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Jared Harris Finds His Father’s Spirit in ‘The Ghost of Richard Harris’

In a career that spanned from the 1950s to the aughts, Richard Harris was the noble Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, a fiery rugby player in his 1963 Oscar-nominated role in This Sporting Life and a Grammy-nominated singer for the offbeat hit single “MacArthur Park.” He had a well-earned reputation as a hell-raiser but, as demonstrated by the revealing new documentary The Ghost of Richard Harris (available May 9 on BritBox), the accomplished Irish actor had many sides to him.

That’s why his three sons, Damian, Jamie and Jared Harris, got involved in the film, sharing stories with director Adrian Sibley, who had first approached Richard about the project more than two decades ago. (The actor passed away in 2002 at age 72 before anything was done.) “We just felt we needed to do something,” says Jared, the Emmy-nominated actor best known for his roles on such series as Mad Men and The Crown.

Jared Harris in ‘Foundation’ (Apple TV+)

The turning point came thanks to a journalist named Joe Jackson, who had recorded extensive interviews with Richard that are excerpted in the documentary. (Jackson recently published a biography of the actor, Richard Harris: Raising Hell and Reaching for Heaven.) “That, coupled with everything else and the people we could talk to, gave us an interesting dichotomy,” Jared explains. “Dad’s memory is not the same as some other people’s memories, which is true of life.”

Richard is certainly candid about his weaknesses, including his heavy drinking and cocaine use. “Unfortunately, I’m a very excessive person,” he says at the top of the film. “I can resist my first drink, but not the second. Everything I did, I did with an overindulgence of passion.” The brothers take a trip to a family storage unit where they find Richard’s crown from Camelot, visit the bar where he met their mother, Elizabeth, and even track down one of his cars, a 1964 Rolls-Royce rumored to have been given to him by Princess Margaret, though his sons say it was a signing bonus for his costarring role in the film The Heroes of Telemark with Kirk Douglas.

The Ghost of Richard Harris

Richard Harris singing “MacArthur Park” (Courtesy of BritBox)

Despite his father’s very colorful past, Jared wasn’t worried about how he would be depicted in the film. “I couldn’t imagine that things were going to be unearthed that were more outrageous than some of the things he said himself,” he says. “And our deal with Adrian was, we’ll tell the truth and you’ll be respectful. We’re not asking you to whitewash anything, but we want you to be respectful about who he was.”

Richard’s costars share varying views of him. Vanessa Redgrave, Queen Guinevere to his King Arthur in the film Camelot, praises his “generosity of spirit,” noting, “It’s rare to feel so relaxed and so happy to be with another actor and pretend you’re in love with them.” Russell Crowe, who worked with Richard on Gladiator, credits him with helping to build camaraderie between him and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of the Oscar-winning film. Director Jim Sheridan, meanwhile, recalls the battles he had with the actor during shooting of the 1990 film The Field that ultimately led to Sheridan’s making In the Name of the Father.

Away from the set, Richard knew how to use the press to his advantage. After divorcing his sons’ mother in 1969, he took a photographer along on a wild bacchanal for a tabloid newspaper. And decades later, when he was promoting Harry Potter, he claimed his granddaughter, Ella, vowed never to speak to him again if he turned down the role of Dumbledore. She says in the film that never happened, yet the anecdote got Richard plenty of attention.

And his sons hope this film will too. Jared admits he gained insight into his father while working on the film and is satisfied with the way it turned out, even if it doesn’t claim to be a complete dossier on Richard Harris. “I feel that we managed to evoke the spirit of the man,” he says, “and what he would have liked is that it’s incomplete — that it leaves you with an idea that there’s more to his story.”

The Ghost of Richard Harris, Documentary Premiere, Tuesday, May 9, BritBox

This story originally appeared on TV Insider

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