Sideways Star Simon Harrison on California Dreaming & Rewarding Himself with a Glass of Pinot Noir

first_img Simon Harrison has a wealth of classical credits to his name but is putting his Shakespeare pedigree to one side to co-star alongside Daniel Weyman in the U.K. stage premiere of Sideways at the St. James Theatre. The play is based on the same novel that spawned the much-lauded 2004 film. Harrison inherits the role of Jack Cole, for which Thomas Haden Church was nominated for an Oscar. The English actor took time one recent afternoon to talk American roles, Pinot Noir, and not being related to Rex Harrison.Sideways is a glorious film, which did wonders at the time for sales of Pinot Noir.I’ve found that a great incentive to doing good work is to get a drink of a fantastic Pinot Noir at the end of the day. This has been a really happy rehearsal room.What is it like for you to be in a play based on Alexander Payne’s 2004 movie about two Californian buddies who embark upon an odyssey made up of both women and wine?I made a conscious decision not to look at the film again and to just try and go from the words on the page. It’s such a great film but there’s been no referencing of it, to be honest, because there hasn’t had to be. We’ve got the source of it with us in the room, in that Rex Pickett who wrote our play also wrote the novel on which the film was based. [The play ran in L.A. in a separate production in 2013.]I assume the intention here is in no way to mimic the film.Absolutely not. This is the same story but with a slightly different perspective, so that you get to live with and experience the characters in a new way. Rex has been fantastically open to exploring [the material] as a play.There’s a lot going on with your character, Jack Cole.I see Jack as this guy who embraces and loves life. He may not be as articulate as his buddy Miles [Paul Giamatti’s screen role, played here by Daniel Weyman], but the relationship works because Miles keeps Jack grounded and in the real world and introduces him to intellectual pursuits, whereas Jack wants to experience things and so channels his energy into stuff he can touch and feel and drink and eat.Was it hard not to think of Thomas Haden Church, who got an Oscar nod for the same role? My initial reaction going into the audition was that he was so good in that movie that I didn’t want to try and be him. Then I read [the script] and thought it’s so well-written that I simply found myself grateful to be able to do a brilliant part. The story contains comedy but also an underlying wistfulness, even poignancy.Especially, I think, in parts of America where people may have got to that place in their mid-to-late 30s where they aren’t at the end of their lives, so they can’t look back nostalgically, but they’re also starting to think that they may not get to where they want to be. All that gives Jack a real energy: he doesn’t want to talk about things, he wants to do them so that he doesn’t have to think. It’s 100 percent a universal story: At some point we all say to ourselves, “What is life about?” especially if you don’t have a family.Do you relate to that?Our director [Tony nominee David Grindley] is a big fan of the [1987 cult classic] film Withnail and I, so we’ve been referencing that Richard Griffiths line about the man who wakes up and realizes he will not be playing the Dane [as in Hamlet]. We all have moments where we feel that.  Have you spent time in California? I went once years ago, but this has in many ways been a whole new world for me. What’s been great is when we’ve had Rex [Pickett] with us in rehearsals because he’s a true southern Californian. Everything he writes about is what he’s experienced.Have you played American before?I did an American play straight out of drama school—Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind at Battersea Arts Centre [in 2006]. But we’ve got a fantastic voice coach on this who’s from California as well, so it feels as if we’re in a good place.  Is it true you’re related to Rex Harrison?I’m not, sadly. Rex Harrison did have a grandson called Simon who’s older than me and who did some acting and was very good. That confusion has come up before, but alas it isn’t true.  Well, the upside is you get to forge your career as you and not in someone else’s shadow.Exactly right.  Even if whatever you do next may not come with so much wine attached.I’m getting it written into my contract that I get a bottle of Pinot a week.   Daniel Weyman & Simon Harrison in rehearsal for ‘Sideways'(Photo: Pamela Raith Photography) View Commentslast_img

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