follows Kirby Mazarachi (Elisabeth Moss), who after a brutal attack, is left with reality always shifting around her. When she discovers a recent murder has connections to her assault, she teams up with reporter Dan Velasquez (Wagner Moura) to understand what is happening to her and to confront her past and her attacker.
Jamie Bell, who plays the part of Harper Curtis, Mazarachi’s attacker, talked to SciFi Vision at a recent roundtable about balancing what to pull from the book or the script and what to add creatively when creating his version of the character. The actor got some help from the author when deciding where he should pull from. “Lauren gave me a copy of her book,” said Bell, “and she wrote this incredible inscription that I'm desperately trying to remember, because it would make [her] sound very clever, and she is very clever, obviously…[It was] kind of like this idea that he needs control over everything, because the idea that things just happen randomly is terrifying. It's the idea that things are set in stone, and [yet] you can control them and bend and change them at your will. That's kind of like the power of a god or something. It really is like this incredible ability when you think about it, and the idea that it might just all be actually random and that you don't have control even over yourself - which he doesn't have control over himself - is just terrifying to him. I thought that was such an interesting description for her to put in the book.”
Although he loved the book, Bell did say that some things had to be changed in adapting it to a series. “There's almost like a suaveness to him,” said the actor, “and then there's also a very immediate viciousness in the book. Because the book has the ability to see things from his point of view, you could have that, whereas in the show, we're experiencing Harper through other people, mainly. It's how Dan finds him or how [Kirby] finds him or how [Jin-Sook] (Phillipa Soo) is engaging with him. It's kind of a different way into the character, what you're experiencing. So, we had to modify it and change it a little bit.
“This is just a study in behavior for me really. I was more interested in what he does when he's alone more than anything, but we don't we don't really have time for that.”
For more, be sure to read the full transcript below, and watch Shining Girls
on Apple TV+.
Lightly edited for clarity
How do you think Harper would describe himself, and what was your way in? How do you understand him to be?
It’s such a good question. He’d probably describe himself as an up and comer. He’d describe himself as someone who, I mean, if being bluntly honest about it, I think he would kind of say the world hasn't been good to him, that he's more deserving of the things that he has. I think he's also someone who's kind of always trying to make a quick buck. He's trying to make a lucky break. I certainly don't think that he would describe himself as a deranged sociopath, but then again, not many deranged sociopaths do. I think he sees that the world is out to get him and that the world kind of owes him one, in a way. I think he sees himself as someone who's - he likes to think of himself as a strong man, and he likes to think of himself as someone who has experienced things that validates him as a as a male, like war or combat or the honor of serving in the military, but I don't think he holds any of those things valuable to his heart. I think how he would describe himself is completely different to what he is, because he would never admit the truth. I think if he was honest, I think he thinks the world owes him something. Because he's coming back to America during the Great Depression, which we don't really focus any time on that, but that's the world that he's inhabiting, which is like, “Well, there is nothing for me. I don't get a good shot at this. I did go and do this thing and [go to] war, and now what chance do [I] have? So, now someone owes me something.” I think I didn't really start with that as a character; that's just kind of like where it went to in the end, but I think that's probably what he would say. “It's just never fucking easy for me,” is probably what he would say.
I believe you have ties to Cleveland on the other side of the world?
Yes, I do. Cleveland County Durham. Yes.
Do you have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame there?JAMIE BELL:
No, I don't think so.QUESTION:
Have you been to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I have not, no.
Congratulations on the series, and also, congratulation on playing creepy, because you nailed it. How did you approach that element of that role of the character?
To kind of not play him as creepy, really. It was to kind of do the [opposite]. If the scene required that, it was to try and find something else to do. You know, if he's meant to be creepy and intimidating and scary, then for me, I should play it like it's a meet cute or it's a romantic scene, or it's a fantasy, or it's a dream, or just find something else to play. I think when you start kind of going like “I need to be creepy now,” that's when it kind of starts to not feel so creepy. But yeah, I was fortunate to also work with just great directors on this, Michelle [MacLaren] and Daina [Reid] and Elisabeth [Moss]. They're just so fantastic and so giving and so allowing for me to kind of be stupid and crazy, and that was great. I felt very fortunate to be in such good hands in that sense.
We learn more about your character as the show progresses, but since he's so mysterious for the first few episodes, did you find it challenging to calibrate your performance in a way where you didn't give away too much too soon?
Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Also, just in terms of like, doing the show in the first place, because when you read that, you’re kind of like, “Okay, I get it. He's the villain; it's kind of clear up front. He has some eccentricities and everything else, but I don't really know what the heart of him is. I don't know what the foundation of him is.” So, Silka [Luisa] and Michelle kind of gave me later episodes, which I don't even think were completed at that time, just kind of outlines of ideas. I mean, I knew that the novel was there, and I could kind of rely on that as something, but our characters are kind of a little different to what the characters [are] in the book. So, yeah, it was tricky. I think the first episode or two, I did kind of feel a little bit at sea in terms of like, what do I have to hang on to here? What do we have to kind of plant him in the ground? So, I just kind of messed with the idea of that control. That's the thing that can compels him; that's the compulsion. The gratification is seeing these women terrified for their lives; that excites him. It's thrilling. It's like a drug; you just can't put it down. He has to have it. So, just playing with that, I guess. It's understanding where that comes from, where that emanates from. I think we all have a kind of morbid fascination with what makes these people do these kinds of things, and, I guess, for me, that was the kind of journey of making this, like, could I have a better understanding of why someone maybe does this?
I just wondered if you could talk about sort of how you balanced what part you drew from the book versus the script versus brought in of your own creativity.
I mean, I love the book. I thought the book was really compelling and interesting. Obviously, certain characters [are different]. I think Dan is probably the most different from the book as to the character that Wagner [Moura] plays. I think he's different in our show than he is in the book. But there's a lot in the book that was really great.
Lauren gave me a copy of her book, and she wrote this incredible inscription that I'm desperately trying to remember, because it would make [her] sound very clever, and she is very clever, obviously, but I’ve forgotten what it is. She wrote this book, which is kind of this idea that he needs control over everything, because the idea that things just happen randomly is terrifying. It's the idea that things are set in stone, [yet] you can control them and bend and change them at your will. That's kind of like the power of a god or something. It really is this incredible ability when you think about it, and the idea that it might just all be actually random and that you don't have control even over yourself - which he doesn't have control over himself - is just terrifying to him. I thought that was such an interesting description for her to put in the book.
…There's a lot of stuff that I took from the book. One thing I did take from the book was that he's handsome, because there was very little I could do about that. [laughs]
So, I can't really do much about that. And because I played him, like we did need to change [some things], like there's almost like a suaveness to him, and then there's also a very immediate viciousness in the book. Because the book has the ability to see things from his point of view, you could have that, whereas in the show, we're experiencing Harper through other people, mainly. It's how Dan finds him or how [Kirby] finds him or how [Jin-Sook] is engaging with him. It's kind of a different way into the character, what you're experiencing. So, we had to modify it and change it a little bit.
But this is just a study in behavior for me, really. I was more interested in what he does when he's alone more than anything, but we don't we don't really have time for that…I hope that answered your question, a rather random answer.
This one, you're exploring such darkness at work. How hard is that to leave behind when you get home?JAMIE BELL:
…It's easy. You just kind of clock off, that's that. You can always tell from the people around you, because they'll tell you like, you know, “You're a little bit this,” or they’re like, “Can you just relax, please?” But I think it was okay. I mean, I usually use a lot a lot of music to kind of get into and just to find things, where things should sit. So, I would listen to a lot of music.
But the physical stuff was genuinely hard to do. It was less about, “is it hard to get away from?” It was more, “it's hard to get into.” Some of the physical stuff, especially, I’d never really had that sensation of like, “Oh, no, I actually just genuinely don't think I can do this.” Usually I'll just kind of jump off a cliff and go, “I don't know, how was it?” You know, who knows? You never know. But the physical stuff, specifically…because when you read physical violence or physical stuff in scripts, you just immediately go to “Well, that's a stunt,” and that's either not me, or it's really rehearsed, and it becomes the punch or whatever. But violence like this is so different, because it's centered in a much different place. It’s like this gratification for someone. This is excitement. This is thrilling. This is intimate, almost in a sexual kind of way. On this show, that's the way we kind of looked at these scenes, like this should be treated almost the same as a sex scene or something. This is really, really profoundly intimate. So, we did it. So, that stuff, it was more hard to get into, and I was very happy to leave that stuff behind.