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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 17:14 GMT
How Ed Harris learned Beethoven
Ed Harris is Copying Beethoven
Harris's baton-wielding was applauded by the orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven has become the latest eccentric genius to be played by actor Ed Harris.

Following performances as the likes of painter Jackson Pollock and the fictional Christof, controller of the fake world of The Truman Show, Harris stars in the title role in the film Copying Beethoven.

It centres on an imagined relationship between the composer and Anna Holtz, a young woman who becomes his copyist during the last few years of his life - played by Troy's Diane Kruger.

Harris told the BBC he did not know much about Beethoven when he first took the part.

"I knew the period time that he wrote in, that he did not live to a ripe old age, and that he was deaf at some point - and that's about it," he said.

"I knew the major symphonies, I knew a couple of the more popular piano sonatas, but I wasn't familiar with the rest of his music at all, so it was a great education for me."


The film is set during the last year of Beethoven's life, as he struggles with his increasing deafness while working on his Ninth Symphony.

His relationship with Anna helps him complete the work and perform the symphony, which Harris conducted for real - apparently so well that it caused the orchestra to rise and applaud him at the end.

Ed Harris
He didn't give a damn about what people thought about him - he was in his own world
Ed Harris on Ludwig van Beethoven
Harris puts this down to the eight months he had to thoroughly immerse himself in the part.

"I spent most of that time preparing - playing the piano, learning the violin, having conducting lessons, reading about him, listening to all of his music - just to try to fill myself up," he said.

"This is probably the greatest musician that ever walked on the planet, and that can be a little daunting."


He added that he had dealt with Beethoven's famously unpleasant temper by thinking of it as "more as an eccentricity".

"He had an incredible energy and had it until he died, because he needed to get this music out," said Harris.

"So any kind of frustration or 'meanness' comes out of his compulsion to get his music out, and the things in his life that get in the way of his doing that.

"He didn't give a damn about what people thought about him. He was in his own world."

Harris said he sees "similarities" between Beethoven and Pollock, who he played in the film of the same name in 2003, for which he received an Oscar nomination.

But he denied that as he gets older he will look for parts with a more "redeeming" quality, pointing out that he played a cold-blooded killer in last year's A History Of Violence.

Instead, he said he is hopeful that his next film will be a Western, which he himself has co-written - and one which also has a great deal of violence.

"They are lawmen, but there is a lot of shooting," he said.

"It will be fun to be a cowboy."

Copying Beethoven will be released in the US on 10 November.

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