A ONE-MODEL FORD: Serious. Stodgy. Still fighting bad guys. If you’re hoping Harrison Ford shifts gears in his new movie, keep dreaming. His career is parked in the action genre — and that’s fine with him
Feb. 10, 2006, Austin American-Statesman
In the new thriller “Firewall,” Harrison Ford plays Harrison Ford doing that Harrison Ford thing as only Harrison Ford can do. You need only watch the movie’s trailer — Ford going full Fordian, glaring and gritting and pledging righteous punishment on world villainy — to be reminded of a host of titles in which Ford plays the humor-impaired action-everyman: “Air Force One,” “The Devil’s Own,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “The Fugitive,” “Presumed Innocent,” “Frantic,” “Witness.”
Many actors repeat the type of role that fits them best. Ford is doing it as John Wayne did it, with a monochrome resolve to stay within the minuscule confines of public expectation. (The Wayne analogy fits: Ford tied Wayne for third place in a recent poll of America’s favorite movie stars. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp — Depp being the risk-taking antithesis of Ford — are one and two, respectively.)
The rote “Firewall” has Ford playing Jack Stanfield, a computer security specialist at a Seattle bank. Tech-savvy crooks hold Stanfield’s wife and two children hostage, demanding that Stanfield bust the security code so they can siphon millions from the bank’s stash. His craggy face grooved with stiff-jawed moxie, Ford evinces sweaty solicitude for his family (he’s the sensitive American male) and, when pushed, a grisly expertise with a pickax (the bare-knuckled American hero). Smart-alecky Han Solo has never seemed more far away.
When he talked to us last month by phone, Ford, who has acknowledged a reputation for grumpiness, was serious, firm and never quite expansive. He sounded like he would be happier doing yard work. We discussed his typecasting, which will get a reprieve in part four of the Indiana Jones series, in which Ford, 63, will play a slightly creakier version of the iconic swashbuckler.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Ford says of the long-awaited installment. “We’ve got a script we are pretty much committed to.”
Our conversation went like this:
Austin American-Statesman: It’s frequently said that you only reluctantly promote your movies.
Harrison Ford: That’s rubbish. I recognize that this is an important opportunity to take advantage of. It’s free attention.
But it’s not the job you signed up for.
It’s a different job than what I signed up for. But I’ve always done it, always understood it. And I’m lucky enough to be a profit participant. I’m supporting the efforts of a lot of people who’ve invested time, energy and money. I’m sort of the sacrificial lamb.
What kind of guy is Jack Stanfield in “Firewall”? He seems like so many of your previous characters.
Yeah, well. I’d say he’s an upper-middle-class working man who goes to work in a suit and tie and has a family. That’s the starting point of the story.
Is it time for you to stretch a bit? Haven’t we seen this character before?
Apparently, if you’re asking that kind of question.
Even the publicity material for “Firewall” quotes a producer saying Harrison Ford has become a “genre unto himself.”
Oh, do they say that (coolly irritated)? I’d like to be of use in a variety of genres. I think there’s a considerable amount of difference between the Russian captain I played in “K-19: The Widowmaker” and Jack Stanfield. There are a lot of examples in the films I’ve done of different types and genres. But if this role seems standard it’s because it’s a leading-man role.
When you turned down a role in “Traffic,” it sparked talk about your creative choices and how you haven’t done edgy, independent films, such as Tom Cruisedid in “Magnolia.” Have you ever been interested in doing a film like that, something that bends or expands your persona?
I don’t want to get defensive, but I think “K-19” is pretty edgy.
How is that?
Listen, I feed opportunistically. I choose among the things that are offered to me. I pursue some things, develop some things. I don’t have the same sense of the importance of whether a film is independent or not, and these days I don’t even know what that means.
Would you ever like to play a purely evil person or a morally ambiguous guy?
Yeah. Show me the script. Show me a script where it works, where it’s interesting for me and for an audience.
You’re never offered that kind of thing?
Wouldn’t that make you hungry to seek such roles out, or are you just not interested?
Look, let me make this clear. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I don’t have any problem with it. I will continue doing what I’m doing as long as it serves the public weal.
Speaking of that — a term like “public weal” — you’ve often called yours a “service profession” and fans “clients.” I don’t believe you’re being cynical, but rather bluntly realistic.
It’s a job. Our job is as storytellers. We’re troubadours. We tell people stories that reflect our culture, our history, our animal nature. That to me is an interesting thing to do, and it’s a way for me to connect with the culture, to feel a kind of cultural utility.
According to popularity polls and magazine pronouncements over the years, you’re one of the most popular, sexiest, most talented and magnificent people who ever lived.
That doesn’t mean anything.
But it’s nice.
It’s better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish, but it doesn’t get you through the day.
The public regards stars like you through this rosy glass, but certainly you grapple with the existential issues we all deal with, like the elusiveness of happiness.
Sure. I’m a human being, I live in the real world. I have real-life problems like everybody else. That never goes away.
Anything in particular you want to talk about?
No, but thanks so much for the opportunity.
What do you think about the most recent “Star Wars” movies?
They’re just different kinds of movies. The audience has changed; the technology has changed; George (Lucas) has changed . . .
How has George changed? What’s his deal these days?
Oh, I’m not going there. The movies are different on account of it being 20 years later. It would be odd if they didn’t change. But I think they’re very good filmmaking. They’re great.
Explain your involvement in the conservation movement.
I’ve been on the board of Conservation International for about 15 years. We’re concerned about the planet we live on, that we have something left to leave our children that’s not so diminished by our human imprint. It’s not sustainable, it doesn’t work anymore.
Any opinions on the war?
Not for you.