Richard Harmon didn’t think he was going to live past the first few episodes of The 100.
In the pilot of The CW’s locally shot post-apocalyptic drama, Harmon’s character – called John #1 to differentiate him from John #2 – functioned as the bona-fide bad seed in a group of 100 juvenile delinquents sent back to Earth 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse nearly wiped out humanity.
Harmon is the prototypical familiar face in the Vancouver screen scene, recognizable for his dark recurring roles on such fan favourite fare as The Killing, Bates Motel, and Continuum. He believed his The 100 job to be a fun, albeit short-term, gig.
But there was something in Harmon’s performance in that first episode that made the powers-that-be want to keep him around.
“After the pilot, [the creator, Jason Rothenberg] emailed and said that he really liked what I did, and that we were going to series, and he wanted me to stick around,” says Harmon in a recent phone interview.
“He said, ‘I’m going to give you a last name, it’s going to be Murphy, we’re going to call you Murphy most of the time, you’re going to be a bad guy for season one.’”
And so Murphy served as a central ne’er-do-well over that first season, and as a flawed but increasingly nuanced ne’er-do-well in the second (if you’ve yet to experience The 100, Reel People recommends heading over to Netflix and indulging in one helluva binge). Harmon was billed as a guest star the entire time.
When The 100 returns for its third season this week, Harmon will be back, too.
This time, however, the Vancouver actor will be billed as a series regular.
“It meant the world to me when they called and told me for season three they were going to offer me a series regular,” he says. “It was something that I never thought would happen, that I worked very hard to get, and then to finally have it was a very – It was one of the best moments of my life, honestly.”
It’s a big deal for a Vancouver actor – the most our thespians can usually hope for from a locally shot American show is a primo guest star gig – and it’s been made even sweeter because the first few minutes of the third season belong to Murphy alone.
“The season starts with me and the first three minutes of the season, I think, in my mind, was Jason our creator’s gift to me as being a series regular,” says Harmon. “It was so much fun for me, and I couldn’t believe that they entrusted me to start the season off by myself for three minutes.”
Harmon is from as close to a showbiz family as we have in Vancouver: dad Allan is a director and actor; mom Cynde is a producer; sister Jessica is an actress.
It was while visiting Allan on the set of Andromeda that 7-year-old Richard got a real eye-opener about the biz.
“I remember falling in love with set that day and thinking this was the coolest place ever,” says Harmon.
The second season of The 100 ended with the introduction of a new threat – A.L.I.E., a mysterious hologram in a killer red dress – and the prospect of war.
In season 3, Murphy will continue on a familiar path – “on the journey of survival for himself,” according to Harmon – with one key difference.
“This season, I think what everyone will be interested in seeing is seeing Murphy make decisions that don’t have everything to do with just himself,” says Harmon.
“He makes decisions that will benefit others in a few moments. That’s very big for him as a character. But I think now he’s grown in a way that he’s not all about just his survival, and sometimes he understands that sacrificing himself in certain situations might lead to the greater good for others.”
Those are Murphy’s motivations. Harmon’s work is motivated by fear.
“The thing that keeps me coming back to [acting] is it stresses me out to no end,” says Harmon. “I get very scared and very worried about this kind of stuff, and a lot of the time I don’t have fun doing it, but that’s what keeps me coming back. There are very few things that have ever made me go, ‘I need to take responsibility for this because I don’t like to fail in this.’”
And so, fueled by fear, Harmon loves to work. He spent his two-week Christmas hiatus shooting Puppet Killer, a low-budget horror flick also starring Aleks Paunovic, Lisa Durupt, Kyle Cassie, Gigi Saul Guerrero, and Lee Majdoub.
“Everyone is playing 17 except for me, and they’re all mid-30s to early 40s, and I’m mid-20s and playing a 13-year-old,” he laughs.
Puppet Killer was directed by Lisa Ovies and produced by Vancouver’s gore-loving twin filmmakers, The Soska Sisters.
“I think it says a lot about the production and where it’s all coming from when you’re able to get that many people on their holiday to come in and go, ‘Yes, we can do this for you,’” says Harmon.
But back to Murphy. Fans of The 100 either love him or loathe him (“I’m glad to have such a polarizing character like that,” says Harmon). Harmon has had to get used to more people knowing who he is in his day-to-day life.
“I get recognized at least once a day just walking around. Probably two or three, and that wasn’t something I thought would ever happen to me,” says Harmon.
“I’m so grateful to the fans for watching so that I can pay my mortgage. I owe them a lot, because them watching has got us multiple seasons. Hopefully they’ll give us another one.”
The 100 airs Thursdays at 9pm on The CW.
MORE FROM RICHARD HARMON
On what he loves about Murphy: “What I love about him, and love playing in him, is he’s absolutely relentless. I’ve always said this. That’s my favourite part of who he is, and how I played him in the pilot. He’s just like a wild dog. He’s relentless, and whatever he puts his mind to, he will do. The only thing that will stop him is if you kill him, because once he gets his mind to something, he will accomplish it, which is what I love about him, which is usually, in the first season, it was bad things that he put his mind to sometimes.”
On his favourite prank he’s been a part of while appearing on The 100: “We prank all of the time. Last year, when I was splitting time between Continuum and The 100 for the end of the season, I went to Continuum and they were doing my hair, and my hair was so long at that point because of The 100, and they were like, ‘You look nothing like you did last season on Continuum.’ And I said, ‘You can’t cut it,’ and they said, ‘It would be funny if we did, but they’d hate us.’ And I said, ‘Do you have a wig?’ So we found this wig that matched my hair colour perfectly, and it looked horrible. The worst hair cut you’ve ever seen: chopped up bangs way up past my eyebrows, and my bangs at that point for The 100 went down past my chin, so that would be a big – it would screw them over completely. They put it on me and took a photo, and I sent it to Janice at The 100 who is our hair person, and I said, ‘I am so sorry, I told them they could do a little trim, and they went too far, I just didn’t want to tell them no, and I told them they couldn’t cut it, but the producers were getting mad at me, and they said they were going to fire me if they couldn’t.’ And she bought it, and she lost it. She said, ‘Are you serious?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m so sorry.’ She said, ‘Okay, we’ll figure it out.’ And I had to stop it at that point and say, ‘I’m so sorry, Janice, this wasn’t for real.’ She was fully going go try to find and way to make it work.”
On his favourite scenes in the first two seasons of The 100: “Either the hanging scene in season one, or the scene with Raven in season two, episode one, where you find out what happened with my parents, because they just let us shoot that for a long time. They treated it like a play. They set the cameras and let me and Lindsey [Morgan] just do it for minutes and minutes and minutes. It was awesome. Also the one with me and Isaiah [Washington] and we’re sitting in the Drop Ship, and they’re trying to understand each other a little better, and I tell him that no good happened with him sending us down here. That scene for me was incredible. It was one of the first times that I got to work with Isaiah extensively, and that became one of the best working relationships I have on the show. I love the man.”
On missing Julian Randol, the character he played on Continuum: “I miss how different he is from Murphy. I love them both in so many different ways, and I’m going to miss Murphy when I stop playing Murphy eventually. Julian had this mental chess game thing about him that I really liked, and I’ve kind of been missing that, so I’ve put it into Murphy a little bit, that kind of chess player mentality he had. Now Murphy has that, which is cool. I’m just treating it like, yeah, the ground kind of taught Murphy how to think two steps ahead and be wary of everything. But really a lot of that just came from me missing that portion of playing that for the last four years.”
On shooting The 100 in Vancouver: “It’s my home, and a lot of the time I’m shooting with the same people that I’ve known and loved for years. There’s actors, hair and make-up, grips, literally everyone – Ian our AD, I worked with him on Continuum before, and now on this, and we have such a good respect for one another. I’ve worked with all of the guys who work on The 100 before at some point in my career, so we have this rapport, and we have this great way of working together, and we already know how to work together.”
On his love of SpongeBob SquarePants: “I will always love SpongeBob. I met Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob, at a convention, and I broke down. They let me meet him. ‘Hey, man, it’s nice to meet you’ – I was acting all cool – ‘I just wanted to let you know you’ve been a big part of my life since I was young, anytime I’m sad I put on SpongeBob, it’s always what cheers me up, makes me feel good.’ We talked for 15 minutes. He was the nicest guy, and as soon as he walked away, I turned around and my convention agent was like, ‘Are you okay?’ I was like, ‘I’m fine.’ ‘Are you going to cry?’ And I just started breaking down in tears. I was like, ‘You have no idea how much this means to me.’”
On success: “For me, what I’ve always wanted is to be a working actor, and work non-stop for the rest of my life until the day I die. That’s what success is to me. I don’t care if it’s 15 Hallmark TV movies a year or if it’s on one big television show or one big movie or two big movies a year that take five months to shoot: whatever it is, I just want to work for the rest of my life.”
On playing psychopaths and assholes: “That’s the character I get cast as a lot. I love playing them. As I’ve grown as an actor, I’ve found ways to make each character different, and that keeps it interesting for me to continue playing bad guys or guys with a bit of an edge. Psychopaths and assholes. I like every beat. That’s a lot of what I’ve been trusted to play so far in my career. I know that there’s a lot more that I can do, and I’m sure a lot of people will find that out sooner rather than later and I think it just takes the right person to trust me with the right project to switch it up a bit.”