With Star Wars: The Force Awakens in cinemas, retiresavvy presents an exclusive interview with screen legend Harrison Ford
In May 1977, the life of jobbing actor and part-time Hollywood handyman Harrison Ford changed forever. Until then, Ford was best known for a small role in George Lucas’ 1973 nostalgia-fuelled hit American Graffiti; but as soon as audiences took their first visit to a galaxy far, far away, he was forever indelibly linked with rogue space smuggler, Han Solo.
Not that Ford’s relationship with Han Solo has always been as easy as making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Famously, he had a hard time with Star Wars’ script, telling director George Lucas "You can type this stuff, but you sure can't say it" and lobbying hard for Solo to be killed off in Return of the Jedi – at the time, the final instalment of the saga.
Ford, now 73, opens up to retiresavvy about his attitude to acting, family, and how he spends his time away from the set.
Always looking ahead
Despite having enjoyed one of the most successful careers of any actor in the history of film, Ford remains focussed on the future. “I'm not really concerned about my legacy as an actor,” he says.
“I'm all about right now and what's ahead. I don't really think much about the past, except that I do reflect on and understand the enormous luck that I've had. I've had a pretty good run.”
His upcoming slate of movies includes a sequel to Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi epic Blade Runner, as well as a potential fifth outing for whip-cracking archaeologist Indiana Jones. “I'm lucky that, from time to time, there's a good part for somebody of my relative age, where there are fewer opportunities to be the leading man,” Ford says.
“But that's OK - if something goes wrong on the set I can tell me people, 'Hey, I just work here - ask that other guy over there.'”
An ordinary guy in extraordinary situations
The characters that Ford is best known for – Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan – tend to be heroic Everyman figures that the audience can identify with. How close is that to Ford himself? “I don't know if I would describe very many of my roles as heroic. I think of them more as ordinary men who have remarkable levels of courage and character and vulnerability - someone who's had his share of pain or difficult times and who can face up to challenges and overcome whatever obstacles stand in his way.”
Ford adds: “A heroic figure for me is someone who has the determination and perseverance to triumph over adversity when the odds are stacked against him and lesser men would have given up or fallen apart or died as the case may be. I like to imagine myself as having some of those qualities or aspirations, and so that's the kind of guy I like to play.”
Ford’s humility around the incredible success he has experienced is possibly one of the reasons he has been able to survive in Hollywood through six decades (his first screen role was in 1966). “I don't feel like a movie star when I'm on a set although I do use my standing to try to help make the best film possible,” he says.
“And when I come home from work I don't feel like a movie star, either. It's a seamless process. You work, you come home. You may have a few things to say to your son if you feel he's behaving oddly [he smiles].”
Breaking the box office
For such a star – his films have a combined box office total in excess of $6 billion – he appears remarkably grounded: “The thing that makes me good at what I do, if I'm good at all, is not feeling special, not feeling different, so that whoever I'm talking to doesn't feel as if he's with someone who thinks he's on a higher plane because he happens to be in the film business.
"I don't know anything about it [the film business]. I just work here. I have tried very hard not to care about the business part of it because to me it's the wrong way of looking at it. I have always looked at movies as a job."
As far as jobs go, it is clearly a lucrative one – Ford made a reported $65 million from 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – just don’t expect to see him popping up in low-budget indie arthouse films any time soon.
“I have nothing against [independent] movies from an artistic standpoint,” he says. “But I simply have no particular yearning to do the same work for less money.”
Shooting the swordsman
Whether being shot at by Stormtroopers in Star Wars or the rough-and-tumble of the Indiana Jones series, Ford has always been a physical actor, insisting on doing his own stunts as much as possible.
"I like running, jumping and falling down. I like to do physical acting because I want people to feel the pain. You can't feel the pain if the camera is focused on a stunt man. I want audiences to see the fear and experience the rush of a good action scene."
One of the most iconic moments in modern cinema – an exhausted and beaten-up Indy comes face to face with a black-clad scimitar-wielding swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and rather than choosing to take him on, whip versus blade, opts to shoot him instead – came about for rather more prosaic reasons.
"I was anticipating a three-day shoot of the world's most elaborate sword versus whip fight. I was in no mood to do that because I, along with 90% of the crew, was suffering from dysentery,” says Ford. “My time spent outside of the trailer with my pants up was about 10 minutes. I was ready to get out of there. We had already shot a whip fight so I felt the tempo and the phrasing of another fight was repetitive.”
“After riding in a car on the way to the set with Steven [Spielberg] for about 45 minutes, I said to him, after thinking about it for a long time, ‘Why don't we just shoot that son of a bitch?’ We both arrived at the same conclusion so we could get out of there and thought it would be a good character stroke."
Read the second part of our exclusive interview with Harrison Ford, in which he talks about being a father of five, his love of flying and how misreading a college course description got him in to acting.
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Retiresavvy is brought to you by Skipton Building Society. The interview in this article was supplied by InterviewHub. This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.