‘Mad Men’ Actor Reveals Shocking Death-Scene Secrets

In this crucial scene from Sunday's "Mad Men," Don Draper (Jon Hamm, left) demands that Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) resign. Pryce later hanged himself (Photo: AMC)

Actor Jared Harris said his “Mad Men” co-stars were prohibited from seeing him in full “corpse” makeup before three of them saw his lifeless body for the first time as it hung from a makeshift noose in Sunday’s episode of the acclaimed drama series.

That way, Harris explained, the three actors who entered the office of Lane Pryce, Harris’ character, would have an opportunity to genuinely and realistically react to his pale, dead appearance — greatly aiding their performances.

The three were Jon Hamm (as Don Draper), John Slattery (Roger Sterling) and Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell), who pushed open the door at Don’s suggestion to cut down Pryce’s body and lay him out on a couch in a bid, presumably, to give their tragic partner a semblance of dignity in death.

The effect of turning the very-much alive Harris into a man who had been dead for a day or more took about two hours of makeup artistry, Harris recalled in a telephone news conference on Monday, the day after the shocking death scene aired on AMC. Then, “they snuck me into the back of the soundstage with my head covered with a paper bag or an umbrella or something like that so no one could see the makeup effect,” Harris said.

Then, he said, “They strapped me up to a harness and hung me from the ceiling and then they brought the actors in. [The expressions on their faces were] pretty much their [real] reactions.”

Pryce’s suicide was the most talked-about plot point of Sunday’s “Mad Men” episode, the 12th of the current fifth season, which has its finale next Sunday night on AMC. The Britisher, one of the senior partners in the ad agency, killed himself because he’d stolen $7,500 from the firm in order to satisfy tax debts he owed in his native country. The embezzlement was discovered early in Sunday’s episode and Don requested that Lane resign. Instead of doing that, Lane took his own life.

In the telephone news conference, Harris also revealed:

Certainly, the show’s cast and crew knew about Lane’s impending demise in advance, even if they didn’t lay eyes on his corpse until that particular scene was filmed. Harris said he first learned of his character’s fate from one of his more resourceful co-stars. “People sort of find out at different times,” Harris said. “Normally, John Slattery finds out before anybody else because he knows where the scripts are hidden.” Harris said the mood on the set on the day the hanging scene was shot “was pretty grim.”

The most difficult thing about playing a dead man who had hanged himself: What do you do with your tongue? “The tricky thing with that is your tongue,” he said, “because when we looked at photographs of people who had hung themselves, the tongue protrudes out of the mouth. And you try and figure out how you can get the tongue to stick out in that sort of weird, lifeless way, but then your tongue has a life of its own and it twitches and retracts of its own volition.”

His own reaction to the news that he would be leaving the show with his character’s death was one of resignation. He said he understood producer-creator Matt Weiner’s reasoning for taking Lane’s story in that direction. And, Harris said, “I could see from an acting point of view that it was a benefit to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.”

But having said that, he conceded that he wished Lane could have stuck it out to the end. At present, plans call for “Mad Men” to wrap it up in two more seasons. “I know that ‘Mad Men’ is just going to get bigger and bigger as it builds toward Season Seven,” Harris said. “There’s already an obsession with the last episode [among the show’s cast and creative team] and I’m sad that I won’t be a part of that. But then again, I joined [the show] late, so there’s no reason why I should be. I’m very, very lucky to have been a part of it.”

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