Nationality: American. Born: Edward Allen Harris in Englewood, New Jersey, 28 November 1950. Education: Attended California Institute of the Arts, B.F.A., 1975; also attended Columbia University and the University of Oklahoma. Family: Married the actress Amy Madigan, 1983, daughter: Lily Dolores. Career: 1981—stage appearance in True West , at South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California; 1983—made off-Broadway debut in Fool for Love , Circle Repertory Theatre; 1985—appointed trustee, California Institute of the Arts; 1986—Broadway debut in Precious Sons , Longacre Theatre; 1994—in TV mini-series The Stand , and as one of the voices in Baseball . Agent: Contemporary Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
The Amazing Howard Hughes (William A. Graham—for TV) (as Russ)
Coma (Michael Crichton) (bit role)
The Seekers (Hayers—for TV) (as Lt. William Clark)
Borderline (Freedman) (as Hotchkiss); The Aliens Are Coming (Harvey Hart—for TV) (as Chuck Polchek)
Knightriders (George Romero) (as Billy); Dream On (Harker)
Creepshow (George Romero) (as Hank)
The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman) (as John Glenn); Under Fire (Spottiswoode) (as Oates)
Places in the Heart (Benton) (as Wayne Lomax); A Flash of Green (Nuñez) (as Jimmy Wing); Swing Shift (Jonathan Demme) (as Jack Walsh)
Alamo Bay (Malle) (as Shang); Code Name: Emerald (Sanger) (as Gus Lang); Sweet Dreams (Reisz) (as Charlie Dick)
Walker (Alex Cox) (title role); The Last Innocent Man (Spottiswoode—for TV) (as Harry Nash)
To Kill a Priest (Agnieszka Holland) (as Stefan); Jacknife (David Jones) (as Dave); The Abyss (James Cameron) (as Bud Brigman)
State of Grace (Joanou) (as Frankie Flannery)
Paris Trout (Gyllenhaal—for TV) (as Harry Seagraves)
Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley) (as Dave Moss); Running Mates ( Dirty Tricks ) (Lindsay-Hogg—for TV) (as Hugh Hathaway)
Needful Things (Fraser C. Heston) (as Sheriff Alan Pangborn); The Firm (Sydney Pollack) (as Wayne Tarrance)
China Moon (John Bailey) (as Kyle Bodine); Milk Money (Richard Benjamin) (as Tom Wheeler)
Apollo 13 (Ron Howard) (as Gene Kranz); Just Cause (Glimcher) (as Blair Sullivan); Nixon (Oliver Stone) (as E. Howard Hunt)
Eye for an Eye (Schlesinger) (as Mack McCann); The Rock (Bay) (General Francis X Hummel); Riders of the Purple Sage (Haid—for TV) (as Jim Lassiter + pr)
Absolute Power (Eastwood) (as Seth Frank); Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western (Morris—for TV) (as Interviewee)
Stepmom (Columbus) (Luke Harrison); The Truman Show (Weir) (as Christof)
The Third Miracle (Holland) (as Frank Shore)
Waking the Dead (Gordon) (as Jerry Carmichael); Enemy at the Gates (Annaud) (as Major Konig)
Pollock (+ title role)
"Ed: The Private Faces of a Fierce Actor," interview with Amy Madigan, in Interview (New York), September 1992.
"Fredanded: Fred Ward and Ed Harris: Two Actors Who Give a Damn," interview with Brook Smith, in Interview (New York), March 1995.
Griffin, Nancy, "Tough Enough," in Premiere (New York), November 1990.
Koehler, Robert, "Profile," in Los Angeles Times , 22 March 1992.
McNeil, Donald G. Jr., "George Wolfe and His Theater of Inclusion," in New York Times , 23 April 1995.
"Idol Chatter," in Premiere (New York), 1 August 1995.
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As the twentieth century ended, Ed Harris's more than two decade acting career could best be seen as falling into three distinctive parts. First, he started on stage, beginning in 1975. After studying acting at the California Institute of the Arts, for a half dozen years his life became an almost nonstop whirl of theater activity in California (both Los Angeles and San Francisco), culminating in an acclaimed performance in Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. This staging was subsequently transferred to New York's Circle Repertory Company, signaling Harris's off-Broadway debut. In this intense period his stage appearances also include roles in A Streetcar Named Desire , Sweet Bird of Youth , Julius Caesar , Hamlet , Camelot , The Time of Your Life , and The Grapes of Wrath. But then—to begin his second career unit—Hollywood called and Harris answered. His casting as astronaut John Glenn in The Right Stuff (1983) changed his whole life. With this blockbuster, Harris became a movie star. In a mid-1980s poll, Harris was named, with Jack Nicholson, as one of the sexiest balding men in America. Certainly this was just another silly testing of public opinion, but it was praise bequeathed only on true movie stars, and by 1985 Harris was—temporarily, it turned out—ranked among them. On the screen, his powerful magnetism made him a lock for top roles in seemingly hot movies such as Places in the Heart (1984), Swing Shift (1984), and Sweet Dreams (1985). Yet lost in the fine film work of this middle period—with which Harris remains proudest of in rare interviews—is the virtually unseen A Flash of Green , a PBS American Playhouse project which had a limited theatrical release.
Then, stardom ended, almost as quickly as it had come. Harris's third period had him settle in as a Hollywood reliable. During the late 1980s, one after another of Harris's films bombed, or, if they made money, as with The Abyss , the take came in well below expectations. It was not that Harris could not select moneymaking filmmakers with whom to work. His agent, CAA, tops in Hollywood at the time, helped him find roles in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), The Firm (1993), Apollo 13 (1995), Nixon (1995), The Rock (1996), and The Truman Show (1998). All did well with either the public, the critics, or both. Yet Harris was never a star again, only a reliable character actor.
By nature a quietly intense man, Ed Harris worked best as a Hollywood journeyman, playing the role of a baffled Middle American working stiff trying to liberate himself from the chains of stoic masculinity. But by 1990, Ed Harris began to rethink his career, setting aside a desire to become famous or make a lot of money, and seeking to do projects he cared about. Indeed at times through the 1990s Harris placed his film career on hold and returned to the theater. In 1992 he starred in Murray Mednick's play Scar , marking Harris's return to Los Angeles stages where he started. He also appeared regularly in television movies.
Dedicated to his craft, be it on stage or in front of the camera, he is nonetheless often wasted. For example in Milk Money , he did a fine job in a small role as a pro-environmentalist, bashful widower. His work is tops, but minor in the blockbuster The Firm , in which Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman star while Harris did his usual first-rate job as an FBI investigator. His range as a supporting performer has rarely been surpassed and so Ed Harris seems forever stuck in this rut as a character actor.
Historians will look back to the middle 1980s when Harris was a star. In central roles in Hollywood narratives, he could shine and occasionally glow. As abusive husband Charlie Dick in Sweet Dreams , the story of the life of country music legend Patsy Cline, Ed Harris is chilling, loving, and dangerous all at the same time. Only time and perspective will allow us to appreciate such contributions to Hollywood's history.