While “Game of Thrones” made Emmy history on Tuesday with a record 32 nominations, another HBO show proved to be an Emmy powerhouse as well: limited series “Chernobyl”, which landed 19 nominations, including a nod for star Jared Harris for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie.
ET Canada spoke with Harris shortly after he received news of his nomination, and he admits he’s having “a very good day.”
Asked how he learned of his nomination, the 57-year-old actor says, “My wife told me. She said, ‘You’re a very lucky man.'”
This is Harris’ second nomination, following his 2012 Supporting Actor nod for “Mad Men”, but he prefers not to contrast the two experiences.
“I don’t compare it to the time before. It’s its own unique experience, with a different group of people,” he says, adding that attending the Emmy Awards ceremony in September is “gonna be a great reunion” with his cast mates (co-stars Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard also scored nominations, while “Chernobyl” was nominated in the Limited Series category).
Reflecting on “Chernobyl” racking up 19 nominations — this year’s third-most nominated show — Harris admits it’s “pretty amazing,” but says that speaks to the overall quality of the production.
“When you review social media, people were calling out set design, production design, sound music,” he explains. “People were aware of the impact that every single element of the show had.”
Speaking of social media, Harris cracks up when he’s read a comment from a Twitter user who wrote, “I want my life to go so wrong Jared Harris stars in a horrifying miniseries about it.”
“That’s hilarious,” he says, laughing loudly. ‘I hadn’t seen that.”
As for tracking social media comments about the show, Harris says he tries to maintain some moderation. “I see some of it, I don’t see all of it,” he says. “I try interacting with people who enjoyed the show, if they have questions I try to answer them, but you can be on there 24 hours a day.”
In the miniseries, which tells the story of the worst nuclear accident in history and the ensuing Soviet cover-up, Harris portrays real-life scientist Valery Legasov, who headed the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster.
How aware was Harris of Legasov before taking on the role? “I wasn’t aware of him at all,” admits Harris, “that was the point.”
When playing a historical role, Harris says research offers him a pathway into the character. “I always do research when you’re dealing with a period piece,” he says. “People misunderstand what the method is. They think it’s something where you’re supposed to be, ‘I am so and so,’ and you walk around pretending to be that person. But you immerse yourself in the culture, the time when they lived in, and understand what their mindset was, how they perceived the world. If you’re playing someone from the Elizabethan era, they have a completely different concept of what the world is than if you’re playing somebody now. You have to be able to understand that in order to represent it in a scene.”
When working on a project involving such dark subject matter, did the actors try to lighten things up on the set? “Yeah, you have to. [Series creator] Craig [Mazin], he cracks jokes, he makes fun of himself. He’s got a good sense of humour. Stellan is just one of the most glorious spirits you’ve ever met. Emily, she’s got a really great sense of humour. But you have to. You can’t keep touching on that nerve all day because it goes numb. And when you need it to be there and the cameras are rolling, you’ve exhausted it. You have to go somewhere else.”
“Chernobyl” is the latest in a run of critically acclaimed projects in which Harris has been involved, including such TV series as “Mad Men”, “The Crown”, “The Expanse” and “The Terror”.
As he explains, the secret to picking good projects is simply finding good scripts. “I read a lot of scripts, and you can tell within 10 or 15 pages how competent the writer is,” he says. “And these were all scripts that caught me immediately.”
Meanwhile, some may find it surprising that Harris is a huge fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, revealing his two favourite competitors were the most recent season’s Brook Lynn Hytes and Yvie Oddly.
“I was introduced to it though my wife, she was a huge fan,” he says of how he came to become enamoured of the show, and explains what it is about “Drag Race” that he connects with.
“What I really enjoy about it is that they use words rather than fists, and they use humour as a way of deflecting, instead of getting into conflict,” he says. “There’s a tremendous sense of humour, appreciation of language. I really enjoy that. I’m in awe of anyone who can come up with a well-timed quip.”
The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards will take place on Sunday, Sept. 22.