN: Eventually, a small group does make it out of the camp with one grim option: a long, desperate walk south through frozen forests, trackless deserts and finally over the Himalaya Mountains to India - 4,000 miles in all.

Ed Harris grew up in New Jersey. Where did he find a character so far outside his own experience? We want to hear from actors today. How do you find that character whose experiences or emotions are so different from your own? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Baby Doc's return to Haiti and apparently a return to custody. But first, Ed Harris joins us from our bureau in New York. His new picture, "The Way Back," opens on Friday. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. HARRIS: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And I read you were raised in Tenafly, a town I know well because I grew up right next door in Englewood, New Jersey. Bergen County is a long way from the Soviet gulag. How did you prepare for the role of Mr. Smith?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I got this script, you know, from Peter Weir, who is such a wonderful director, several months before we began filming. And I started doing my research, of course.

I was totally unaware of the thousands of Americans that had gone to Russia to work during the Great Depression, you know, and there was actually a great book published in 2008 called "The Forsaken" that I spent a lot of time with, about this very subject.

But, you know, I did a lot of physical work. I started dropping some weight and just started getting ready for the adventure.

CONAN: Dropping some weight, you looked pretty skeletal by the time this movie's over.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, you know, I figured, first of all, these guys are in this gulag. They're surviving on maybe a piece of bread and some watery soup every day and they're working 12 hours a day, at least. There's not a lot of nutrition going on there.

And then, of course, during the course of this walk, which is months and months and months, they're barely surviving. So I figured it would probably make sense to drop a few pounds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, it gives you something to do, too.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

CONAN: As you prepare for the part, though, the emotions of somebody who finds himself in this situation, where did you go to find that?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I think the one thing I tried to do was really find a place within myself that was a very private, very centered, very calm place, which I would imagine anyone in that situation, whether it be a concentration camp or a gulag, where you're really, your humanity is thrust back into yourself - in other words, you can't depend on anyone other than yourself to survive - and it's really finding a place where you want to live and where, day by day, minute by minute, step by step, you survive.

CONAN: That self-contained element of Mr. Smith's character - there's a scene early in the picture, when they say, he does something, and they say: What's your name? And you say Smith. And they say: What's your first name? And there's a pause, and you say: Mister.

Mr. HARRIS: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: Well, there you go, and his - I think at that point, his humanity has been totally stripped from him, and it's - you don't need to know anything about me other than, yeah, I'm here, Mr. Smith, that's who I am.

CONAN: Yet a man, also willing to take terrible chances for his fellow prisoners.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, he knows, you know, he knows if he stays in this camp, particularly in the mines, he's not going to survive. And when he meets the Jim Sturgess character, who has an idea of escaping, he says, you know, I'll go with you and because he knows he also can't do it by himself.

And yeah, you know, the group of them kind of band together. They have to. And they go on this perilous journey, and some of them make it, and some of them don't.

In his heart - you know, the young woman joins them, in the guise of Saoirse Ronan - and she, what little is left of his humanity, she really kind of touches, and he begins to experience actually caring again.

CONAN: And that is an interesting process. But these prisoners who escape tell each other nothing about each other's lives, about their own lives, until, indeed, this girl shows up and tells them, each of the prisoners, willing to tell her something - but not the other prisoners.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, well, you know, that's a construct of the script that Peter put together, and it kind of makes sense to me in a way, in the sense that, you know, it's really not about the past, the future, hopes or dreams; it's really about putting one foot in front of the other, and no emotion needs to get in the way of that, no personal investment in each other. It's really survival. It's really that.

But she kind of reminds everybody that, yeah, you're human, and she's a young lady, and she's kind of got a certain energy, and everyone opens up to her, yeah.

CONAN: And, well, I'm not going to give away the whole movie, but it's - it is based on a book from 1956 called "The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom," that purported to be the story of the author's escape from the gulag, very popular, and I think sold half a million copies, eventually translated into over 30 languages, recently, though, revealed as, well, as fiction.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, it was - Peter, you know, did some research, obviously, and it wasn't too long before we started filming that there was some documentation that came forth that kind of proved that Slavomir could not have done this walk at the time he said he did. He was a member of the Polish cavalry, and he was elsewhere at that time.

However, there are a couple - there was an Indian government person of some sort, I'm not sure, who has testified, or it is documented that there were two men who came over the - three men who came over the Himalayas and had said they had come from Northern Siberia and had done this walk.

So Peter felt that was verification enough in terms of telling the story. And whether or not it was true, it's a wonderful story of survival and humanity and forgiveness.

CONAN: As you were filming - I gather in at least, part of the preparation for this, you were sent out to do some camping.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, not really. I mean, we weren't really - we never spent overnight anywhere. I don't know where you heard that.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. HARRIS: We didn't do any camping. We milked some goats and peeled some bark and, you know, did some physical work, and I had done a bunch of that stuff before I got there, but...

And there was also a wonderful guy named Cyril(ph), a Frenchman who had actually done this walk, not consecutively, but he had actually traversed all this terrain and talked about the effects of dehydration and malnutrition and some of the hallucinations he had had, and he suffered from hypothermia and that kind of thing. So he was really helpful, as well.

CONAN: We're talking with Ed Harris. His most recent film is "The Way Back," and we're asking how actors find characters who are so far out of their experience. And our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Jeff's(ph) on the line calling from Kansas City.

JEFF (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Jeff.

JEFF: Hey, Ed, I've got to tell you, man, what little it means to have a 23-year-old actor out of Missouri telling you this, I've got to say I really love your work, man.

Mr. HARRIS: Thank you, Jeff.

JEFF: Now, I wanted to go ahead and comment a bit about this idea of playing characters so far away from yourself. One thing that I've always found to be important, is that when you break any character down, and, I mean, most of the time, anyway, it's a human being.

And as people, across the span of history, we really haven't changed that much. It's the reason why Shakespeare and the, you know, Greek tragedies are still -resound so well today, is because people will always want food, shelter, happiness, success and love.

Your experience, and what has made you into a different person from, say, my next-door neighbor and the guy down the street, maybe, is the experience that's made me the man I am. That's going to decide how I go about getting what I want. But when you break it right down, people are people, and that's where I find a great connection with a character that I maybe have nothing else in common with: We both definitely want love. And that's a place - that's always a place to begin.

Mr. HARRIS: Very astute, Jeff.

JEFF: Thank you.

CONAN: Can you give us an example, Jeff, who...

JEFF: Sure, and this isn't exactly about love, but that's one thing that's great about - at least that I love about acting is that there's no one way to do it. Every character, every role, is a little bit different.

I recently played Tobias in a production of "Sweeney Todd," and I have no actual experience being beaten daily and malnourished and forced to work as a slave in, you know, Victorian London's child labor. I don't know anything about that personally.

Mr. HARRIS: You don't?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFF: No, no, labor laws just wouldn't let it happen. I was 10 years old, couldn't get a job in a sweatshop to save my life. It was very sad.

But one thing that I began to find with Tobias, was a physical way in. You know, you can experiment with all sorts of different things, finding a walk that makes sense for this character, maybe - with Tobias specifically, I found myself, after experimenting with a few different things, that his main, you know, need in life is to eat.

He doesn't know, every day, where his food is going to come from or how much of it he's going to get. And so I found myself leading with my gut, that that was what sort of pushed me along, that's what was really pulling me.

I also ended up finding a very interesting sort of pigeon-toed, step-by-step process, where, you know, my toes were angled inward a lot as I walked, and that was something I just really picked up from my brother's girlfriend, honestly. I just noticed the way she moved, and it just struck me in an interesting way, and I started playing with in rehearsals, and that became the Toby walk. That became my key into that character, if that makes sense.

CONAN: Well, Jeff, I can guarantee you that Tobias ate better than a lot of the people in this picture. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFF: I look forward to seeing it. It sounds fantastic.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.

JEFF: Thank you, Neal, and thank you, Ed.

Mr. HARRIS: Good luck to you, Jeff.

CONAN: Our guest is Ed Harris. We'd like to hear from the actors in our audience. How do you find that character so far outside your own experience? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Actor and director Ed Harris has played scarred gangsters, Wild West marshals, even the brutish and ferocious artist Jackson Pollock.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pollock")

Ms. MARCIA GAY HARDEN (Actor): (as Lee Krasner) The article is about the direction of modern art, Jackson. It's not just about you.

Mr. HARRIS: (as Jackson Pollock) I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to him.

Ms. HARDEN: (as Lee Krasner) Well, if you...

Mr. HARRIS: (as Jackson Pollock) I'm not talking to you. Shut up. Didn't review 52 and 54(ph), the show was forced and pumped. Is that right?

Mr. JEFFREY TAMBOR (Actor): (as Clem Greenberg) I saw it. Yes.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Pollock) Have I lost my stuff, Clem?

CONAN: Ed Harris, nominated for an Oscar for that part. His latest movie is called "The Way Back," and we're taking your calls. Actors, when you're called upon to play a part that falls way outside your own experience, tell us how you get there. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ed Harris, Jackson Pollock, a completely different character. How did you find him?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I had been working on that Pollock film for a good decade, just about, and, you know, started painting and obviously researching that period of time and talking to people that he knew.

And my initial, kind of the genesis of wanting to portray Pollock was really more about him as a human being, as a person, as opposed to his art, which I obviously came to appreciate hugely. But it was really his struggles as a social being that kind of interested me.

CONAN: Did you try to find his, you know, the way he spoke? There must be tape of him.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, there are some tapes, a couple of radio interviews he did that were very helpful. And there was a great, you know, there was a Namuth film, where it shows him painting when he's outside of his house in Springs. And so you can certainly get a feeling for his - the way he moved around the canvas and that kind of thing.

And photographs are very helpful just in terms of posture and the way someone holds themselves, that kind of thing. So all of those things come into play, for sure.

CONAN: Ten years working on a part.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, yeah. I mean, most of that - I mean, it was off and on. I was doing other things.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. HARRIS: You know, I was working on that script all that time and getting to a place where - trying to really get into a place where I thought it could make sense. I hadn't really thought of directing that picture before about a year before we began filming, when I realized I didn't want to hand it over to anybody else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: So I ended up directing it myself.

CONAN: A little Pollock in yourself at that point.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah.

CONAN: I wonder, at the - after it's all over, inevitably, the process of making a movie, you have to make decisions and compromises and go with this instead of that. Are you happy with it?

Mr. HARRIS: With "Pollock"?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, very much so. I think it's stood up over the 10 years since it was made, and I've - people seem to appreciate it. Yeah, I feel very good about "Pollock." I'm very proud of it.

CONAN: We got this tweet from our friend Micki Maynard at Changing Gears: Jackson Pollock did not come off as a likable guy, at least in the movie. What was your impression after playing him?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, he was - especially near the end of his life, he was a monster. I mean, he was really difficult to deal with. It wasn't about a - a film about a nice guy. It was a film about a guy who pushed through all of his demons to create some great art, revolutionary.

And other than the fact that - which is a big fact - that Edith Metzger perished in this car crash when Pollock died, other than that - you know, which you can't excuse that. I mean, he really basically murdered somebody. But that's the one major regret, I guess, that he would have about himself. Other than that, he was fighting the way he - only way he knew how to create what he had to create.

CONAN: To get a part like that, you did, well, on and off for 10 years, work on this project, eventually directed it yourself. They don't come around that often.

Mr. HARRIS: What's that, parts like that?

CONAN: Parts like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: No, that's why I wanted to do it, and that's why I had to do it myself. I didn't think anybody else was going to. And likewise, with "Appaloosa." I mean, I read this story about these two guys, and I read the first few chapters of Robert Parker's novel, and I just fell in love with the relationship of these two men and their friendship and their kind of respect and trust in each other. And I felt - I just got tickled. I just wanted to make a film about it.

CONAN: Ed Harris, if you don't recognize the voice, in the unlikely event, is our guest. His new film is "The Way Back." Let's get Andrew on the line, Andrew with us from Denver.

ANDREW (Caller): Hey, thanks for taking my call. Ed, I've always loved your work. And I just finished playing Louis Ironson in a production of "Angels in America" here. And for people who are not familiar, he is a character who leaves his gay lover when his lover contracts the AIDS virus.

And I am neither gay nor Jewish nor a word processor in New York City in the mid-'80s, and I found - my way into it was that the gentleman before me said -there was a little physical thing. I grew a moustache, like, you know, you see those pictures from kind of the leather bars in the mid-'80s, and some of the butcher guys had those moustaches to assert their machismo.

But I just did it over and over again and just continued to look to the text, and at the same time, made sure I didn't judge this guy. Because I found, for me as an actor, when I can fall into real trouble is when I start judging the person I am playing.

Because we don't judge ourselves when we make these really hard decisions in life, and you have to commit. I was rolling around on the floor with another guy, very close to nude, and just had to commit.

You know, we're actors. If we're afraid to look like idiots up there, then chances are good we're going to look like idiots if we're afraid about it. And that was - that's the way I've always found, is to really commit to it and to also not judge.

You know, like I imagine, Ed, if I may say so, you probably didn't judge Jackson Pollock when you played him, and you did a great job with that. And, of course, he was a hateful guy in many ways. But you found the truth of that man by, it looked to me, just committing and not judging.

And that has been my experience in the past. And I had many people come up to me after the show and say: I can't believe you're not gay, you know, or - and so it was very, very satisfying. And, of course, it led me to finding new ways to feel compassion for people whose actions I might otherwise judge less than compassionate themselves.

Mr. HARRIS: Sounds good.

CONAN: Ed Harris?

Mr. HARRIS: I mean, I think one of the things, as actors, that gets in the way of a lot of actors is their own self-image and how they see themselves and not wanting to betray that in some way, as opposed to opening up and saying hey, I'm whoever I need to be.

ANDREW: Yeah, yeah. One of my favorite things, actually, to struggle with as an actor - because I think we all have a certain amount of vanity, you know, and I think a lot of us in certain ways have a lot - well, I can only speak for myself. But I know a lot of times, I have a lot invested in trying to look cool. And if I'm worrying about that on stage, I'm totally getting in my own way.

You know, I think if we're really going to give these characters the life that they deserve - especially with somebody like Jackson Pollock or what Tony Kushner put out there for us - if we're really going to give them the credit and the time that they deserve, we have to put all of our own crap aside and just give as much truth to the role as we can.

CONAN: Well, I'm certainly glad that kind of vanity does not appear in radio whatsoever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Andrew, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

ANDREW: Of course, of course.

CONAN: Do you sometimes see other people, or maybe even yourself sometimes, posing, either onstage or in the movies, Ed?

Mr. HARRIS: I don't find myself posing. I find myself defending on occasion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: What do you mean by that?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I mean, you know, not so much these days, but, you know, a number of years ago, whenever you walk into some tough bar somewhere, you're not going to - you know, you kind of, you know, you puff yourself up a little bit and say don't screw with me because if you do, you'll be in trouble.

So you just put that energy out there, and that's a bit of a posturing thing, you know. But I haven't been frequenting that many tough bars lately. So I'm not too concerned about it.

CONAN: Well, you...

Mr. HARRIS: But it's just the whole image of how you think - how you see yourself, you know, how you present yourself to the world. And - which is fine if you recognize what it is that - how you do that, so that you can rid yourself of that portraying someone who's not that, you know. You have to be kind of honest with yourself, or you're going to be a liar.

CONAN: After time, does it get easier? Do have to - do you not have to think about it so much?

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah, I think over time, you start shedding some stuff that you've been carrying around for a while, hopefully, you know. I mean, it's not that you become a neutral being, but you understand where your behavior comes from or what you're trying to affect, you know, and maybe you decide you don't need to do a lot of that. You know, you can just kind of be who you are and take it moment to moment and see where it leads you.

CONAN: Do you consciously think of how can I make this smaller?

Mr. HARRIS: Smaller?

CONAN: Yeah, to not overplay it?

Mr. HARRIS: No, I don't think - that's never really been a concern of mine. I just, you know, I'm not sure what the question is, but I never feel like I'm over the top, you know...

CONAN: No, no, I wasn't suggesting that. I was just, in "The Way Back," it would have been easy to be more melodramatic. These are very...

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I've got to say, from - you know, in terms of Peter Weir's approach to this and how he dealt with all of us as actors and his own vision of this piece was - it was so non-sentimental. Anything that even started approaching that he would, you know, deny or not want - not that there aren't hopefully some moving things in the picture, but it was never - tried to - he never wanted to milk it, you know.


Mr. HARRIS: It was really very sparing, very barebones kind of look at things, if that makes any sense.

CONAN: Oh, no, it does. It makes perfect sense after you've seen the film, though I really thought he could have gotten that big product placement deal with ChapStick in that film.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: Yeah. Maybe some sun block.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Veronica: I'm not an actor. Took one class in college and got C and gave up. But I'm fascinated by how actors move us in the audience with their craft and skill. My burning question is: Do you feel the emotions you portray in a scene? And if so, one wonders why one might subject him or herself to painful scenes.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, you know, I think there's - obviously, there are various approaches to acting. I think that, you know, there's that famous thing that Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman after he'd been up all night during "Marathon Man," because he had to play someone who'd been forced to stay up and tortured, and said, you know, my dear boy, you know, have you ever heard of acting?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. HARRIS: So - but in terms of emotional things, I - personally, I enjoy that, allowing myself to feel what the character would be feeling. I mean, it's my own emotion that I'm dealing with. It's not displaced. I'm not thinking about some other memory. I'm not pretending something, somebody else that's creating a reality of the situation. As an actor, we're - the emotions of the character are yours, and that they're very real and that you do feel them, whether it's sadness or anger or grief or embarrassment or whatever it might be, you know, that just, to me, is fun. I just enjoy working that way. And not that you can't act those things and - but there's, you know, there's nothing less emotional or less touching than someone going...

(Soundbite of crying)

Mr. HARRIS: You know, it's just pretending. They're upset about something, you know. I mean, it's - I just see - I just personally see through that stuff. And it - I don't - I'd rather - come on, suffer a little bit, will you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Ed Harris is our guest, nominated four times for the Oscar. And his new picture is called "The Way Back." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

Let's go next to Raymond, Raymond with us from Wadesboro in North Carolina.

RAYMOND (Caller): Hello.


RAYMOND: How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

RAYMOND: Very good. I was a lead actor in an outdoor drama for several years. I played a drunken Irish ghost.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAYMOND: And it was a historical drama. And what I did was I immersed myself in the history, the region, the culture, the kind of things that made people do what they do. And I got to the point where I was able to see myself as the character, just, you know, believe that I was the character there for a time. And even though I wasn't in character, I would often be daydreaming about being the character. So it just sort of - it took on something of a life of its own.

Mr. HARRIS: Did you enjoy that process?

RAYMOND: I really did. I'm something of an introvert, anyway, so I have the ability to feel a lot of things rather intensely. But by being able to do that allowed me to explore portraying those emotions for others in a, really, nonthreatening way.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, OK.

RAYMOND: And I find I used this sort of thing in my classroom all the time.

CONAN: In your - are you a teacher?

RAYMOND: Yes, I teach mathematics.

CONAN: And you use the acting in your classroom?

RAYMOND: Oh, yeah. You'd be surprise. It's much better to make the students laugh than cry.

CONAN: I suspect you're right about that. Math made me cry a lot, more often than it made me laugh, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAYMOND: Oh, but if you have a teacher that can be silly and still get the point across, you know, portray different things, you know, grab your attention with - you know, in different ways, then it's all worth it. It makes it much better.

CONAN: If you say so, Raymond.

RAYMOND: You should be in my classroom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Not a chance. Thank you very much, though, for the phone call. We appreciate it.

A tweet from crowlofter(ph) said: Ed Harris, you've been nominated four times for best actor - I think best supporting actor - but never won. Do you ever begin to select films based on that?

Mr. HARRIS: Certainly not. I try to find interesting characters to play and people that I want to work with, you know, and that's pretty much it. I mean, the whole Oscar deal is such a crapshoot and has a lot to do with money and marketing and that kind of thing. So you can't really base your - my decisions on that.

CONAN: You had worked with Peter Weir before on "The Truman Show." How was this experience different?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, "The Truman Show," you know, I came in kind of late, and I just really worked for about 10 days with Peter on that. But I loved working with him, because he's so thorough and he's so focused and so attentive and treats everyone with respect and a wonderful, wonderful filmmaker. And I had hoped to work with him again. So when I found out that this was going to happen and that he wanted me to play Mr. Smith, I was very excited.

And the difference was really that I was with him for four months and that we worked much more intimately together over a longer period of time. We were in a, you know, in extreme situations physically, in terms of the cold and heat and that kind of thing. And we just - I don't know. It was just really about more time in a different kind of film.

"The Truman Show" was very controlled. It was in a, you know, kind of a huge television studio area. And this was - we were outside, and there was a lot of different details to pay attention to and a lot of different aspects of this journey that these people were taking. And it was a real group effort on a day-to-day level, because it was not an easy shoot. But it was a wonderful group of people that really worked together and were very committed to doing this. So it was pretty exciting.

CONAN: Ed Harris, good luck with the film. We appreciate your time today.

Mr. HARRIS: Thanks a lot, Neal. It was nice being on the show.

CONAN: Ed Harris' new film is "The Way Back," the story of a group of men who escaped from a Soviet gulag during the Second World War and then walked to freedom, 4,000 miles across forests and deserts and mountains. It opens in theaters this Friday. He joined us today from our bureau in New York.

Coming up, we're talking about the return to Haiti of "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who's been in exile the past 25 years. What he has done in the past, and what may happen to him and to Haiti in the future.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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