Harrison Ford on Indiana Jones, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘going on one last adventure’
There’s good reason why the American Film Institute calls Indiana Jones the second greatest movie hero of all time, just behind Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
After all, the globe-trotting, whip-wielding, and fedora-wearing archeologist has been capturing viewers’ imagination since he began looking for the Ark of the Covenant (in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), the Sankara Stones (in 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”), the Holy Grail (in 1989’s “The Last Crusade”) and the telepathic crystal skull (in 2008’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”). In “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” which opens in Philippine theaters on Wednesday, director James Mangold (“Ford v Ferrari,” “Logan,” “Girl, Interrupted”) steps into Steven Spielberg’s very large shoes and helps Indy tamper with the accepted concepts of science for his fifth and final hurrah.
This time, Indy, with his estranged goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in tow, is in hot pursuit of the Archimedes Dial, an artifact — described as the oldest known example of an analog computer — used in ancient Greece to calculate information about astronomical phenomena and predict the fissures of time.
“The moment I knew the movie was about time, opportunities missed and lost, choices made, irrevocable mistakes, the next question [became], ‘What would be the only thing that would allow me to fix time itself?’” mused the 59-year-old director in an interview. “The research that I found about the Antikythera, rumored to be an invention of Archimedes, has been speculated to be a kind of time compass.”
The themes surrounding redemption, renewal, and the passage of time, as it turned out, immediately resonated with the iconic 80-year-old actor who first brought Indiana Jones to the big screen 42 years ago: Harrison Ford.
Aside from the “Indiana Jones” film series, the movie star and cultural icon is similarly celebrated for his portrayals in, among many others, “Star Wars,” “Blade Runner,” “Air Force One” and the Jack Ryan franchise.
While “Dial of Destiny” deemed it vital to preserve all the qualities that made Indy a flashpoint for generations of moviegoers, its movers and shakers, among them George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, knew that it would be foolhardy to ignore the legendary movie star’s ripe age.
Set in 1969, the movie — a blast of heartwarming nostalgia and trippy, old-school adventure — finds Indy preparing to retire after more than a decade of teaching archeology at New York’s Hunter College.
It’s a lonely life devoid of death-defying exploits and Nazi-busting excitement, with not much to look forward to — especially after his marriage to his wife, Marion (Karen Allen), had hit the rocks.
When we spoke to Harrison in a roundtable interview with James Mangold last week, he told us that he often finds himself reflecting about his own life experiences every time he gets a chance to revisit his popular screen characters.
Asked how he looked at Indiana Jones differently for “Dial of Destiny,” Harrison mused, “As an actor, you are the lens of the story, which is the foundation of these events. The character has got to tell that story.
“We had a lot of discussions about what the story might be. But James had crafted a script that didn’t just meet Steven’s or my ambition, he also managed to deliver a complex, fun family movie that plays out like a logical extension to what we had built before.
“I’ve always wanted this series of films with Indy to be rounded out by acknowledging the age of the character and his circumstances. I wanted to have some fun using all of what we had woven together, then add to it things that are very interesting — like his retirement from the academe.
“More than that, there’s also Indy’s separation from his family, his redemption through regenerated ambition, as well as the joy of going on one last adventure. You’ll see Indy acting his age.”
The challenge of making a fifth Indiana Jones film was as much a high-wire act for James as it was for Harrison, but as the latter pointed out, “I can tell you very simply that what James brought to this was a beautiful story and script that he developed with the Butterworth brothers, John-Henry and Jez. So, we brought all the pieces to the party and we had a great time playing with him.”
Admittedly, the gargantuan task was initially intimidating for James. He explained, “The director of the four previous movies was Steven Spielberg … someone who’s been a huge influence on me all my life.
“Like Steven, I’ve made movies in different genres. We share a real passion for motion pictures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. And many of the directors we both admire are filmmakers who could go from one genre to another, like John Ford who went from ‘Stagecoach’ to ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ to a World War II picture. Each of these genres has its own sensibilities.
“What I brought to it was a profound admiration for what had already been done before. I had no interest [in changing it]. My first interest wasn’t to bend something that’s working so well to my will. Rather, I just wanted to have fun in this sandbox that George, Steven, Harrison, Lawrence Kasdan had created. We don’t have to always have to intellectualize everything. “If my participation to this movie feels like a natural fit, I think it comes from the fact that, even though the director’s chair is filled by someone different, the previous director is but a text away.
“These collaborators cherish the same things. So, in the case of ‘Indiana Jones,’ that comes in the form of beautifully staged action scenes that border on being musical sequences. They’re charming and driven by character. These movies are not about superheroes or indestructible souls, but extremely vulnerable people who just happen to be brave enough to take on the enemy.
“We abide by these defining principles, the sense of globe-trotting and intermeshing cultures, the sense of wonder and mysticism, the framing of the John Williams score — all these elements bring us back to that wonderful golden-age sensibility of moviemaking that we miss.” (More about James Mangold in a separate article.)
The rest of our Q&A with Harrison:
The “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” films were responsible for inspiring many of Hollywood’s current top directors to pursue a career in the movies. Did you think that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Star Wars” were going to be as big as they are now when you were filming them?
In a word, no. Did I think they might be successful films? Yes—or I would have run away (laughs). It might have seemed odd to the British crew when we were making the first “Star Wars.”
They might have said, “What’s going on here?” Like, there’s a seven-foot-tall man in a dog suit. There’s also a beautiful princess, a wise old warrior and a callow youth. Then, there’s a smartass—I know the part I play (laughs). And it’s fun!
I thought, “This is a fairy tale.” This kind of story has always been successful, whether it’s a written or filmed fairy tale. At that point in my career, it didn’t matter to me that the film would become hugely successful and end up changing movie history.
But I was grateful because it changed my life. I had opportunities that extended beyond director George Lucas’ and my success in making that film. It gave me freedom and opportunities that I never had imagined I might have.
It’s the same thing with Indiana Jones, except that it’s not a fairy tale. It’s a different kind of construction, but it is recognizable as the kind of film that is broadly enjoyed by moviegoers from all walks of life.
It’s so much fun to watch these films because they’re beautifully written. They’re so artfully contrived and populated with such fantastic actors … Just look at the actors I’ve had the opportunity to work with! So, it’s been nothing but joy for me.
How were the action scenes filmed, since you were almost 80 when “Dial of Destiny” was being made?
Well, I only wanted to do action scenes as a 77-year-old man, not as Indiana Jones from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I wanted to be the Indy you see right in front of your face.
Age has taken its toll, but wisdom and experience have been acquired. It’s the same armature, but it’s a different Indy as history has shaped him.
Indy is at a point where he’s no longer the adventurer. He’s now an academic who teaches archaeology. He studies the past with students who care only about the future … about landing on the moon. He’s a fish out of water. He’s dispirited. After retiring, he’s got no job anymore. Worse, his family is fragmented.
Then along comes this opportunity for one last adventure that’s imposed on him. But we see him rise and revivified. And the pleasure for the audience of seeing this guy acquire his original vigor is one of the beautiful things about the way the script is written.