Interview with a Werewolf – with Richard Harmon
In my career of writing I can wholeheartedly say I've never interviewed a werewolf, that is until I met Richard Harmon at the Terroir studio in downtown Vancouver. He's a fascinating person with a soulful deepness to him that comes across as brooding, thoughtful and playful all at the same time.
Though he was a quiet child, Richard always had his heart set on becoming an actor. His older sister Jessica Harmon (iZombie, Battlestar Galactica) was on several TV series at a young age, leading to his fascination with being in film just like her. “She was ten at the time and I was four. My parents are both in the film industry. At the time my dad was a first AD, now he's a director. My mom was an accountant in film for the longest time and now is a producer as well.”
Despite the strong family connections in film, both Richard and his parents were determined for him to make it on his own; for entirely different reasons. “My parents said I really don't think this is for you. Neither one of them really wanted me to get into it and I can understand why. I was a very shy kid, very different to what I am today. I think I was the same person, I just couldn't get it out of me. I think acting was a big part that helped me get it out and feel confident about myself.”
Richard chose not to use his family's connections and began to audition for roles on his own at the age of ten. His parents gave him the push he needed, leaving him to his own devices to navigate the film industry and see if it was something he really wanted to do, rather than follow in the path of his sister Jess. “They [his parents] were like Fine if you want to do it then you can. We'll get you an agent but don't come complaining to us, we're not going to help you. Figure it out yourself, that's the best way to learn. I'm so glad they did, because it allowed me to - even at a really young age – dig my feet into the ground and find out if this was something that I wanted to do and not something that they wanted me to do.”
Though it may seem like a fairytale story, it was a tough road of discovery for Harmon. “I sucked, I was absolutely abysmal at ten. I was going to quit when I was fifteen, because I was not very successful, and nor should I have been. I'm glad that I wasn't because my career would have gone a very different way.” During that time, the first of many breakthrough points in his career came at the right moment. “I did a movie called Trick 'r Treat and I was going to quit. That was going to be my last thing. On that set, it was the first time I finally felt what I knew set could be, but I'd never felt before. That family aspect of really getting to know these people, they're like a secondary family to you. I'd seen other people have it, and it made me really sad and jealous that I would be on sets as a small character not doing much.”
From that point on, Harmon made the decision to throw himself in fully, to make his on set experience a constant work reality. “I remember that day, and I was like Theres no way I could stop doing this. So I put my work in, it made me work a hell of a lot harder than I was previously and then things at a certain point, later in my life started taking off, and here we are today.”
Shedding His Skin
After Trick r' Treat the roles began to become steadily more meaningful for Harmon. He landed the heavyweight role of Jasper Ames in The Killing and within the same year played Clay in feature film Rufus. “When I got The Killing that sort of opened me up, I loved what I was doing. I started becoming my own actor at about nineteen when I did a movie called Rufus in Saskatoon, which is the first time I actually got to go on location. Finally with Rufus I became a much more risky actor with my choices, and just thought, you know what if they don't like it then they can tell me otherwise, and I'll stop, but it's worth a shot.”
Though each actor's route is different, Richard's is particularly peculiar. For someone who portrays such tortured and deep characters on screen, it was surprising to find out he has never once taken an acting class. Rather, he subscribes to way of learning by example and natural born talent. “I've never taken a class. Not once.” Instead his learning has come from spending time on sets and working through what has and hasn't worked for him. His method is self described as “A lot of trial and a shit tonne of error.”
One of the inspirations Harmon draws from is the 1951 performance of Ebenezer Scrooge, by Alastair Sim. “I have a quote from A Christmas Carol tattooed on my foot. His [Alastair Sim] performance was not even the best Scrooge, which is heads and tails above the rest - it's the best performance of all time, in my opinion. It's the only thing I can not, not cry when I watch it. It's an unbelievable performance for him to make you hate him so much and then for him to turn around and have you so whole heartedly believe this guy is good. That was a masterclass.”
Embracing his screen characters, Harmon has managed to create a dichotomy of deplorable yet relatable, human personalities in each role. In particular, his stellar performance of John Murphy in The 100, which surprised both the viewers and writers who have grown to love him in the show.
Relating to every role he has played is no simple task, the complexities in the darkness they harbour means holding empathy for each character, yet Harmon revels in the challenge. “I could get away with not playing a hero ever again for the rest of my career and be happy with it. I love them, I love those characters and there's no way you can get sick of them, because if you do get sick of them that means you're playing them the same way and you don't have nearly enough imagination to be doing this job in the first place.”
Originally, Murphy was written to span two seasons as the antagonist in the storyline, but as time went on he became a fan favourite as well as being loved on set. “I remember the creator in season two going I really want to keep you around, but the way you're going and the way it's set up, you have to die. There's no way someone this bad can live on the show. The only way we can keep you around on the show for the rest of the run - do you think you can make the audience like you, but still be the same character without changing him?and I went yeah, that's the greatest challenge I've ever heard and I would love to do that.”
Clocking in a whopping five seasons and still going strong, Harmon has played Murphy through a litany of storylines and emotions. “I've somehow found a way to relate to Murphy on The 100 and he's an absolutely horrible human being in a lot of ways. I mean I love him more than any other character I've ever played, he's the most interesting and I'm so grateful for what they've given me. Six years of just going all over the place with him. Not many people have had the opportunity in their careers – even people who've had good careers – it's rare somebody gets the opportunity to make the audience hate you so much and then on the drop of dime [Make the fans change their mind]. And we did, and now the fans love him, he's an absolute polarizing character, I mean some of them still hate him, but I don't think there's anyone watching the show who actually wants him to die. It's honestly a better show with him.”
During the interview, Harmon casually dropped that he's a werewolf. It's not something that usually get's blurted out during an interview, and I had to double check that what I'd heard was in fact correct. It stemmed from talking about his latest film set that was released in mid October – I Still See You, with costar Bella Thorne (Amityville: The Awakening, Shake It Up). Set in the not too distant future, an apocalyptic event has caused some strange things to happen in Chicago and the surrounding towns. Harmon plays an introverted teen who helps discover the truth about the remnants of people wandering their world. “You see these remnants, which aren't ghosts. It's almost like a video loop, they're playing a moment from their lives. Take Bella Thorne's character for example, she sees her dad every single morning at the coffee table. We've been told that the rules of the remnants are they cannot interact with us, they cannot affect our lives, they don't think, they're not sentient things, they're just sort of expulsions of energy. But then we run into issues, and find out that maybe we're being lied to, that these things might be sentient and be in control and one might be very dangerous.”
Getting to explore the characters' dark past and present led to new discoveries but also a familiarity in certain aspects. “The character was very different for me. He's the number two, the male lead of the movie, but he still has that darkness to him and you don't know why, but you kind of find out throughout the movie. But he does have to help Bella’s character. It's interesting being the hero. There's no one else to take the mantle of male hero in that movie, it had to be me, there was no one else. That was a nice leading me in to being a hero because I still got to be like “You don't understand me” and kind of that dark stuff.”
Enter, the moment Harmon drops the bombshell that he's a werewolf. Discussing the subject of whether he believes in ghosts or not, Richard's casual answer came as a surprise. “Hell yeah. Ghouls, spectres, local haunts, poltergeist. I believe I'm a werewolf personally, and that's not a lie.
Full moons affect me, I have the full moon tattooed on my back and I've got the man turning into werewolf on the other side.”
The meaning behind a werewolf has many connotations, in Hindi it means to change appearance, and traditional English folklore tales tell of a man turning into a wolf hybrid and back again, every full moon. Whatever the story, one thing is certain, Harmon's dedication to his craft and becoming the most authentic character on screen is a definite homage to his werewolf transformation side. “I know I don't literally turn into a wolf, I just think we all have this thing inside of us that I'm very attuned to, and whenever I need to go to a certain place or get to a certain place, I can call on that inner werewolf. And that's whatever I have to do to get through and work. So if I have to believe I'm a werewolf for my job, then so be it.”
Mythology has long said the full moon brings change or strength, something Richard has used throughout his life and career in acting. “The moon does change the way people act, and that's been long documented. You gotta howl at it too, it feels good. I howl at it all the time. You just gotta do it, you just gotta let it out.”
Howling At The Moon
Growing from the introverted extrovert, into a well rounded actor, Harmon has been able to have more input into the roles he's played. With The 100 he's able to utilise it as a collaboration with the writers, and is currently a producer on his latest film “Woodland” in which he plays a drug addict who takes up a post at a lonely inn on an island in the Pacific Northwest. “They gave me a lot of creative freedom on it, as an actor, even before I came on as a producer. When I accepted the role – they offered the script to me, I said I love it, but I need to be able to do whatever the hell I want with this. So before I accepted it, I had a conversation with Jon [Silverberg] and I said you need to know this is mine now. Trust me, but you have to let this guy be mine.”
Trying new things with this role, Richard has set out to create something that is both true and at times, difficult to watch. “The character's essentially allergic to life, you know people who just can't help fucking up all the time, and not even in a comical way, it's like you just can't see anything good in your life. You either chase away, or purposefully fuck it up. I'm so sick of seeing actors play those roles and they make them cool. I wanted him not to be fun to watch. Which was kind of ballsy but it's worth a shot.”
Fame is not the end goal for Richard, in fact it's something he shies away from. He's well on the way to becoming a household name, thanks to his longevity in The 100 and a myriad of other roles he's played over the years. “I don't really want to be famous, I know a lot of people say that. I do love running into fans on the street, that's totally cool. A little bit to fame is totally cool, but that's not why I do it. It's not even the recluse in me that doesn't want to be famous, because I'm really not a reclusive person. I wouldn't want to be A-list famous, I want to be the guy that you're like Oh yeah yeah yeah, great acting. I'd rather them not know my name, Richard Harmon, I'd rather them know John Murphy or something like that.”
To keep each character fresh, he taps into the power of music. “Music's the number one thing for me. If you see me on set without headphones on, it's a weird thing. On The Killing for instance, that guy's such a petulant little shit, he's just so surly and kind of angry all the time. So I listened to a whole bunch of music that I honestly hated, and it just put me in such a bad mood and I listened to it all day on set. So there's a different playlist for every character I've ever played. There's definitely a lot of songs on Murphy's that I listen to in my regular day life. But they're all very sad.”
Trying new techniques and branching out from the average actor is what has set Harmon apart from the pack. If you mention his name to any working actor in Vancouver, you'll be met with replies of “That guy is a phenomenal actor.” Contrastingly you mention any of his numerous characters to fan's and you will get a detailed breakdown of just what the character means to them. I think it's safe to say Harmon has already achieved greatness in creating such a strong impression on both the acting world and the people watching.