Will the real Harrison Ford stand up? Is he the cool, macho persona we know from Star
Wars, Indiana Jones and Air Force One? Or is he a loyal friend and devoted family man who
keeps the laughs coming on the set with dirty jokes? The answer probably lies somewhere in
"He has a very dry kind of quirky sense of humor"
The first character witness to his sense of humor is his most recent co-star, Michelle
Pfeiffer, who plays his beleaguered wife in the supernatural thriller What Lies Beneath.
"We had a genuinely good time working together and heís very, very funny,"
Pfeiffer acknowledges. "He likes to tell jokes but, you know . . . ." she
hesitates, hoping perhaps that she would not have to try and explain his contradictions,
before concluding with a shrug, "well he has a very dry kind of quirky sense of humor
and it takes a while to figure that outÖ"
Producer Mace Neufeld, who worked closely with Ford on Patriot Games and Clear and
Present Danger, is equally adamant that the legendary actor is not only funny but also a
stand-up kind of guy away from the set as well. "When my daughter got married,
Harrison gladly suffered what I dreaded would happen," Neufeld grimaces at the
memory. "Every relative wanted to meet him and have their picture taken with him and
he didnít make a big deal about it. He stayed through the wedding, smiled and talked
with everyone and then flew home. He is a real person who cares about his friends and
But the man in question Ė who has just pulled off the historical feat of being the
first actor to star in a US$100 million movie in four decades straight (from Star Wars in
1977 to What Lies Beneath in 2000) Ė wants none of this fawning. Just stick to the
"... mine are long and rather rude!"
"I really canít remember any specific funny stories," Ford says a little
glumly but politely, responding to all questions in a quiet, modulated tone that indicates
the same level of enthusiasm for his press obligations as he might for dental surgery.
"I do like dumb jokes but I canít tell you a joke right now because mine are
long and rather rude!" He is 58 and looks anything but past his use-by date, his
graying hair short and cropped and accessorised by a gold earring that strangely suits
him. Heís wearing dark trousers and a navy jacket over a light-blue shirt and fidgets
in his overstuffed chair in a plush Beverly Hills hotel (arenít they all?) until he
can gleefully make his getaway back to his home on a Wyoming ranch.
During the school year, Ford and his second wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T.,
The Black Stallion) reside in Manhattan so their two children Malcolm, 13 and Georgia, 10,
can attend a good school. This would appear to be a big sacrifice for the man who embraces
nature and serves on the board of Conservation International, but one he readily makes for
the better education of his children.
A senior member of the $20-million-club of A-list actors that includes Tom Cruise, Tom
Hanks and Mel Gibson, Ford also shares with these contemporaries his priorities as a
family man who aspires to lead a normal domestic life. Well, as normal as it can be when
Dad is one of the highest-paid men on the planet. While Ford makes it clear he prefers
life in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he is also careful not to condemn his colleagues who stay
in Los Angeles. "Itís not that I have any judgment on people who live in
Hollywood," he insists, gazing out the window at the smog-covered Hollywood hills,
"but I donít see elk grazing in the meadow here and I donít see eagles
flying overhead. My wife and I are not Hollywood people but we can be what we are and who
we are and happen to sometimes work in Hollywood. Itís just not our lives."
"Iíve really never worked more than once a
Although one would presume that Fordís incredible success has come from being
driven and obsessive about work, itís surprising to learn heís turned down many
projects over the years that threatened to cut into his childrenís school holidays.
"Iíve really never worked more than once a year," he explains, "so
that leaves me a certain amount of time devoted to my family and my relationship with my
wife. The life I live away from the business is concerned about getting the children
through school, getting them to play dates (sport) and getting them ready for school each
day. So the things that I do are as mundane and practical as what anybody else does and
Iím sure in some respect, I have a similar type of life to the one you have."
Well, except for the fact that Ford is one of the most famous stars, has made movies
that have amassed a staggering US$3 billion at the box-office and owns a fleet of planes
and one helicopter that he flies himself around in whenever time affords him the luxury of
indulging his biggest passion outside acting. But even Ford is not infallible, as his
recent brushes with gravity will attest. Last October, the actor and his flight instructor
walked away from a helicopter crash after his Bell 206 JetRanger went down just outside
Los Angeles. And in June, he had to make an emergency landing in Lincoln, Nebraska after
the plane he was piloting encountered wind shear, causing some damage to his Beechcraft
Bonanza when it clipped the runway coming in.
"Iím not flying as a risk sport, you know,"
But questions about his real-life perils bring absolutely no response from Ford, other
than to elicit a groan as he puts his head in his hands as if to wish the whole question
away. "In both of these incidents to which you refer, I can present one explanation
of the circumstances and to people who donít fly, itís a little bit more
difficult to explain. But the last incident was a minor one that would not have even been
reported were it not for the fact that it was somebody of some celebrity," he pauses
with a pained look on his face. And how did he feel about the crash? "That was
mechanical in nature. Iím not flying as a risk sport, you know," he adds
forcefully. "People have misunderstood my interest in flying as Ďhe loves to
live on the edgeí and itís completely, completely wrong. I love to live safely
and successfully and I practice the skills of flying in order to mitigate what risk there
might be naturally involved in defying gravity, but I am not out looking for a thrill here
when I fly."
Smoothly navigating his way out of any personal comments about his brush with death, we
try again. But how did you feel when you crashed? "I didnít feel anything
at all," he says with such bland non-expression that heís either incredibly
private or seriously in denial. "I thought, Ďoh pshaw, bad luck
today!í" When itís suggested others may have used a stronger word that
that, he cracks one of the first smiles of the interview and admits, "I probably did
at the time!"
The big debate that is currently dogging the reputation of Harrison Ford is whether he
will be able to pull off his new screen role as a bad guy in What Lies Beneath, with
audiences so comfortable seeing him as an action hero that even Ford himself told me three
years ago Ė while promoting his role as President of the U.S. - that playing a bad
guy would "severely disadvantage" a movie. "The audience would be bent into
the position of having to disabuse themselves of whatever baggage I normally carry with me
and thatís too much of an imposition on a film," he said back then.
"Iím not worried about whether or not people will
accept me in this role"
Faced with his own words coming back to haunt him, he looks nonplussed. "Iím
not worried about whether or not people will accept me in this role because I think that
the construction is so solid and successful, theyíll have to (and they did, given the
$100-million-plus U.S. box-office returns alone). Iím not playing villainous from the
beginning of this film so I think people are drawn into the story and as they discover
what the truth of the story is, theyíve been lured into it in a way they havenít
In What Lies Beneath, Ford plays research scientist Dr. Norman Spencer, a man who
betrayed his beautiful wife Claire (Pfeiffer) and discovers his mistake has literally come
back to haunt them when Claire begins hearing mysterious voices and visions of a young
woman in trouble. As Ford points out, to reveal too much would be to spoil the movie but
suffice to say the doctor has a dark side and the rest is for the paying public to find
out. "We know heís had an extramarital affair so heís not a knight in
shining armor, but Iím in the difficult position of not wanting the surprise of the
film to be given away," he says.
Ford insists heís never had a career plan, nor are his choices based on whether
the character is good or bad. "Iím not interested in 12 new ways of killing
people," he says, "but I am interested in characters that wrestle with moral and
ethical problems. Sure, this movie had an interesting role for me to play that was
different to whatís expected of me. But I have been attempting to thwart their
expectations from the very beginning of my career" (Think Working Girl, Regarding
Henry, Sabrina and Random Hearts and heís got a point). "Iíve always
thought the more variety you could offer, the greater your potential usefulness was."
"I donít think much about aging,"
But that doesnít mean Ford would choose variety over sequels. Heís made three
Star War movies, three Indiana Jones movies and twice heís played author Tom
Clancyís CIA analyst hero Jack Ryan in 1992ís Patriot Games and 1994ís
Clear and Present Danger (after Alec Baldwin had played Ryan in 1990ís Hunt for Red
October). But he did recently turn down the next Tom Clancy installment, The Sum of All
Fears, which will now feature Oscar-winning writer Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting) taking
over the character and the franchise. "Iím very happy that someone as talented
as Ben Affleck is doing it," Ford offers, "but in my judgment, this script that
was derived from this Clancy book didnít have the dramatic potential or the
opportunities that I thought we had taken advantage of in the first two films."
He will be returning to his beloved Indiana Jones character in 2001, he says, as long
as he approves of the final script. "Steven (Spielberg), George (Lucas) and I have
sat down and talked about a bunch of ideas and hopefully somebody is working on it now but
itís not for me to announce," he says, perhaps referring to news that
Oscar-nominated writer/director M. Night Shymalan (The Sixth Sense) has signed on to write
Forget the fact that he will be pushing 60 when he returns to play the physically
active Indiana Jones character. "I donít think much about aging," Ford
shrugs. "My father is ninety-four and still kicking and one of the things that always
attracted me to the job of acting is that you could continue to do it well past retirement
age for other kinds of work. I am as interested in playing old men as I am in playing
young men so I have no resistance to my aging. I have been asked many times to dye my
hair," he adds, "but I always say, Ďwell who are you going to kid?í I
acknowledge my age but I donít really care about it."
"The job of a parent is very complicated now,"
After finishing up his efforts to push the movie, Ford offers a strong hand-shake and
makes a quick retreat to the airport and his family in Wyoming. What will he look forward
to when he slips back into the role of Harrison Ford, the parent? "The job of a
parent is very complicated now," he offers. "Melissa and I try and help with
homework but I donít understand their math anymore than they do! Iíve never felt
fully successful at parenting but Iím ambitious to do the best I can with them and
when it comes to my daughter, sometimes that could just mean playing BarbiesÖ"
Indiana Jones playing dress-ups with dollies? The search continues for the real