Jared Harris, who plays Capt. Francis Crozier on AMC’s The Terror, discusses Crozier’s struggle with being second in command, why this isn’t a “monster story”, and why there won’t be any cruises in his future.
Q: AMC fans know you perhaps best as Mad Men’s Lane Pryce. What interested you in this role?
A: It always starts with the scripts. This is six or seven months out of your life, so you want to find something that’s worth investing that much time in. I got sent Episode 1 and I knew right away. I met with Dave [Kajganich] and Soo [Hugh] and we had lunch and talked about it. The whole architecture of the show was worked out at that point. I remember one of the questions I had was if it becomes a monster story and they said no. It’s about this world and these people and this environment and it’s more of a psychological terror story. It’s almost a metaphor. It’s quite easy to imagine that quite quickly, by Episode 2 or 3, it’s just endless running from the creature and at that point, it’s less challenging as an actor. It was very much focused on these people. Different people took over the role of who the “terror” was in the narrative.
Q: How would you describe who Crozier is at the beginning of the story?
A: He’s not thrilled to be there at the beginning because he has been marginalized. There is a version of this where he could have been in charge of the expedition but he’s Irish and the English didn’t want the [Northwest] Passage to be discovered by anyone other than an Englishman. They brought him along because he had the skill, but they didn’t want him to be in charge. They didn’t want the credit to go to anyone else. At that point in our story, he’s realized – similarly to Lane Pryce actually – that he’s hit a glass ceiling he’s not going to get beyond. This is historically accurate. Even though he was second in command, he practically wasn’t because Fitzjames was given the responsibility of outfitting the ships and picking all the crew and he made a lot of mistakes in who he picked. Crozier can see these mistakes being made, but he doesn’t have any agency to change these decisions. You can tell from the letters he wrote that he’d become resigned and he had that chip on his shoulder about it. He obviously didn’t anticipate any of the problems they were going to encounter. The people who saw him before he took off on the trip talked about him being incredibly melancholic and despondent. One of the things that interested me is the nature of being second in command. It’s quite easy, when you’re in that position of second, to second-guess because you don’t have the responsibility of making decisions.
Q: How do all the layers and differences between Crozier and Franklin play into that first power struggle in the Series Premiere?
A: You get the feeling that the situation they’re in hasn’t been fully grasped by the leadership. Fitzjames had no experience either, so he would be in a position to possibly affect Franklin’s thinking, but he doesn’t know so he’s blindly following his leader. You have that phrase in American history about manifest destiny. I suppose there’s that same idea amongst the English back then – that they were destined to succeed, that all glory was going to filter down towards them and the Queen, and that they were protected by God. From his letters, I didn’t get a strong instinct of [Crozier’s] faith. What we focused on more was that he was a practical character and it was about figuring out which choices you have. His proposal that he makes to Franklin is a good one, but risky. There’s a version of events where what Franklin is saying could have worked out and Crozier’s was a more cautious one and less adventurous and heroic. One of the things we explore is having to live with the consequences of the decisions you didn’t make.
Q: In Episode 2, even when one of the men is killed, Crozier is solely focused on the leads in the ice. Is he aware of how his single-minded focus might be misinterpreted by others on the expedition?
A: There’s a realization of how bad this can get, which they hint at darkly in that first episode when he talks to Franklin, who’s had experience with what people do when they get desperate. He can see that this situation can get very bad. I also think there’s something irritating to him that they’re more focused on the idea that they lost an English officer. That is an indulgence of sentimentality you can’t afford at this moment. Right now, we’re in a situation where we need to figure out how we’re going to get out of this and if this isn’t going to work, we need to have a Plan B and Plan C and Plan D.
Q: How did you approach Crozier’s drinking problem? Do you think that is seen by the other men as a weakness of his?
A: We talked about that in terms of how heavy to play it up. There are people who are capable of maintaining a certain level of quiet inebriation and can function really well and they don’t really know that they’re buzzed. That’s sort of where we find him in the beginning. If you were succeeding, I don’t think people would comment or complain. It’s part of the ostracization the character finds himself in, and it becomes a flaw and you’re looking for reasons to diminish and discount the man. In that sense, he’s a Cassandra character who can see the future and no one believes him. When you’re playing someone who drinks a lot, it’s not that interesting to play that condition because as soon as you know that, you got all the information you’re going to get from it. It’s like hitting the same note on the piano over and over again. It just needs to be there as part of the person’s baggage until you want to use it to make different points.
Q: Crozier is one of the few people who can speak the Inuit language and gets information from Lady Silence in Episode 2. What does he think of her mysterious warning?
A: I don’t think he knows about the Tuunbaq. He understands there’s a different relation the Inuit and the shamans have with the environment and their surroundings, and there’s a mysticism and spiritualism about their society. That’s one of the things Nive [Nielsen] was incredibly helpful with. She said they wouldn’t talk about it because it’s such a sacred conversation. If you were a part of that community, you couldn’t share it with anybody else. Even saying the name is crossing a line and an uncomfortable moment. They were sharing something they shouldn’t be sharing. But he doesn’t understand what she’s referring to.
Q: What was your favorite part about working on this project?
A: I found it all challenging in an exciting way. Working with phenomenally talented people like Ian Hart, Paul Ready, Adam [Nagaitis], Ciarán [Hinds], Tobias [Menzies], Christos [Lawton] and all these wonderful actors – you develop a relationship over the course of 10 episodes. I’d say the thing I enjoyed the most was finishing up in Pag and Croatia. That was a really special way to end in that environment. You do feel a sense of claustrophobia going back to the same set. I don’t see any cruises in my future. [Laughs]
This Q&A was originally published on AMC’s The Terror website. It has been reposted here for posterity.