Harrison Ford talks about family, flying and the joy of carpentry. Read the first part of our exclusive interview here
Off screen, Ford is an intensely private man. He has been married to actress Calista Flockhart since 2010 and together they have an adopted 14-year-old son, Liam. He has four other children from two previous marriages, plus three grandchildren.
A passion for the natural world
Ford splits his time between LA and his 800-acre wooded ranch in Jackson, Wyoming – about half of which he has donated to the Jackson Hole Land Trust. “It's full of wildlife and streams and the like. It's on the Snake River and it's much the same as it was 150 years ago.
"I discovered it when I was looking to move outside of California and my wife at the time and I rented a car and drove toward Jackson. I'd only heard about it, and we saw it for the first time from Teton Pass. I was blown away. We knew immediately that we wanted to be there. When I became a landowner there, I felt a sense of stewardship for the Earth."
Given the ruggedly individualist personas of many of his characters, it is perhaps surprising to hear that Ford is a passionate conservationist and sits as Vice Chair of environmental charity Conservation International.
He explains: "I'm a father and I'm seeing the world around me degraded and misused and wasted for short-term profits. Time is short and nature is at a tipping point...Our health relies entirely on the vitality of our fellow species on Earth."
"My work with Conservation International (a major environmental protection organisation) is a good use of whatever celebrity I might have to draw attention to important problems. I have the same responsibility as everyone to reduce consumption and to teach children to respect the environment. What we do today will set the course and the example for generations to come."
For Ford, a strong work ethic goes hand-in-hand with his commitment to family life.
“A real man should never rest on his laurels. He should prove his mettle every day,” he says. “That has nothing to do with being macho, but with taking responsibility for yourself and your family.”
“With all my experiences, I have to say that I still struggle with a lot of the same problems and frustrations I've always had in life. But I do know how to better manage it all and approach problems and make my way through life with a little more grace and honour.”
Parenting, he says, is about support and helping children grow as people. Practice also helps. “Kids are forever. Part of the process of raising children is that you help them think their way through their life as much as you can and not tell them too much, not demand too much, but being there, supportive of them.
“Every time you do it, you probably can't help but get a little better, though.”
Ford is also a keen aviator, having learned to fly light aircraft in the ‘90s. His experience as a pilot has not been entirely without incident, with an accident in March 2015 that left him with a broken pelvis and ankle. Nonetheless, he says flying is “incredibly exciting and challenging” and relishes the “solitude and freedom you feel from being in the sky and surveying the horizon and the landscape below”.
“I love the skill and discipline that flying a plane demands of you. It's also something very different that takes me out of my usual routine. Flying gives you a different perspective on the world when you're high above a mountain range or looking down on the desert. There's an undeniable exhilaration you experience from that.”
Before the Wars…
With his incredibly self-assured on-screen swagger, it might seem that Harrison Ford’s acting career was – as Darth Vader might have said – ‘the will of the Force’. As a young boy, Ford was “fascinated” by Western-themed radio adventure serial Sky King.
Thanks to his father’s job producing and directing radio and television commercials, the young Ford was able to visit the Sky King studios.
“I went to the studio one day with my Dad and met a pudgy little man [actor Kirby Grant] who didn't fit my image of Sky King. But I think that piqued my interest in the whole business of show business.”
Ford went on to study philosophy at college, where by his own admission he “wasn't doing very well”.
“In an effort to try and find something in the course book that sounded like it was a cinch to help bring my grade point average up, I picked drama,” he laughs.
But having failed to read the course description all the way through, Ford didn't realise that drama class actually involved standing up on stage and acting. “I was terrified at first, and that made me a little angry at myself, and so I was determined to get over that knee-knocking feeling of panic and develop some fearlessness.”
(To this day, Ford says he still hates public speaking: “Acting on a large set with lots of people around you is one thing, but I still have a great deal of difficult in getting up and talking in front of a crowd. Speaking in public is a mixed bag of terror and anxiety.")
When he managed to overcome stage fright, Ford says he found the process of acting and telling a story “something that felt better than any other thing I'd ever done before”.
“It felt like I had found some kind of purpose in being part of storytelling and finding an outlet to work with other people.”
Carpenter to the stars
To make ends meet as a young actor, Ford became a self-taught professional carpenter and was once known as the "carpenter to the stars", having built houses and furniture for many famous celebrities. "I don't do it anymore,” says Ford. “But it was always a source of satisfaction to me.”
“What I miss most is the kind of concentration and skill you bring to bear when you're building a table or a bookshelf or constructing a house. The kind of concentration you need, or at least that I need as an actor, is very much the same that you bring to the kind of work you do as a carpenter."
"I'm grateful that I developed those skills and was able to earn enough money so that I could take care of my family and not take acting jobs I would have really hated to take. Some people in Hollywood even still have some of the stuff I built for them way back when!"
After a string of small parts, Ford came to the attention of producer and casting director Fred Roos, who would later win an Oscar for producing The Godfather Part II. Roos recommended Ford to a young and talented filmmaker called George Lucas, who was putting together a film called American Graffiti (which went on to be nominated for five Oscars) while dreaming of a story set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Read the first part of our exclusive interview with Harrison Ford. What’s your favourite Harrison Ford movie? And what did you think of The Force Awakens? Head to the Forum or back to 'Real retirement stories'.
Read more like this:
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.