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Man, Oh, Man

A small, savvy fan base has fallen for Harris’s melding of the arty and the manly: He’s often called the “thinking woman’s sex symbol.” But the larger audience, those who can’t quite match the name with the gaunt face, see just another indelible but anonymous villain-or-sidekick character actor.

Maybe that’s why Harris bristles when discussing his public image; here comes that cold, blue stare again. “I don’t know what my persona is. I don’t give a fuck either, to tell you the truth.

Once, he hurled a chair in order to elicit a stronger performance from Marcia Gay Harden.

“Perhaps that’s a drawback to my career,” he adds, “because I haven’t tried to get into a place where I’m playing the same guy over and over again. But to me, what’s fun about it is being as neutral as I can—not in life, but when I work.”

Pollock was in many ways the ultimate Ed Harris movie, a triumph for actor and director, but he still took a personal loss on it, and “I had to do some work afterward”—Enemy at the Gates?—“that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

But then came The Hours and, with it, his fourth Oscar nomination. Now he promises to do more New York theater when his daughter leaves the house, and to “direct a few times before I leave the planet”—beginning with a Western called Appaloosa, starring Viggo Mortensen and Diane Lane. Will more chairs be hurled?

“I think what you’re trying to get at is I’m some kind of control freak, which I’m not,” he says later. “Over the years, you learn to give that up, you realize you only have so much control.” He’s open to different things. He’d like to be in a good comic role, for example (and Wrecks, despite his protestations, is not that). But the only one he’s done so far was Milk Money, a 1994 dud about a few dudes who hire a stripper. It isn’t one of his favorites. Then again, “I had some woman tell me it was her favorite movie the other day, so what are you gonna do?” He offers a shrug and—finally—a long, crooked smile.