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FORD, HARRISON: WHAT LIES BENEATH

HOME IS WHERE THE HARRISON IS
He works in Hollywood, but he wouldnít want to live there, Harrison Ford tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo, while a tad reluctantly promoting his latest, What Lies Beneath, before flying back to the family home Ė as quickly as possible.

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 between.

"He has a very dry kind of quirky sense of humor" Michelle Pfeiffer

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 family."

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 movie, please.

"... 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 year,"

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 expected."

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 the script.

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 Harrison Ford!

Published 2/11/2000

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