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Interview with Jack Huston

Jimmy and Harrow in hospital

HBO

Fans are really responding to Richard Harrow. What was your reaction when you first read the part?

Jack Huston

I'd just finished a job and I was a little disenchanted with the whole acting thing at the time. I was in London staying at my girlfriend's, taking a little break, trying to do some painting and writing and I got sent the script by my then-agents. I had an instant affinity. I saw him as someone who had his innocence, had his life taken away from him. He was an 18-19 year old boy who never really got to experience anything because he went to war. And by losing his face, he lost his identity. He couldn't relate to people the way he once could. All he has now are memories and his guns. He's a killer, but he was trained to be a killer. There's still a sweetness to him.

HBO

It sounds like you had a personal connection to the character; did you also do a lot of historical research?

Jack Huston

We did do a lot of research. When I was first reading the script, I didn't know this existed - people being disfigured and having their face reconstructed with something like a metal mask. In some ways it's almost more disconcerting. With the mask, you don't know what's under it. So it's like half a man, or a ghost of a former self. It was haunting to research that. Then I watched a lot of stuff about shell shock victims. World War I was such a horrific war because a lot of it was hand-to-hand combat. The number of people who died was astronomic. It's quite a sad thing, especially for someone who without the war would have a nice life. He was a good-looking guy, he would have been with a girl. And then there's no help with being integrated back into society. That's what happened to these guys: They were just left and their only skill was that they were now killers. Not through choice, but because that's what they were pushed into doing. They serve their country, they win the war and then that's that. What were they meant to do now? I found that scary and sad.

HBO

Do you think he would've gone this route had he not met Jimmy?

Jack Huston

You can see it's in him. There is a lot of resentment and anger. I think Jimmy maybe sees himself a bit in Richard. Not the affliction, but war. War had similar effects on people but they couldn't really talk about it. So finding a brother in arms - without speaking out loud, they know they've both shared an experience. There's this unspoken understanding between them that they'd do anything to help the other person.

HBO

In what ways does Harrow identify with the Tin Woodsman?

Jack Huston

It's funny that. At this point in the show he's protecting Margaret and the kids are there. It's quite sad when he wakes up and the daughter is screaming having seen his face. This feeling that children are frightened of you and you feel like a monster - that scene in particular was so delicately written. There's something almost childlike about Richard as well and I think it helps him to relate himself to someone like the Tin Woodsman - brave. It also relates to the mask itself -- he is sort of half man, half tin. And if that's how the children can see him and feel better about him, he'll take that.

HBO

What is the significance of his dream about Odette?

Jack Huston

In your dreams you are anyone you want to be. So he's the man he would've been without the war. And in an ideal world maybe he could have met Odette and had a relationship. He knows it's not possible now but that doesn't stop him from dreaming. But in the end when Emily sees his face and starts screaming, you see it monopolizes his life now. It's the dragon in the background. He's always conscious of how people see him and even when he's trying to be happy - his dreams turn to reality.

FAN QUESTIONS

HBO

Jack Huston graciously answered some fan questions from our Facebook page.

From Michelle K.

How did you come up with the speaking voice?

Jack Huston

When I got the script, it didn't really describe how he spoke. But it had weird pauses in it. I went off and put myself on tape for my audition, so in thinking about it, I thought they probably had to operate on my neck, my vocal chords got affected. And a cleft palate, having a part of your mouth missing, the dryness in your mouth would be an impediment -- just to get words out alone would be so difficult. That's why he makes clucks and ticks because he's trying to create the saliva in his mouth. I actually put wool in my mouth which is not only really uncomfortable but it pulls my lip right up which means I can't fully  close my mouth.

From Jole B.

Is Harrow based on a historical figure, like Nucky, Rothstein and Luciano? Or is he a purely fictional character?

Jack Huston

He was an amalgamation from a few things. My grandfather made a documentary after the war about shell shock victims which was banned in the U.S. for a long time. There were a couple of stories that were passed down and one, which I won't repeat - but the character was an amalgamation of  that story and a kid I knew at school who was sort of an outcast. He couldn't really relate to anyone but if you took the time to speak to him, he was one of the sweetest ,most genuine people and very smart. So that, plus my imagination.

From Timothy P.

Harrow, do you have any family? A wife, child, parents, siblings? Where do they live?

Jack Huston

One's given a bit of artistic freedom to create certain things - but I wouldn't want to step on the writers' feet. But he mentions his sister still sends him books. From that, since he's in Chicago, I made him a New Yorker. But he doesn't see anyone. When something catastrophic happens to you, you don't want anyone to see you. You want them to remember you how you were. So I always imagined that he does have a family but he's chosen not to see them. But by his sister sending him books, they must very much want to see him. So he communicates via letters because he doesn't want anything to do with anyone really. With Jimmy's acceptance, there's a possibility he may see his family again. He just needed some time. I don't think anyone had ever really spoken to him until Jimmy. It's just one of those weird connections. Harrow actually, uncharacteristically, is the person who instigates the conversation. I don't think it's something he would naturally do.

Interviews Seasons 1-3