If you’re a Mad Men fan, you’re probably still in shock — or denial — about that devastating penultimate episode of season 5. Back in June, EW joined a conference call with eventual Emmy nominee Jared Harris to find out when he discovered his time at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was done, to discuss his favorite Lane Pryce moments, and of course, to talk about that grisly scene. For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
After the table read for episode 10, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner pulled Harris aside. “[Matthew] said, ‘Let’s go up to my office,’ which I knew wasn’t a good sign, and then he offered me incredibly expensive brandy, and then I knew this wasn’t going to go well,” Harris says. “And he said, ‘I have something I want to talk to you about,’ and I said, ‘Uh oh. This doesn’t sound good,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s not. I’m really sorry.’ But he explained why he wanted to do [the suicide], and he’d been building up to it throughout the season, and from an acting point of view it was to my benefit to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.”
As for the hanging scene, Harris said the mood on set was “somber.” During the call, he explained there were about two hours of makeup involved to give his face that puffy, purple look. To make sure the reactions of John Slattery, Jon Hamm and Vincent Kartheiser (who went into Harris’ office to cut down his body) were as realistic as possible, Harris was snuck on set with a bag and umbrella on his head, so no one could see the makeup’s effect until they were on camera. “The tricky thing with that look is your tongue…the tongue has a life of its own,” Harris said. “It’s the little things you end up focusing on: making sure no one can see you breathe, being really loose so you bounce on the door properly and don’t just come to a sudden stop.”
And Harris didn’t think it was a coincidence that he chose to hang himself at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices. He told reporters, “It was vindictive. He was angry, and it was an expression of his anger. It was a passive-aggressive act. His choice of doing it there was a ‘f*** you’ to the office, to the people who worked there, particularly to Don. And the passive side of that was the letter, with the boilerplate suicide note, which explained nothing.”
But Harris had his fun with the episode. He said that when he found out that his first attempted suicide — by carbon monoxide poisoning in the new Jaguar his wife had just bought — wasn’t going to work because the car wouldn’t start, “I laughed my ass off. I just fell off the chair laughing.” When asked about his all-time favorite Lane Pryce moment, Harris said, “It would have to be the fight [with Pete Campbell in episode 5]. I really enjoyed that. It was a good scene — [my favorite scene] would probably be that one, [as well as] the Jaguar not starting.”