HARRIS: The playwright has given you the structure, the outline, the words that expose feelings.
TM: What do you look for in a director?
HARRIS: That they light the fire under you. I've been spoiled with some great directors. Charles Nelson Reilly--that's the ultimate, that's Mt. Everest, because not only is he extraordinarily intuitive, but he makes the experience of finding the story together fun.
TM: What was it like working with Harold Clurman?
HARRIS: Harold was wonderful. He would whip everybody up to fever pitch before you began the first rehearsal. You read the play and then he'd talk about it. Then you'd read it again, and he would talk, talk, and talk for two or three days at least. I wish he would stop talking and let us do it. By that time you were so whipped to a frenzy that you wanted to reach the story, you wanted to encompass it. He knew so much about theater.
TM: Do you know when you're beginning a play how it's going to go? Do you ever say this play is destined to...?
HARRIS: I think we all knew that with The Member of the Wedding. With a play like that, you didn't care if anybody else liked it. You just knew how special it was.
TM: Was it a different experience making the movie after doing the play?
HARRIS: It was my first movie and I was still giving a stage performance, and Fred Zinnemann had to constantly bring me down.
TM: What were rehearsals for the play like?
HARRIS: There was a great Life magazine photographer, Ruth Orkin. She was assigned to take pictures of me the opening day of The Member of the Wedding. She was there from the time I got up in the morning until I came back home and washed the makeup off my legs in my tub in my coldwater flat. Her daughter recently sent me those pictures. There was a shot of Ethel Waters, Brandon DeWilde, and myself taking a curtain call. It made me cry. Ethel is there with her little fur around her throat and Brandon in his little white suit and me. I'm the last one. They're all gone now.
TM: What was opening night like?
HARRIS: I didn't think I was particularly good that night, but the audience didn't know the difference. When the curtain came up for the curtain call, the audience sounded like the roar of the ocean. We were standing on the shore and the ocean was coming over us. I thought, oh my God, they embraced this play. That was in this picture. The three of us standing there like, "What's that noise? What's that sound?" I can tell you great moments that I have seen that will make it live for you. How the world stopped when Laurette Taylor smiled and laughed and sang. I didn't know where I was when the curtain came down. I said, "I never want to leave this theater." That's why I see things like Nicholas Nickelby and Roy Dotrice doing his one-man show, Brief Lives, seven times. I never can get enough. I took Charles Nelson Reilly, who doesn't like to go to the theater, to Nicholas Nickelby, and when the play was over he said, "Can we go again?" I said, "We can go everyday if you want." At it's very best, the theater is a balm for hurt minds. It unites us as human beings, gives us a home, brings us together. You say: That's what it means to be alive, to be human, to feel your heart beat. That's what it means. Theater does that.