LOS ANGELES—With his scowl and razor sharp stare, Harrison Ford always seems, at first glance, very intimidating. But over the years, we’ve come to know that behind the often unsmiling façade is a man with a wry, if gruff, sense of humor.
Laughter abounded in our recent press con with Harrison because most of the reporters came prepared to ask about the big news—his reported “Star Wars” reunion with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in the upcoming “Episode VII.”
But the interview was for director Brian Helgeland’s “42,” about baseball legend (played by Chadwick Boseman) and trailblazing Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison), so the veteran actor preferred to answer questions about that film.
He playfully dismissed direct questions about J.J. Abrams’ stab at the franchise, and parried the cleverly dissimulated ones with lines like “Is that a thinly disguised ‘Star Wars’ question? Get out of here.”
Harrison admitted that he has resigned himself to the fact that interviews are necessary to promote his films, but he’s still not comfortable opening himself up to the media.
With a straight face, he quipped: “But, I’m more inured to the water-boarding. I’ve learned to swim with the sharks.”
On his transformation into Rickey, a visionary executive who, together with Robinson, helped desegregate major league baseball, Harrison said, “When I showed up for the first costume fitting, I asked for a fat suit.
“That began the process of taking Harrison Ford out of the picture. It would have been no service to this film, to the audience, to carry their history with me in other movies to this film. I wanted Branch Rickey to be bigger than Harrison Ford. It was a pretty simple but gratifying transformation. I shaved my hairline up. I did a little of this and that.”
Grinning while pointing at and pulling his sagging jowls, Harrison dished, “Some lady yesterday said, ‘Wow—the prosthetics that you were wearing—the jowls…’ I said, ‘Lady, those weren’t prosthetics. Open your eyes. Those are my jowls.’”
Complimented by a reporter about his transformation, especially the “aging part,” the 70-year-old cracked, “Look, let me adjust your perception. Branch Rickey was 65 when this was going on. For me, this is an opportunity to play a younger man.” (The room broke into laughter again.) “But, I don’t care about that at all. I just want to be useful in telling stories and playing different kinds of people.”
Our favorite “grumpy” actor paid his co-star the best compliment: “Chadwick is more evolved, has more capacity and more understanding than I had when I had ‘overnight success,’ albeit a 15-year-old ‘night.’ Chadwick is very mature for his age. He’s going to be around for a long time.”
Harrison professed that he does still love to work. “I love being with the people who make movies,” he stressed. “I like the problem solving aspect of filmmaking. I like the emotional and intellectual exercise I get from it. It’s my utility in life. So my ambition is to continue to be useful.”
Harrison, whose five children’s ages range from 45 to 12, was asked if helping raise the latter, Liam (his wife Calista Flockhart’s adopted son), takes a lot of his energy. “It’s not the 12-year-old who takes the energy,” he replied. Laughing, he said, “It’s the 45-year-old (Benjamin, a chef and restaurateur). Kids are kids forever, whether they are 45 or 12.
“The 12-year-old is the one at home. He’s the one we’re responsible for. 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.”
Harrison shared that his only daughter, Georgia, is an aspiring actress. The dad volunteered, “She was asked, ‘What does the fact that you’re Harrison Ford’s daughter mean?’ She said, ‘It helps you get your foot in the door but it will never get you the job.’ That’s the same thing for me. Being Harrison Ford just helps me get my foot in the door. What gets me the job is my understanding of what the task is and the willingness I have to be part of a collaboration to try and help make it work. It’s my passion that gets me the job, not what I did in the past.”
He expressed gratitude that, despite the onslaught of young actors, there are still roles like Rickey that also fulfill him. “I’m lucky that, from time to time, there’s a good part for somebody of my relative age,” he emphasized. “I’m quite happy to work a little bit less. I really enjoy playing character parts, show up for a couple of weeks, get some of the best scenes, go home and let them finish up on their own time.”
As for Calista’s life with him, Harrison pointed out with a smile, “Keeping up with me is fairly easy. Putting up with me is a little bit more difficult.”
When asked about what kind of legacy Harrison would like to leave behind, his no-nonsense attitude prompted this answer, which did not surprise us at all: “I’m not interested in a legacy. There’s a line in the movie when it’s the beginning of another season. Branch Rickey says to his assistant, ‘Another season. All future, no past.’ That’s the way I approach life. I’m all about right now and what’s ahead. I don’t really think much about the past, except that I do reflect on and understand the enormous luck that I’ve had.”
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