“I was on board right away,” proclaims Tony and Emmy-winning actor Neil Patrick Harris about playing Henry Coltrane on the British limited series “It’s a Sin.” The period drama, created and written by Russell T Davies, documents the rise of HIV/AIDS in London during the early 1980s and has been both a critical and ratings smash in both the United Kingdom and America, where it aired on HBO Max. Check out our exclusive video interview above. SPOILERS INCLUDED.
The audience meets the dapper Henry Coltrane at the tailor’s shop on Savile Row where young Colin (Callum Scott Howells) is working as an apprentice. Henry quickly befriends Colin and acts as a sort of mentor to the naive and wide-eyed young gay man. Henry invites Colin to dinner, where Colin meets Henry’s longtime partner and sees a life that the young man never imagined for himself. Tragedy strikes when both Henry and his partner begin to suffer from a rare cancer, later revealed to be AIDS related.
Despite only appearing in the first episode, Harris says he jumped at the chance to work with Davies. “I hold him up on a very high pedestal,” he argues. “So for me it was less needing to tell the story, but blown away that he was telling the story.” Harris was also drawn to the fact that the character got a complete arc in just a single episode. “I loved the journey that Henry was able to take,” he says. “I just found that trajectory — maybe bad guy, good friend, life example and then fall from grace– you don’t get those parts very often.”
Harris only did a little research about the devastation of AIDS to prepare for his most emotional scenes when his character lies alone in a hospital ward. The actor says it was important to reflect the character’s confusion about what was happening to him, reflecting the confusion and loneliness of many AIDS victims early in that particular pandemic. “The lines that were written for me were all ones of questioning,” he explains. “I was just laying in that bed while they were lighting things and it was just a very lonely environment. I’m also away from my family in another country, so the loneliness was all the emotion that I needed.”
Harris worked very closely with newcomer Howells and is effusive in his praise for the young Welsh actor’s talent and demeanor on set. “He has every right to be cocky and egotistical… and sharing stories of things he’s done, and he’s the antithesis of that,” he declares. “It was so fun to do scenes with him, and then you’re whacked over the head with the talent that that kid has.”
The actor feels equally inspired by the show’s young and diverse cast, including Lydia West, Olly Alexander and Omari Douglas. “I was really honored to find situation where I could observe them and sort of breathe in their ether,” he says. “So I’m proud of all of them for getting to do the work that they did, and for people watching and and liking it and hopefully, being changed by it.”
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