Ed Harris: The actor on painting houses, smashing chairs and learning not to be so terse

The Face of Love star reveals his unconventional techniques for getting the best performance out of actors and why it’s good to be an introvert...

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The Independent Online

Painting houses almost drove me insane I started doing it in Oklahoma when I was out of high school. And I carried on after I graduated from university. I had pride in my craft, but I was basically making 50 cents an hour, which was absurd. I almost lost my mind on one house; it was in really bad shape, and they didn't want to pay me any more money. I decided I wasn't doing it any more and left the job.

I've always enjoyed being physical I was an athlete at school and I think knowing about teamwork, self-discipline, and having that physicality helped me get the role in The Right Stuff [the 1983 film about the American manned space programme]. I like to stay in shape: I swim, play tennis, and shoot a few baskets with other actors.

As a director, I don't care how I get a performance out of an actor, as long as I get it I remember one scene while filming Pollock with Marcia [Gay Harden, who won an Oscar for her performance as the artist's wife], where her character gets upset with mine, because I say, as Pollock, that I want to have a child, and she says, you know, you're enough of one. I was trying to get her blood going for that scene, so I took a chair and I smashed it on the floor. She got into it a little bit more. I wouldn't do that to every actor, though; some would be offended if you got in their face.

My dad was a master of deflecting personal questions He came from a generation where you didn't talk about your feelings. You could ask him something and he wouldn't even bat an eyelash; he'd just keep talking, as if the question was never asked.

I don't talk that much I'm introverted. But I find that if I allow myself to be present and listen and speak, I can actually have a conversation, and feel like an adult. It's not my forte, but I'm better at it now. Thankfully I have a wife who loves to talk, so I don't have to say a word at dinner parties. But there is a value in stillness and quietness, I think.

My daughter has no desire to deal with the machinations of being an actor She's at university and recently played Marc Antony, in Julius Caesar; it was a remarkable performance. But my wife Amy [Madigan] is an actor and Lily has seen her deal with getting older and being a woman in this business, and seen how difficult it is.

A lot of little things get my goat That's what's amazing to me about waking up each morning: you're living a life that sometimes feels great, and then you go out and some arsehole does something out on the street, or some store clerk is having a miserable day, and their behaviour changes the whole feeling about the day for me.

I can't stand people who litter Walking down the street, if I see someone throw a cigarette out of the window of their car, I'll walk along, pick it up, and then they'll be at a stop light and I'll go, "Here, you dropped this."

When you lose someone, you look around for any kind of sign or remembrance of them It's the theme of my latest film, The Face of Love, where a lady [played by Annette Bening] falls head over heels for a guy I play, who's a lookalike of her deceased husband. It was inspired by an incident when the director's mum saw a man in the street who looked just like her dead husband. Personally, I don't seek out things that remind me of my dad, who I lost this year, though I do think about who he was, and all he took with him that I'll never know.

Ed Harris, 63, is an actor and director whose films have included 'The Right Stuff', 'A History of Violence' and 'The Abyss'. His latest, 'The Face of Love' (PG), is out on Friday

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