An Exclusive Interview With Harrison Ford #StarWarsEvent
If it were not for the fact that these films have been passed on by parents to their children at an appropriate juncture in their lives, and that generations have thus been introduced to me, I probably would have a much different career.” -Harrison Ford
When you’re sitting talking with Harrison Ford, one of the first things you’re struck with is that the man who brought some of the best known action heroes to life, is surprisingly very soft-spoken, thoughtful, and yes, a funny person who immediately puts you at ease. There is no ‘movie star” pretense anywhere but instead, as he put it “just a guy doing a job.” Humble and no holds barred, Ford is quick to let you know that he is definitely not caught up in this surreal world that he’s a part of and at the end of the day the reality is that like a person who might be, for instance a waiter, he’s just another person that is part of the service industry.
“A great deal of this is like being in a service occupation. Story telling is a service occupation much like being a waiter. You deliver the food. You don’t bang it on the table in front of them. You wait til the right moment and you set it down in front of them. You keep your eyes scanning the crowd, say, the diners. And you are there when you see them beginning to look for you. Acting is the same. At the end of the day, It’s a public service job. More importantly, It’s not about me. I’m not the customer exactly but I love working here.”
So just how does one of the world’s most famous actors, who once worked as a carpenter in Los Angeles before achieving fame in movies, find himself in the midst of two of the biggest series of blockbusters of all times- Star Wars and Indiana Jones?
Ford first worked with George Lucas on American Graffiti back in 1973 and a little known fact is that it almost cost him his iconic roles of Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Lucas originally decided he would not used any of the cast of American Graffiti on Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope but changed his mind after asking Harrison to read for an audition, just so he would have the same number of actors reading for Han as were reading for Luke and Leia. As for Ford, he thought he was just helping out Lucas by helping to read lines for those coming in to audition. Luckily for all of us, it all worked out. Ironically, Ford was the only one out of himself, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill to never be placed under contract and instead was paid $1000 a week for his work on the first film.
Was it hard to get back into the mindset after so many years or was it second nature?
“No, you put on those clothes. You turn around and see that guy in the Chewbacca Suit and you know what the drill is. I have walked more than a mile in those shoes and it was a familiar path. I was happy to be back. Han Solo – he’s not a cardboard character to me at all. He’s as real as anything else. I never thought of the character as having only two dimensions until the critics said so. And they’re wrong. The third dimension is me.”
Whether playing an action hero or the president of the United States or a lawyer as in Regarding Henry who has suffered a traumatic brain injury, Ford’s approach is the same.
“My approach to acting is the “let’s pretend” school of acting. If real emotion is available, use it, otherwise I follow what I think is an AA rule: “Fake it ’til you make it”. Emotions are an interesting language. Sometime they sneak up on you when you’re not expecting, when you are available to it. I make a character out of those things that allow him to tell the story. I’m not an actor who will say, ‘Well, my character would never do that.’ If the story requires it, then I’ll find a way of accommodating that in character. For me, it’s not about performance. It’s about storytelling. Once I get a clear idea of what I want to accomplish, then acting is just dressing up and playing.”
So just how much of Han Solo is Ford and what he brings to the role?
“Making this movie was a collaborative process and collaboration is not one person’s unilateral decision. It’s a matter of agreement. If it’s in the movie, J.J. (director J.J. Abrams) agreed with it when we shot it. A lot of the process of filmmaking is problem solving, it’s saying this is not working so how can we fix this? And I love that part about it. There’s a kind of urgency to it – to try to keep the ball rolling, doing the right thing, because time is limited and there are a lot of people standing around waiting for you to get it right. All of those things, that’s a compelling atmosphere in which to work. I love that. But I don’t feel a sense of ownership or pride about these things. I can’t remember what’s mine or what good idea came from the Grip.”
What did Ford think the most difficult part of the process was in bringing this character, or any character to life?
“There wasn’t any. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I love doing it. I had a wonderful Director. The hardest process is when you and the people you’re working with don’t see eye to eye. We see eye to eye. It was a – it was a luxury. I love it. I don’t feel as useful any place as I do on a movie set. I’m very surprised and delighted at the luck I’ve had. I’ve been enormously lucky. I’ve had a long run.”
What does Ford think is the most appealing thing to Star Wars fans?
“ You know, the breadth of the imagination that’s involved in these films, the strength and worthiness of the mythology that underpins them, the questions that it generates in our minds about our own responsibilities, our own behaviors. Plus all of the whiz and bang and flash and music and good stuff doesn’t’ hurt.”
When he first read the Star Wars script did he have any concept of the legacy that it would become?
“No, No. You’d be locked up if you came to that conclusion. But in that, the context of making that first film, I did recognize both the utility of my character to the telling of the story and that there might be, somewhere in this, meshugas, there might be some really strong elements that people would relate to. I recognized that I didn’t know much about Science Fiction, I didn’t care much about Science Fiction at that time and probably still don’t although I find it often gives us the chance to explore places and things that we haven’t seen before and that’s cool. I recognized that there is a kind of Fairy Tale structure in the characters and in the story. I’d seen Grimm Fairy Tales that have lasted for the last 400 years so and there was that strength that I recognized. I recognized that when you have a beautiful Princess and a callow youth and a wise old Warrior and then me, it was easy to figure out my place in that structure.”
After his first screen test, Ford was once told by a studio guy “Kid, you have no future in this business.” I said, “Why?” He said, “When Tony Curtis first walked onscreen carrying a bag of groceries — a bag of groceries! — you took one look at him and said, ‘THAT’S a movie star!'” I said, “Weren’t you supposed to say, ‘That’s a grocery delivery boy?’ Luckily for all of us, Ford stuck to what he knew was the only thing that really mattered in the making of any movie, at the end of the day, it’s all about the storytelling.
What is it about this character, Han Solo, that Ford thinks resonates with so many people even today?
“The character came to mean so much to so many of us that we yearned for at least part of him to be real. Few people can attest to being pure-hearted heroes like Luke Skywalker, but we’ve all got a little Solo in us: We’re reluctant do-gooders, at best. Like the Millennium Falcon pilot, we may be cynics, scoundrels, and scruffy-looking, but hopefully we’re still lovable.”
I don’t think anyone would disagree. Stay tuned on Monday to hear what actress Daisy Ridley had to say about Harrison Ford, being in her very first movie role as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and what advice Carrie Fisher gave to her about this cultural phenomenon known as Star Wars.
There’s Been An Awakening…
When a ruthless prince rises to power and threatens galactic peace, a runaway soldier, an uncongenial scavenger, and a hot shot pilot find their fates intertwined as they embark on a journey to find the most powerful warrior in the galaxy.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens NEXT WEEK!
Disclosure: I have been invited by Disney to cover this media event. All material and expenses for this event have been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios but all opinions my own.