x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Harrison Ford: The Gentle Giant

The Hollywood heavyweight known for his gruff demeanour and box-office strength cracks a few smiles as he talks about starring in a new comedy and how, at 68, he has no plans to quit.

Harrison Ford has starred in some of the most memorable, and profitable, films of all time.
Harrison Ford has starred in some of the most memorable, and profitable, films of all time.

"Am I grumpy?" Harrison Ford ponders the idea, and acknowledges: "I might be."

Then as if to belie the notion, the gruff and occasionally acerbic actor smiles. "But I think maybe sometimes it's misinterpreted," he says. "I've always been independent, so if I'm grumpy, then call me grumpy. I'm all right with that."

In the past it was an adjective many would have applied to the Indiana Jones actor who used to shun interviews and made no secret of his dislike for personal questions. He was so reserved that his co-stars in 2003's Hollywood Homicide, Josh Hartnett and Lou Diamond Phillips, commented publicly on how difficult it was to get a smile out of him.

Now, however, the 68-year-old actor has undergone something of a metamorphosis. He is witty, amusing and if not exactly talkative, perfectly willing to give an interviewer an insight, however small, into his private life.

"I'm a kinder, gentler Harrison Ford than I once was," he says.

The reason for the change is undoubtedly Calista Flockhart, the former star of the television series Ally McBeal, who is 23 years his junior. They have been living together for nearly a decade and he surprised her with a Valentine's Day proposal in 2008. They were married in June last year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he says: "It's much the same as it's been for the last 10 years and it's kind of an old story, but we're very happy."

So he believes in the institution of marriage? "I believe in Calista, that's all," says the twice-divorced Ford.

We are talking in a suite at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel because, he says bluntly: "I have a movie to promote." He looks dignified and stately in a dark suit like the one he wears in the new movie, Morning Glory. It turns out it is the same suit. "It's in my contract that I get to keep my wardrobe," he says with a straight face.

In Morning Glory he plays, appropriately enough, a gruff and grumpy veteran newsman forced to co-anchor a fluffy morning television news magazine.

Although a comedy, the movie raises questions about the fine line between news and entertainment, which is something Ford has given a lot of thought to.

"What is news?" he muses. "It's hard to quantify. Certainly news has changed completely and the morning shows are not really designed to bring you the news except to tell you what happened overnight and the rest of it is a kind of magazine mentality - a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

"It's harder to be an educated and informed citizen."

It has been 12 years since Ford's last comedy, the forgettable and forgotten Six Days, Seven Nights. He professes to have revelled in the unfamiliar genre, particularly working with Diane Keaton - whom he had never met previously - and Rachel McAdams, who portrays the show's spirited producer.

"There's a conventional thought that comedy is more difficult than drama but I don't think so unless you don't personally have a sense of humour," he says. "I enjoy comedy because it requires a little bit more of a musical kind of ear. Timing and tonality are really important and when it's well written I really enjoy it for what it says about a character and about the world we live in. But when it's crude and badly written and in your face, as much of what is out there today is, I don't like it very much and it offends me."

Ford is that rare breed of movie star who has no interest in controlling his films or protecting his image. "I've been able to get other people to do the work for me and I don't want a real job," he says, laughing. "I've never wanted to have a production company that I had to watch and oversee. From time to time I develop a property but I do it with partners who are willing to show up every day at the office. It doesn't interest me to be Harrison Ford. It interests me to be Mike Pomeroy [the character he plays in Morning Glory] and Indiana Jones and [the Tom Clancy character] Jack Ryan. I don't want to be in the Harrison Ford business.

"I take what I do seriously but I don't take myself seriously."

The Pomeroy character is a veteran newsman renowned for breaking stories. To Ford's horror his personal life became a big news story in 1999 when he split up with, returned to and finally broke up with his wife of 17 years, the screenwriter Melissa Mathison. Their divorce cost him a reported US$70 million (Dh257 million), believed at the time to be the largest divorce settlement in Hollywood history.

For a short time he lived a playboy bachelor's life. He was seen at New York nightclubs and he had flirtations with Lara Flynn Boyle and Minnie Driver, two actresses decades younger than himself. Then he met Flockhart at the Golden Globe Awards and after a few months they moved in together.

Ford has two children, Benjamin, 33, a chef, and Willard, 31, a teacher, by his first wife, Mary Marquardt. He also has two children with Mathison - a son, Malcolm, 23, a musician, and a daughter, Georgia, 20, who is at Columbia University. Flockhart has a nine-year-old adopted son, Liam.

"I have five children, all of them are well and happy and doing well in their lives," he says with satisfaction.

He and Flockhart divide their time between an 800-acre ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a home in Los Angeles and a spacious penthouse loft in downtown Manhattan, commuting either in Ford's plane or his Bell Ranger helicopter, both of which he pilots himself. He never, he says proudly, flies on a commercial flight unless he absolutely has to.

He looks fit and trim and at least a decade younger than his age, but unlike most Hollywood stars, he has no personal trainer and no special recipe for fitness. "I don't do a huge amount of physical activity. I play tennis, I work out sporadically and I eat well and take care of myself."

When he is not working, which, he agrees, is most of the time, he keeps busy with other interests. He is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, using his knowledge of flying and aircraft to promote the legacy of aviation, to keep airports open and to encourage young people to become interested in flying.

He also devotes much of his spare time to Conservation International, an environmental organisation that works in 40 countries to protect biodiversity and preserve the rainforests, and of which he is vice-chairman. He recently returned from an international convention on biodiversity in Japan, although he is reluctant to speak about his charitable work.

"I'll use my celebrity to get a table at a restaurant or an appointment with the doctor," he says. "I'm serious: these are the practical uses of celebrity. I do not want to become a celebrity spokesman for the good causes that I may work for behind the scenes, because I don't think that's a good use of celebrity."

Celebrity was far from his mind when Ford was growing up in Chicago as a quiet isolated child who was picked on and regularly bullied by his classmates who liked to routinely push him down a steep embankment at school.

He appeared in a school play and then in local theatre productions before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s. His physique and good looks helped land him early contracts at both Columbia and Universal but, frustrated with his lack of progress, he gave up acting in 1968 to work as a carpenter. Among his creations were Sérgio Mendes's recording studio and the elaborate entrance for Francis Ford Coppola's offices at Goldwyn Studios.

He returned to acting in 1973 in George Lucas's American Graffiti and then, in 1977, had his breakthrough role as the arrogant but good-humoured space pilot Han Solo in Lucas's Star Wars. The film went on to break all records and suddenly Ford was a major star, although he was characteristically wary about possible repercussions.

"I knew when Star Wars was such a success that my life had changed and I had a lot of options that hadn't existed before," he says. "But I was so concerned with only getting Han Solo kind of roles that I went out and did a film called Heroes with Henry Winkler that I knew was not going to be seen widely but I wanted the people in the film industry to see I could play a character who was very different to Han Solo."

He returned as Solo in The Empire Strikes Back and then established himself as a leading international romantic star as the swashbuckling archaeologist Indiana Jones in Lucas and Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark and its three sequels. He starred in the memorable Blade Runner in 1982 and three years later landed a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role as a police detective in Witness.

Having appeared in seven of the 20 top box office films of all time he was recognised by the National Association of Theatre Owners as the Star of the Century in 1994 and he was given the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 2000. His 50 films have grossed around $12 billion (Dh44 billion) around the world.

"I've been enormously lucky," he says with a slight shrug. "I just choose roles that I think will be entertaining and will make good films."

He will soon be seen as an iron-fisted tyrant in the science-fiction-western Cowboys & Aliens. There is also the possibility of a fifth movie in the Indiana Jones adventures and George Lucas is already working on it. "George has the germ of an idea and if it comes to fruition and George likes it, Steven likes it and I like it, then I'd love to do it," he says.

Indeed, if he has his way, audiences will be seeing him in cinemas for many years to come.

"I think retirement's for old people," Ford says firmly. "I'm still in the business, thank you. I have a young child of nine years and I want to live as long as I can to see him grow up. I have young grandchildren, I'm enjoying my life and I want to stick around for as long as I can."

 

Morning Glory is due to be released in the UAE on January 13.

 

Boffo box office

Harrison Ford is the third highest-grossing actor in the world (behind Samuel L Jackson and Tom Hanks), and once was No. 1. His films have raked in around $12 billion (Dh44 billion) globally. At one point he starred in four of the top five box office hits of all time (and had a cameo cut from the fifth, ET The Extra-Terrestrial). His most successful films and their worldwide ticket grosses:

 

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope - $797.9 million

Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - $786.6 million

Stars Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - $534.2 million

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - $475.1 million

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - $474.2 million

 

The Ford file

Born July 13, 1942, Chicago

Family Irish father, Christopher, an advertising executive; Russian-Jewish mother, Dorothy, a former radio actress; brother, Terence, 65; wife, Calista Flockhart, 45; five children

Schooling Main East High School, Park Ridge, Illinois; Ripon College, Wisconsin

First job Sportscaster for local radio station in Chicago

Hero Abraham Lincoln

Currently reading The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today

Favourite film "I rarely watch movies."

Can't stand TV news programmes that force-feed viewers with opinions

Biggest break Being cast by George Lucas in American Graffiti