HBO's Chernobyl Star Jared Harris on the Challenges of Playing Valery Legasov

HBO's Chernobyl miniseries aired its finale tonight, concluding its tale of the real-life nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Power Plant on April 26, 1986 near the city of Pripyat in the Ukraine. It's a story that, despite being brought to life over the course of the series' five episodes, is a very real one and a complex story about not just the disaster itself, but complex and horrifying series of human errors, lies, and corruption that led to the fateful explosion. That means that several of the characters in the series are based on real people, including scientist Valery Legasov and for actor Jared Harris, that came with its own unique set of challenges.

In an interview with The Cheat Sheet, Harris said that one of his great challenges in preparing for his role as Legasov was getting his hands on historical records about the man -- including the audio tapes Legasov recorded his own story of the Chernobyl disaster on before taking his own life -- because much of the historical record about Legasov has simply been erased.

"There weren't audio tapes," Harris said when asked if he had listened to Legasov's tapes to prepare. "He left behind journals. But that's not as cinematic as audio tapes. They're very hard to get a hold of. In fact, there's not a lot of him left in the historical record because they basically wrote him out of the story. They erased him from history. That's what they were trying to do as a threat ... to stop him from trying to get the story out."

In Chernobyl, as in real life, Legasov spoke out about the safety risks and design flaws in the Soviet Union's RBMK nuclear reactors wanting the design flaws addressed so as to prevent additional disasters like -- or worse than -- Chernobyl. However, his outspokenness was not well-received, resulting in Legasov not only facing pushback within the scientific community, but ultimately his erasure from the record -- a not uncommon tactic within the former Soviet Union.

Ultimately, Legasov took his life two years after the disaster as was depicted in Chernobyl's first episode and while it is impossible to know exactly why Legasov ended his own life, Chernobyl strongly implies it is as a result of the disaster. This implication is somewhat backed up by an interview his daughter Inga Valerievna gave to Russia's Moskovskij Komsomolets in 2017 in which she noted that the disaster changed him.


"After the Chernobyl disaster, my father rethought a lot," Valerievna said. "He was a patriot, seriously worried about what happened, for the country, for the people touched by the accident. He was worried about unborn children abandoned in the animal alienation zone. This agitated mercy, which was inherent in him, apparently, burned him from the inside."

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