Jared Harris and David Bowie are both portraying Andy Warhol on screen this year, but they haven’t been comparing notes. ”I wasn’t going to call him up and have a chat,” says Harris. ”He wouldn’t have taken my call, I’m sure.” It would have been Bowie’s loss. The androgynous rocker won’t take his turn until August in Basquiat, a biopic of graffiti sprayer-turned-painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, but Harris, 34, is already receiving lush praise for the dead-on eeriness of his characterization in the current critical darling I Shot Andy Warhol.
Since the London-bred actor knew little about the king of Pop art, Harris prepared by studying hours of audiotape and film. ”I ended up knowing so much,” he remembers. ”I read the script and went, ‘I can’t do one tenth of all this stuff I’ve just discovered. They don’t give me the opportunity in the writing.’ ” Fortunately, the essence of Warhol, who died in 1987, was nonverbal. ”There was a sadness that Andy had,” says the artist’s friend and Warhol consultant Jeremiah Newton. ”Jared captured that.”
Another important role model is Harris’ father, actor Richard Harris (Camelot and, more recently, Cry, the Beloved Country), though Jared didn’t choose his father’s profession until he came Stateside to study drama at Duke University. ”We do different things,” says the younger Harris. ”I’m not the sort of guy who’s rockin’ on stage. He’s very, very powerful.” Dad, working in Europe, has yet to see his son’s scene stealing in Warhol.
Since graduating from Duke in 1984, Harris has played Tom Cruise’s ne’er-do-well brother in 1992’s Far and Away, and he can be seen — if you don’t blink — as a truculent fur trapper in the new offbeat Western Dead Man. Warhol heat could lead to bigger things, but Harris, who lives alone in Manhattan’s East Village, defers credit to his cinematic alter ego. ”There’s a tremendous amount of attention generated around this film, and it’s him,” Harris says. ”Standing over this thing is the real Andy Warhol. He turned himself into a great work of art.”