Much of the Boardwalk Empire ensemble cast is like a who’s who of actors who are becoming increasingly famous with every episode — and perhaps the most impressive of the whole lot is Jack Huston, who plays Richard Harrow, a World War I veteran who lost half his face in battle.
Harrow might be the most compelling character on the show, especially since he has become one of the main cast in the current second season based on the strength of his character’s appearances during the first season.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Huston details the difficulties in playing a character who is both physically deformed and emotionally decimated.
It probably isn’t easy playing such a conflicted character — especially since half of Huston’s face is covered by Harrow’s tin mask and his voice is both harsh and halted — but Huston sees it as a learning experience. He says, “Taking this on has been a master class in acting. I have such an emotional attachment to this guy; I understood him right away. Sometimes I will do a scene, and afterward just break down on my way to the trailers. He’s so sad. He’s an incredibly good person with a moral code.” The reason for Harrow’s conflicted character is that while he appears to be a gentle soul wanting nothing more than to lead a normal family life, he has an uncanny ability to pull off the ruthless murders featured in nearly every episode. Huston describes this contrast by point out, “The one thing that Richard knows how to do really well is kill. To Richard, killing is a job. But his heart is a very different thing. He emotionally detaches when he kills.”
Huston, of course, is part of the famous Huston acting family, which includes Anjelica Huston (his aunt), Danny Huston (his uncle), actor/director John Huston (his grandfather), and Walter Huston (his great-grandfather). Nonetheless, Jack Huston says that this pedigree didn’t particularly influence him at first, claiming that when it comes to acting, “I sort of discovered it on my own before I knew what my family really did.”
But appearing as Harrow makes his decision to join the family business easy. Huston explains that he was immediately drawn to the character, saying, “His emotional gravitas just came off the page. Underneath everything he’s going through, he wants love. And he thinks people are mocking him when they say it’s possible for him to have it.”
Still, the physical demands of the role aren’t easy, even if the discomfort helps him in the role. Huston confesses, “The mask is uncomfortable. I put gauze on my lip, which makes it hard to talk, so I have unnatural facial expressions. It puts me in the head space of how Richard would feel.” To add to Harrow’s unnaturalness, Huston draws on an early inspiration. He explains, “My father was a falconer, and I grew up around hawks. Richard was a sniper in the Army, so I base his movements like that bird.”
With Boardwalk Empire recently renewed for a third season, it’s likely that we’re just beginning to see what Jack Huston is capable of both as Harrow and in all the future roles that will doubtlessly come his way.