Ed Harris Talks ‘Phantom,’ His Favorite Submarine Movies and the Possibility of Intimidating His Fellow Actors


Like the real-life nuclear submarine that went missing from the Russian fleet in 1968, the film Phantom sailed into theaters pretty much under many people’s radar. A smaller production boasting names like Ed Harris, William Fichtner, and David Duchovny in the cast, it is being distributed by RCR Distribution. However, it is getting a wider release than some, including the stars themselves, anticipated.

Harris plays the commander of this Russian sub as it goes rogue under mutiny. It is inspired by a true story, which is detailed in the book “Red Rogue Star” by Kenneth Sewell, who also served as a consultant on the film. In the real incident, the sub went undetected for years before being eventually and partially raised from the ocean floor.


Do you enjoy working on a smaller release like this one, compared to bigger studio productions?

To tell you the truth, I’m rather surprised they’re releasing this in as many theaters as they are. First of all, [director Todd Robinson] is a buddy of mine, and I liked the characters, so I thought, what the heck. It was a pleasant surprise that they’re putting it out there a bit. This obviously wasn’t for the money. it’s because a buddy of mine was directing a movie and asked me to be in it, and I thought it was a good film.

I normally don’t like the “Inspired By True Events” label, but it’s entirely appropriate here, don’t you think?

When this Russian sub went down in ’68, 1500 miles northwest of Hawaii, the states didn’t even know about it for a couple years until one of our subs saw it down there. There’s still a lot of mystery about exactly what happened. I don’t think they recovered enough of the log to know what transpired. So yeah, it’s inspired by that incident of a Russian sub that went down and no one knows why.


How do you go about preparing for a role like this? It’s not like you can interview the people involved.

There’s holes in the mystery of what really took place, but there’s no holes in the script. My work was getting into my character, thinking about his past, his relationship with his father who was this big shot in terms of writing the book on submarine warfare for the Russian navy and an accident that happened earlier in his life. A lot of it was the technical aspect of being the captain of a submarine and what the hell am I talking about at the time. I had to really get into that and understand how a submarine works and what all these commands means and what exactly is going on in any given moment. It was fun and a good education.

I’m assuming you worked in pretty close quarters, right?

It’s pretty small, yeah. [laughs] First of all, it was great that we were actually able to film in the type of sub that the story is based on. There was nothing set about it. Everything that was in the sub was in the sub. So there’s no plastic knobs, no styrofoam anything. There’s no wooding. This is all metal, and you have to be careful because you could hurt yourself.

It also forces you when you’re dealing with the other actors. You’re right in each other’s face. It’s cramped quarters. You’re dealing with people like inches away from you half the time. It lends a real authenticity. The more you’re given as an actor in terms of your environment, the better you can embrace the reality.

It was a good camaraderie among everybody. You had to be patient. you had to get along. You had to be supportive of one another.


Was there a danger of getting hurt in such a small space with so many protrusions?

No one ever really got hurt. You just had to get really used to where you were in the sub so you didn’t smash your head against something. If you have to take a fall, we had good stunt guys. You just had to be sure if you were falling back, you knew where you were and didn’t knock yourself out.

On a smaller movie like this, with your long list of awards and nominations, do you intimidate the other actors?

I think if I wanted to intimidate other actors, I probably could, but that’s not how I work. The more comfortable somebody feels in their skin working with me, the better they’re gonna be, so I try to make people at ease, trying to tell the truth and do the best for the scene.

Was it a choice to not have anyone in the film speak in a Russian accent?

That was the director’s choice very consciously. He didn’t want it to be a film about accents. He didn’t want it to be distracting. And I think it’s also something about the universality of mankind. These aren’t just Russians. Theses are human beings dealing with what they’re dealing with.

What’s your favorite submarine movie of all time?

Other than Phantom, I’ve gotta say Das Boot.

Phantom is currently playing nationwide.

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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