The latest? The end of the road for one of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's partners, Lane Pryce, played to tragic perfection by Jared Harris. Lane has been in free fall mode all season -- mercilessly phone-flirting with a stranger, fighting Pete in the office, kissing (and continuing to sexually harass) Joan and, the pièce de résistance, forging Don Draper's name on a company check to "temporarily" bonus himself out of his financial dire straits.
This all ultimately led Lane getting fired by Don, who promised to repay Lane's debts, but insisted he "think of an elegant exit" from the company he helped build because he could no longer be trusted. Lane's bumpy road at attempted suicide (of course the Jaguar wouldn't start!) finally ended with a haunting image of his lifeless body being cut down from a noose in his office.
I caught up with Harris to find out when and how he learned of Lane's fate -- in true "Mad Men" fashion, it was over a drink -- and he shared some interesting insight into Lane's demise and the small but effective details that went into making those scenes so powerful. He also talked about whether or not he'd consider another TV show next, admitting what every star on that show already knows: "'Mad Men' is a hard act to follow."
When did you find out what Lane's ultimate fate was?
Episode 10 read-through. Matt [Weiner] always asks everyone to hang around because he wants to give you notes, and so I could see he was sort of leaving me to last. Then, once everyone had left, he went, "Let's go up to my office." And I thought, Shit, that's not fucking good, man. We were making small talk, waiting for the lift to come, and I was like, This is weird little small talk -- he can't tell me until we get to the office? Then we get to the office and he offers me some ridiculously expensive brandy, and I thought Fuck man, this isn't good. He said, "I have something to tell you," and I went, "Uh-oh, this doesn't sound good man." And he goes, "I'm really sorry, it's not."
Had you seen it coming at all? Because Lane's been free falling all season.
They sent me an email saying, "What's your handwriting like, because Lane forges a signature and Matt wants it to be that old-fashioned cursive writing. Can you do that?" I knew that if I was forging a signature for the company, taking one for the team, then maybe that was alright. But if it was anything to do with shady business with regards to the company, then I was in trouble. I knew that was essentially a ticking time bomb, and it was just a question of when they wanted to explode it. But from that point on, I knew my days were numbered.
But the entire season, Lane has been his own personal ticking time bomb.
Matt would be really happy that you described it that way!
It's true! We've seen Lane step out of his comfort zone before, but not like this -- did you enjoy going all out this season?
It was great! I got two seasons worth of storyline this season, so I went out with a bang -- I'm very, very happy about that. In a way, Lane was finding himself marginalized already, then, once that fight comes with Pete, although it's a victory, it's a pyrrhic victory because, at that point, he's really stuck. We didn't see it, but within the company, Lane is expendable and Pete isn't. Someone can do Lane's job.
And you saw him coming to that realization in that scene with Don. I think you went through every possible emotion in that one scene. The rage that came out of Lane, then the ultimate realization that he was out of options.
All those lines were in the script, but when you do the takes, you try different colors. I just thought exactly that -- this is a guy drowning, and you're gonna see this guy splash around. And, using that analogy, he's drowning and Don is actually throwing him a lifeline, and he doesn't see it, so he can't grab it. Don's trying to figure out a way of it not ending up where it ends up, but Lane's pride is too intense that he can't either see it, or he won't go there. He apologizes too late, and even when he starts apologizing, Don says, "Why didn't you just ask me for the money?" And Lane's answer, about why humiliate one's self over a 13-day loan ... the madness that is inherent in that statement makes it impossible from that point, from that statement onward, to be in that company.
He would rather end it than be humiliated.
Well, I don't think he understands at that point that that's what that means ... but yes, the same reason why he kills himself is the same reason why he couldn't ask Don for the money, and that's pride. He can't face the idea of going back to England and being a failure and enduring a decade's worth of humiliation over there. No one is going to help him when he goes back there because they're all going to be bitter at him for having thought that he could make it in America in the first place.
That he was somehow better than them! People were pointing out, after last night's episode, that Pete had noted the company's suicide clause when it came to their life insurance policy just this season, so maybe Rebecca and Lane's son will be OK after all, but it's insane to think that -- even if it wasn't already planned that it would be you -- the seed about someone committing suicide was planted.
It really is. And this season, when I'm on the phone with Dolores, trying to get her persuaded to come to the office to pick up the wallet, I say, "I'll be here the rest of my life." One of the reasons why I think people enjoy this show is that they sense an honesty about character development. Some of those things, yes, they pick up on it, but other things kind of naturally evolve that way, because these character traits and threads they've been weaving since the beginning of the show, since Season 1. They're able to pick on them and take use of those things, because there is that sense of the characters having a core sense of them. He's a phenomenal writer.
And that's why people have such emotional reactions -- to Lane's death, or to what happened to Joan in the last episode. Where did you fall in the Great Joan Debate, as a viewer?
When I read that episode, I just thought Wow, this is so fucked up. It's brilliant. It's so messed up that they put this person in this situation. Would she do it or not? I don't know. That's a lot of money! That's an incredible amount of money, and she's a single mother at this point with a young child, a husband who's divorcing her ... Matt has put this person in a spot where, a week before, she would've said, "Fuck you." But it's happening this week, after all that stuff happened. She's got to fend for herself ... There was something from an earlier episode where Roger's buying fur coats from Don, and the fur coat goes to Joan and not to his wife -- it's all a pretty murky area, do you know what I mean?
Agreed. It's hard because we saw Peggy leaving last episode, and we didn't see her at all this week, but we can assume that we'll see Elisabeth Moss again. But with Lane, obviously this is it. Was there a goodbye party?
This is it! I went out and had a drink with Jon [Hamm], but people have come and gone from this show already. I wasn't there from the beginning. Michael Gladis was there from the beginning, and he left after Season 3, and that was the same for Bryan Batt. It happens. Actors are used to things ending -- things end all the time for us. You're on vacation with people in some amazing place, and you have dinner and hang out and form a bond, then that whole little family unit breaks up.
Or you're on "Fringe" and you finally make a big, triumphant, villainous return, and then they kill you there, too. I'm not OK with losing you on two of my favorite shows!
Yes! I know! What's going on?
Maybe you're too good at dying ...
I don't know. Maybe if I do a bad job ... I don't know what it is. I've done quite a lot of dying on shows and in movies. To have a good death scene though -- come on, it's brilliant. I love a good death scene!
I'll give you that. And Lane's was particularly brilliant. The lead-up was the best part -- he's so prepared to kill himself in the car, and he's thought of every last detail, then the Jaguar wouldn't start. I was dying!
[Laughs.] I fell off the seat laughing when Matt told me, and he described what would happen, telling me the Jaguar wouldn't start. I fell off the seat laughing and went, "That is fucking brilliant. That is so funny." It's really so good. It's funny! And what I liked about that is I thought, from a tone point of view, you think when that happens and you get the laugh, "Oh, maybe he's not going to do it now." You've broken that tension, so then you see him in the office and think, maybe something else is going to happen.
We did that scene where he goes into the office to type up that letter in a bunch of different ways -- my attitude walking in there was different so there was the possibility of you thinking, Well, maybe Lane's come to a different decision. I remember there was a lot of discussion about when Lane's typing that letter, should he take his coat off? I said, "I don't think he should take his coat off because it'll look like I'm staying, whereas if I'm typing that letter with my coat on, I'm going out again, I'm going to leave." The expectation is that you don't expect to discover him there. There's a lot of little details like that that go into subliminal ways of telling parts of the story.
Any chance that, after two big TV deaths this season alone, you'd consider doing another TV show?
I definitely would. I look forward to entertaining the idea of doing other shows. I couldn't do that until it was obvious that I was not on this show anymore. If I went and signed a contract for a new TV show, then people would know that I was no longer playing Lane ... so I had to wait until this came out. But "Mad Men" is a hard act to follow. Unless you're called Elisabeth Moss, stuff like this only comes along once in your career ...
The Season 5 finale of "Mad Men" airs Sunday, June 10 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.