• Film

“Brave the Dark” – Classic Underdog Story Based on Actual Events

Writer, director, and producer Damian Harris, son of the legendary Irish actor Richard Harris, enlists the help of his brothers Jared (Chernobyl, Foundation) and Jamie (Carnival Row) – who were recently seen celebrating their father in the highly acclaimed documentary, The Ghost of Richard Harris – for his upcoming drama Brave the Dark.

Damian Harris speaks on the phone about his latest film, a classic underdog story based on actual events. Brave the Dark follows Nathan, played by Nicholas Hamilton (Captain America, It, It Chapter Two). He is a homeless teenager with a tragic past whose life is turned around after a teacher, Stan Deen (Jared Harris), takes him under his wing. Guided by Stan, Nate finds the courage to confront the darkness of his past. 

Brave the Dark is a true story that originated from a manuscript Nate had written, right? 

Yes. Nate had written the original script starting from when he was the age of about four years old up until after the events of this movie. It read as a sort of Charles Dickens story. I was really moved by it. 

The community of Lancaster County and New Holland, where the story is set, funded the film?

Yes.   People who knew Nate or Stan, or both, and who’d been students of Stan’s and had been successful in their lives, wanted to see this film get made.


Stan died in 2016 but Nate was a consultant on the film.  What was that like?

The film clearly benefited from having Nate there. It was helpful for me personally to have Nate as the touchstone.   I think it was an emotional experience for him at times. 

He was essential in setting up the infrastructure, such as the Garden Spot School where Nate went to and Stan taught, getting us access to filming in the school and many of the locations. It was all hands on deck, pulling together. 

We were making a period film with two timelines: one set in 1985 and the other in 1973. That was a lot to do.  He was instrumental in getting as many resources out of the community as he could. Derek Dienner, the producer – without whom there would be no film – gathered the community together, brought them in to raise the money for the film.

It was the epitome of an independent movie in that it had no money from the industry whatsoever. It was a “little train that could” type production.

It must be handy to be able to call on your brothers and ask them to be in your movie.

It was, that is so true.  I often give scripts to Jared and Jamie to get their feedback as actors. I gave it to Jared initially to get his feedback on how the characters were coming across. We were completely in sync about where the focus of the storyline should be; and on Stan’s character.  Jared thought it was a great story and role. 

What had you seen Nicholas Hamilton in? How did you come to cast him?

I remembered Nicholas in Captain Fantastic. The film with Viggo Mortensen. He played one of the family. And then I saw It, where he played the bully kid.

So much of the film relies on the chemistry between Nicholas and Jared. Did they spend a lot of time together before the shoot?

Yeah, they were there for a month before we started shooting. They really got to know each other and spent time finding the characters and rehearsing.  That was a gift.

There are some harrowing scenes in the movie when Nate was a little boy.  That must have been difficult.

The scene when Young Nate is being washed in that tub, there were people crying on the set.  The whole sequence that happens between his mother and his father was a tough day to film because you’re mindful of what the little boy should and should not witness. You’re recreating something that happened, and one of those people is still alive. Nate didn’t come to the set that day.  I think he found it too hard.

Stan seemed like a man who was almost too good to be true, but was in fact, the real deal.

There is a reason why you must celebrate someone like Stan. There is a tendency to be suspicious or cynical, as the character Nate was through the first half of the film.  I got to understand why the community wanted to celebrate him. There were other kids that Stan had helped and shepherded who had a similar experience to Nate, where Stan would take the time and look after them and helped them turn their lives around. And he really wanted nothing back. Some in the community sometimes didn’t approve of it.


They felt that he was chasing lost causes. And some were suspicious because they’d say, “So here’s a single male who’s looking after a young boy.” Nate was always clear with me that it never entered his mind. It was just not there. When I interviewed some of the community who had been at school with Nate, they said there was talk and accusations thrown at Stan at the time. But Stan just waved it off and it went nowhere. “When I interviewed some of the community who had been at school with Nate, they said there was talk and accusations thrown at Stan at the time. But Stan just waved it off and it went nowhere.”

Some people are just good people.

Yes. Some people are just good people. There’s no quid pro quo involved.

Off the subject, how was the reaction to The Ghost of Richard Harris?

It’s been satisfying.  People appreciate the film even though it’s been 20 years since he died. The most satisfying thing is that the effectiveness of the film is not just about Richard the film star and his life, but how he lived his life. I don’t want to say message but there’s a philosophy about how he lived it, not wasting any time, and embracing your fears and your demons. It’s not your usual talking heads documentary. It’s doing very well on streaming.

Did you know from a young age you were destined to be a director and not an actor?

I was an actor at a very young age, about eight. I did a movie with Tom Courtenay called Otley. And, briefly, I had dreams of a huge acting career. But my mother stopped that. She said, “You’re going to school, forget about it.”  I tried it a couple of times later in school plays and didn’t really like it. By then I had had a Super 8 camera and was more interested in that.  So, yeah, I always wanted to make films rather than being in them.