Office Uprising, the new horror-comedy film streaming on Sony Crackle, is more than a spoof of the recent glut of a very specific type of zombie movie (fast, strong and not as undead as you'd want a former friend to be before you consider violent self-defense). The film captures a kind of daydream for anyone who has ever hated their job—Office Space, ratcheted up to 11. When a blood-splattered woman in battle-worn business casual declares, after a knock-down, drag-out war with her colleagues, "That is why we don't send work emails with emoticons," you kind of get where she's coming from (even if you haven't taken a sip from a batch of tainted energy drinks).
Though he acknowledges actors deal with plenty of coworker quirks on set in the name of "process," he does have one professional pet peeve, which he describes as a lack of civility. "Something that makes me so mad—this actually has never happened to me, where an actor who's higher on the call sheet, or let's say the star of the piece, once they get their coverage, they leave because their time is too important," he says. "That's done less and less, but I've seen it happen. And I can't stand it. I think it's the shittiest thing you can do to another actor. So yeah, that might make me stab somebody with a bunch of pencils."
On paper, it would have been easy to assume that PLL's Ezra—a high school teacher who falls for his student, Aria (Lucy Hale)—is someone you want to hate, but as played by Harding, the guy was just so charming and earnest and full of sappy poetry that fans (read: Ezria shippers) felt compelled to cheer for him and hope he never got his comeuppance by the dastardly "A." (As last year's final-season wedding can attest, Ezria managed to somehow go the distance.) However, for his first post-PLL role, Harding relished the chance to be a lot less charming. "I just [got] to be an outright dick," the seven-time Teen Choice Award winner enthuses about the film. "It was a lot of fun. I feel like Mr. Fitz had so much rage but was so understanding. He was such a cerebral guy who always understood where people were coming from and was very lovely. And Dr. Frohm is just like, 'No. If I don't think you're in my circle of friends or loved ones, you are a merely a tool for me.'"
I just [got] to be an outright dick [in Office Uprising]. It was a lot of fun. I feel like [PLL's] Mr. Fitz had so much rage but was so understanding.
Fans of Office Uprising are already appreciating Harding's against-type performance, which seems to be exactly what the actor was hoping for—and just might encourage casting directors to see him in a whole new light as he continues to define himself outside of his signature role. "I got a couple [fan messages] that say, 'I really enjoyed the movie, I think you're very mean in it,'" says Harding, an advocate for lupus and an avid birdwatcher who penned the book Odd Birds. "Which is good. I think that's mission accomplished. Sometimes, I walk into the room, and because I look sort of like a poor man's Kennedy, people just assume I'm kind of nice. And I think I'm overall a genuine person, but it's good to not be that for a while and just feel the joy of not caring about people's feelings sometimes."