Saturday, February 28, 2015


Johnny Harris at the House of St Barnabas, London.

“I am who I am. And without my past I don’t think I’d be the actor that I am; I don’t think I’d have the same references. Sometimes,” he says, “I think this is how it was meant to be.” 

We know him as the lovable caring dwarf and son who sings in Snow White and the Huntsman; however, Johnny Harris hasn't played such kind characters throughout his career.  The one which won him his BAFTA was as vile as any character could be. 

To be able to play such a range of characters didn't come easy to Harris. In a Guardian interview, Harris poignantly talks about his his humble journey into acting which included a stint as a boxer, a bout with depression, alcohol and homelessness. 

Most people have a delusional belief that actors come from high society, private schools and rich parents. But what you find is that they are just like us. Working folks going through life ups and downs just trying to make it but instead of driving a bus or becoming a doctor, they want to be actors.  

Harris believed, as most actors do, once you get that one part, you're a star.  But sometimes it doesn't work out that way. 

"In 2000, Harris did secure his first major screen job – the film Gangster No 1. “It was massively exciting. They flew me first class to Berlin and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m a movie star! I’ve cracked it!’” When this turned out not to be the case, he sunk into a depression. He finds it hard to pinpoint when he became an alcoholic, but for 10 to 15 years, he was “just keeping a face on things”."

Things went downhill from there. His friend who worked with Harris in Gangster No. 1 and who would later star with him in a blockbuster film called Snow White and the Huntsman, Eddie Marsan, gave Harris some help during this troubling time. 

"Helping out a friend in need, fellow actor Eddie Marsan, who he had worked with on Gangster No. 1, introduced him to the Union Theatre in Southwark. “He was directing a play there,” remembers Harris, “and I was really skint at the time, so I think he got me to paint the set.”  

Harris distance himself from both family and friends over a period of four years and became homeless under his own will. He slept on streets although he knew he had places to go.  It was a low time in his life where he turned to alcohol. 

"Eventually, Harris got help. “2004 was my lowest point,” he says now. In 2006, completely clean, he completed his first major role sober, in London to Brighton. Around the same time he met his wife, an adoption worker based in an office next door to the Union Theatre. This year, he celebrates his 10th anniversary of sobriety." 


Harris and his acting career took off.  Today Harris has played many characters and most who are not known for their charm. 

"His ability to play sociopaths on screen seems a true talent; in real life, Harris is relentlessly cheery, gentlemanly, charming."

The notable item which the characters have in common is a beard. It may seem funny, but the Harris beard has had an effect on a few of his fans who were initially introduced to Harris through the heinous character in 'This is England '86'. 

"It has been four years since Harris enacted one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve seen on television. Even now, when he wears a beard, he understands that people are still reminded of Mick, the serial sex offender he played in Shane Meadows’s This Is England ’86. His horrific raping of Trev at the end of the acclaimed first series landed Harris a Bafta nomination, but perhaps more importantly for him, it also saw viewers take to Twitter to share their feelings of grief, horror and shock: “I guess for me, that was the real gauge of whether I’d done the role justice. I remember one person saying that when they watched they could hardly breathe.”"

His beard has become a true signature through many characters.

From left: Harris in the television series 'The Fades', Snow White and the Huntsman
and currently in the television series 'Fortitude'.

"These days, the beard is becoming a frequent feature of his work, the common denominator in a wardrobe of characters that are all damaged in some way: his gangster in Welcome to the Punch; a man living on the edge in Jack Thorne’s BBC horror The Fades and now the quietly menacing Ronnie in Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude. Beard Fear, we agree, shows no signs of abating." 


Beard or no beard fans have nothing to fear. The real gentle and kindhearted man is far cry from the troubled characters onscreen.

Johnny Harris has become who he is because of his life experiences. What he has gone through has made him the great actor he is today. Life will do that.

“I am who I am. And without my past I don’t think I’d be the actor that I am; I don’t think I’d have the same references. Sometimes,” he says, “I think this is how it was meant to be.”

Read the interview in its entirety here and check out Johnny Harris every Thursday night on 'Fortitude' on Sky Atlantic (UK) and Pivot TV (US).

Johnny Harris.

Photos: The Guardian
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