Interview : Harrison Ford

Clint Morris talks to Indiana Jones


On the big screen he may play larger-than-life characters that would gladly be accepted into the smug and boastful alliance – both Han Solo and Indiana Jones were characters that were never short of a word and never worried about swaggering into a scene – but in real life, the man behind The Falcon/The Hat/The Security Pass/The One-Armed-Man is as flat as a prickled bicycle tube. Yep, that’s right; the real Han Solo is as quiet as a gaffer-taped mouse.

Not that the film veteran isn’t a pleasant man, he most certainly is. From the moment he flashes you that legendary crooked smile and extends his hand for a robust shake, it’s clear his attitude doesn’t stream towards his issues of ignorance, but merely his lack of self-confidence, as CLINT MORRIS discovers.

At 63, seems the world’s biggest movie star is still just as shy, and still just as uneasy doing interviews as that first day he faced the press.

Even if he were ill bred, one would find it very hard to hold it against Ford. He’s a master at what he does, and has been entertaining us for years now. In some respects, Ford is such a respectable legend that he deserves a reprieve from the mind-numbing junkets.

If there were such a thing as a blue-collar actor, this is him. Ford embodies the everyman. Usually named something like Jack, James, Joe or Tommy, he’s the every-day bloke that guys can root for, and the type of man that guys allow their women to swoon over. Ford is, in short, one of the most loved actors of our time.

He doesn’t buy into any of that though. As he’ll gladly tell you, this is all just a job for him.

In fact, Ford is much more interested in talking about his first love – no, not long-time girlfriend, actress Calista Flockhart, that’s something reporters are urged to divert from – aviation, than the magic of cinema.

Even before he got to turn the ignition on The Millennium Falcon on (in 1977’s “Star Wars”), the former carpenter was looking to the skies.

“I had taken flying lessons in college, three or four times, but it was eleven dollars an hour for a plane and an instructor – and I couldn’t afford it”, says the actor, who has been flying aircraft for about twelve years.

When Ford established himself as an actor, and started making a pretty penny on some of his films – notably, the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” series – he was able to afford to revisit his interest.

“It [the interest in flying] was reawakened later in life”, he says, adding that he found it reasonably easy to learn how to pilot a plane, “once I’d broken it down into little pieces and acquired knowledge, in a certain logical way”.

These days, the actor’s in charge of a group called Young Eagles, that encourages youngsters to get the behind the wheel of an aircraft. “It’s a group of young people, kids, who are taken in a general aviation aircraft for a ride – for most of them, it’s their first time – and we give them an idea what it’s like to pilot an airplane, and hopefully, interest some of them into continuing with an interest in aviation.

Something that’s never been grounded is Ford’s acting career. Making his debut as a bellhop in 1967’s “Dead Heat on a Merry Go-Round”, and then finding fame through the roles of Han Solo and Indiana Jones in the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” films, correspondingly, it’s been a fairly successful ride for the Wyoming-based actor.

And in addition to featuring in further hits like “Witness” (1985), “Patriot Games” (1992), and “The Fugitive” (1993), he’s got the esteemed honour of having the highest box-office grosses of any other actor in history.

“You don’t hit it every time….but you try”, smiles the modest actor.

Though his roles might be a little less physically-demanding than they use to – only a little bit, because he still insists on stepping up to the plate when it comes to stunts, and will do so again when “Indiana Jones 4” starts rolling later this year – nothing has changed in regards to how Ford picks his projects.

“I try and do different kinds of films, or play different characters in different genres, but my motivation has always been, and continues to be, to simply choose, what I think, would make a good movie.

Unlike a lot of actors, Ford restricts himself to doing only one film a year, and has so, since 1980. It’s not because he isn’t offered enough good films either – he’s reportedly passed on such films as “Traffic”, “The Hunt for Red October”, “Schindler’s List”, and “Dragonfly” – it’s simply because he doesn’t want to spend all his waking hours on a sound set.

“I try to work only once a year, because I want some time for my private life”, he explains.

Unfortunately, because of an unforseen setback, his latest project took a little longer to get going, and it’s been three years since we’ve seen Ford on screen.

“Mothman Prophecies” director Mark Pellington was originally attached to direct “Firewall”, but the filmmaker had to pull out of the project because of the regrettable passing of his wife. Ford was so “engaged in this project though, so I wasn’t going to go away and do something else”. He stayed on the project, helped develop it further, and found a new helmer for it.

Richard Loncraine was the perfect man for the job, says Ford. “He was a good man, and has a great visual style. He was a very capable director”.

In the film, Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a security specialist who is forced into robbing the bank that he’s protecting, as a bid to pay off his family’s ransom.

Ford says “Firewall” would have been significantly different, had Pellington remained onboard.

“The original script spent a lot of time creating the cage for this character, and setting up who he is and what he does. We decided instead to concentrate more on the emotional aspect of it – his reputation didn’t seem to be a concern, when his family’s lives were at stake.

Ford believes the casting of Paul Bettany as the villain also adds something to the film. “Paul is terrific. You can’t have a good good guy, without having a bad bad guy. Paul gives as good as he gets. He’s very smart about how to use a character and serve the film overall. He’s also the kind of actor that doesn’t want to sit around and talk about acting, but would rather go and have a game of catch, so it was a lot of fun to work with him.

Bettany’s told the media that he was taken back with just how fit and brisk Ford was in some of the physical scenes. The ageing actor characteristically shrugs off the claims. “It’s smoke and mirrors”, he says. “People’s reactions is that it seems extraordinary that a 63-year-old man can do those things…but I can tell you, from my experience, is that it’s not so hard.”

Ford believes his character only has two choices in the film. Either stop the villain, or “die trying”, and because of the mindset the character must be in, he doesn’t find the physical plight “that spectacular”.

The actor says he’s also got a duty to the audience to “keep it real, and suffer the consequences of ageing”.

In this case, he didn’t have to look like a military-trained superhero – for a change – so can just go in fist-crazy and blender-first. “It’s not familiar territory for him. I mean, he’s using kitchen appliances (to fight off the bad guys)”, he smiles.

The screenplay might have the specs of the character outlined, but it’s up to Ford to make Jack Stanfield believable – and it goes beyond just doing some stunts.

“The language is only part of what you use to help create a character. There are behaviours, that are not vocal, that are also important.

“The character has got to have some reality [to him]. I spent time with banking professionals and software designers to get a sense of what their lives are like and what they did at work. It was very important that we have it be as real as possible.

“We spent time with these people and tested the theory out, and they all agreed, once you’re behind the Firewall, all bets are off.

Ford has a real appreciation for filmmakers – he’s always been great friends with both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas – and says the Australian directors that he has worked with, including Phil Noyce (“Patriot Games”, “Clear and Present Danger”) and Peter Weir (“Witness”), are two of the hardest-working filmmakers around..

“They just talk funny that’s all”, he laughs. “I think there is something unique about Australians. I don’t know whether I can, or even want to, try and define it, but there’s a very strong work ethic there. I had very positive experiences with the two Australian directors I’ve worked with”.

Though he’d like to do another comedy sometime (“I like comedy, I think they’re unique challenges”), Ford’s again heading into thriller territory for his next big screen jaunt.

“Manhunt”, is “about the capture of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.”

Another interesting move on the board for Harrison Ford, but don’t ask him what his favourite role has been – he can hardly remember all the films he has been in, let alone pick favourites.

“They’re all different films, the people in them are all different, and they were done at different times in my life. So, I don’t really have a favourite.

“I don’t make the films for myself, I make them for the audience. I remember whether I had a good time or a bad time (on a film), but that soon fades as well, and it becomes about the value of the experience.

“I do it, because it’s fun for me. It’s fun for me to try and figure out how to make a good movie out of something.

In ten years, Ford will be 73, and is hopeful that he’ll be still doing what he enjoys.

“I hope so. I hope I’ll still have the opportunities. I plan on it, but we’ll see”.

FIREWALL Commences Thursday around Australia