While Game of Thrones prepares its audience for an inevitably bleak ending, HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries will help to usher in the post-Thrones era. The TV event will shed light on one of the worst man-made disasters in history — the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion in the Ukraine region of the Soviet Union that occurred on April 26, 1986 — and the radioactive and political fallout that followed. Jared Harris (The Crown, Mad Men, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) plays a central figure who struggles to illuminate the truth as other chess pieces maneuver into place.
Chernobyl showrunner and writer Craig Mazin recently gushed to Uproxx about Harris’ remarkable performance as Soviet scientist Valery Legasov, and Harris was nice enough to speak with us as well. Even though this is an intense and horrifying series to watch, the Morbius (and former Mad Men) actor kept things as jolly as possible for us, all while praising his co-stars (Stellan Skarsgard, and Emily Watson). Harris also told us why the madness of HBO’s Chernobyl will provide a unique perspective for audiences that one won’t find in the history books.
I wanted to thank you upfront for talking with us, I’ve enjoyed so much of your work over the years.
Oh, bless you! Thank you.
So you’re promoting a super serious project and also filming a comic book movie right now?
Yeah, the Spider-Man spinoff, Morbius!
Well, I know you can’t really talk about that movie, but Chernobyl is extraordinary. How did you find yourself playing Valery Legasov?
I got sent the script, and I loved it, and it’s HBO. I sat and with Craig, who wrote it and thought, “Yeah, I definitely want to do this.” It was a page-turner. It’s one of those stories that you think you are familiar with, and the reason why Craig was so interested in it is that there are so many misconceptions about it. So it was really easy, and when you read a script, you can tell within 20 or 30 pages whether it’s working or not. If you’re grabbed by the story, then that’s a very good sign. I also liked the idea that there was one director for all five episodes, and honestly, Johan [Renck] has an enormous track record of his own. It makes a life a lot easier if you have the same director for all five episodes because you have a proper relationship, the actor with the director because ideally, it’s collaborative.
The series shows your character recording his observations for posterity. Did you do any further research into his state of mind?
I’m not sure if there were [actual] recordings. I think he left behind journals (recordings are more cinematic), but I didn’t get ahold of them. Have you seen all the way through?
As of today, I’ve seen the first three episodes.
Without giving too much away, the Soviet Union very successfully followed through on a threat, which was to eradicate him from the history of the story. And still to this day, they have done that. A lot of the books and the archives that you can read about Chernobyl don’t mention them at all.