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Actor Affinity: Ed Harris

Back in 2009, when I was first getting into the Oscars and truly taking film seriously, I decided to check out Stephen Daldry’s 2002 drama The Hours. Though I love Nicole Kidman and the majority of her work to pieces, it’s hard to explain her Oscar win aside from overdue love for Moulin Rouge! Even more unfathomable was how Ed Harris didn’t win his Supporting Actor nomination for his brief yet fully realized and heartbreaking performance as a gay man dying of AIDS. Ever since then, Harris and his body of work have always been a great fascination.

In honor of the veteran actor and his latest film, The Way Back, we at Player Affinity decided to take a look back at his highly respectable career.


Ed Harris was born on November 20, 1950. It would be almost 30 years before he landed his first screen role, that of Steve in an episode of the drama series Gibbsvile, in 1976. He continued to take on less than prominent acting gigs, including a three-episode stint on television’s Lou Grant which saw him play three separate characters. Then he nabbed his first lead role: Billy in George A. Romero’s 1981 film Knightriders. The critics started paying attention two years after that when Harris starred in The Right Stuff as John Glenn.

Career Breakthrough and Soaring to New Heights

Over the following years he’d star in Oscar-nominated films such as Places in the Heart (1984), The Abyss (1989), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and The Firm (1993), but it was his role in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 that catapulted Harris into the limelight on his own. He picked up his first Academy Award nomination for his superb supporting performance.

He took advantage of this career breakthrough with roles in hits such as Nixon and The Rock, but he wasn’t quite as prominent there as he was in Apollo 13. Thankfully, 1998 brought him back to the limelight, bigger than ever before.

That year in particular saw him collaborating with director Peter Weir for The Truman Show. Highlighting some major issues with society and the media, the film also hinted at what was right around the corner: reality television. Harris’ impeccable, subtly nuanced performance is one of the reasons why the film functions so well; this film saw the actor picking up his second Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, he also starred in the critical dud Stepmother with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon.

Next on Harris’s agenda was a venture into the world of film directing in 2000 with Pollock. Not only did he direct the Jackson Pollock biopic, he also played the titular character and received yet another Oscar nomination for his performance; Marcia Gay Harden won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Pollock’s wife, proving that Harris is also an adept filmmaker who knows how to work with actors.

Two years later he would have a small supporting role in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours as a gay man dying of AIDS. He earned raves for his stellar, timeless performance and – you guessed it – another Oscar nomination.

After that, his career dipped. He led the 2003 melodrama Radio alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. to overall negative response, and much of his filmography following that time left much to be desired. However, he picked things back up in 2005 with A History of Violence, and though it’s not among the most acclaimed of his work, he played the antagonist in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the highly successful sequel to National Treasure, in 2007 alongside Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and Dame Helen Mirren.

Where Ed Harris Stands Now

Despite his age, Harris is definitely keeping himself busy. He’s currently filming the thriller Man on a Ledge with Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, and Jamie Bell. As was mentioned earlier, he has a supporting role in Peter Weir’s war/escape epic The Way Back, which, though an outside chance, could land him his fifth Academy Award nomination.

Although his films are often less than admirable, his performances are always an inspiration, proving that a truly great actor can always rise above mediocre and oftentimes horrid material. We can expect to further witness his dedication to craft and immense talent for many years to come.



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