When he played King Arthur in Camelot at the Jewel Box Theater in Oklahoma City, it was the roar of the crowd that provided that “aha” moment. “It was a purely ecstatic experience for me that lasted about 10 minutes, 15 minutes, where I was like ... blown away,” Harris recalled. “I said, ‘I guess I gotta do this.’ ... The thing is ... you spend the rest of your life trying to get back to that.”
Acting made Harris feel comfortable in the world before it became an obsession. “I don’t know how many of you, a lot of us, you develop certain social skills where you meet somebody that you don’t know and you don’t break out in a sweat; that took awhile for me,” he said.
He looks back fondly on those early acting days in towns along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains such as Pasadena and Sierra Madre, paying $25 a month in rent. And his appearances in Places in the Heart and Alamo Bay with Amy Madigan, another brilliant actor whom he married in 1983, were times when “we genuinely had fun. ... A lot of things in your life that you remember as being joyous ... it’s something about it, who you were with, the time of your life, how you felt, the overall kind of experience of it, brings you joy to think about it.”
While he continues to get meaty parts in films, including playing a homeless father (above) in Touching Home, which was shown last week at the Denver Film Festival, and 2010 releases What’s Wrong With Virginia (in a cast that includes Madigan, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Roberts) and Peter Weir’s escaping Siberia saga, The Way Back, the play seems to be the thing for Harris these days.
With his 16-year-old daughter Lily a year and a half away from finishing school, Harris said he plans to devote more time to the stage “in the second half of my life ... my career; I like to pretend like I have another half (of my life).”
It was Lily’s reaction to seeing her dad perform in Neil LaBute’s one-man play, Wrecks, in 2006 at New York’s Public Theater that provided Harris with a much-needed jump-start.