Interviews


Harrison Ford


Occupation: Actor
Date of Birth: July 13, 1942
Place of Birth: Chicago, Ill., USA
Sign: Sun in Cancer, Moon in Cancer
Relations: Wife: Melissa Mathison (screenwriter); ex-wife: Mary Ford; kids: Benjamin, Willard, Malcolm, Georgia; brother: Terence
Education: Ripon College, flunked out a month before graduation

 

BEHIND every Great American Movie Star, there seems to be a Great American Hard-Luck Story. Harrison Ford wasn't exactly born in a log cabin, but the tale of his early career is long on rejection and frustration, and desperately short on money (at one point, he hastily taught himself carpentry to survive). Of course, every Great American Hard-Luck Story must have its happy ending, and Ford's is no different: these days, he cashes eight-figure paychecks and relaxes between films at his ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Given the heroic attributes of Ford's best-loved on-screen characters, there is no small irony in the events of his childhood, in suburban Des Plaines, Illinois: as a young runt, he had few friends and was a natural target for schoolyard bullies. He exuded hopeless nerdiness during his years at Maine Township High in nearby Park Ridge, where he earned C and D grades, hung out mostly with the girls, and served as one of those audiovisual assistants who push projectors from room to room. After graduation, Ford attended tiny, rigidly conservative Ripon College in Wisconsin, where he majored in English. It wasn't an easy place for a young beatnik to be, and Ford was bounced from Ripon's R.O.T.C. program for refusing to cut his hair; he readily admits that he spent most of his time at college sleeping. A summer acting in stock theatre captured his interest, and while he was informed the following spring that he had failed too many of his classes to graduate, he headed for Los Angeles in a beat-up Volkswagen bus with his college sweetheart-wife, Mary Marquardt, and a dream of becoming an actor.

It quickly became apparent that finding steady work in his chosen profession would be no easy feat. A relentless perfectionist, Ford was ejected from talent stables at both Columbia and Universal for his refusal to cooperate with directors and producers who did not share his standards of excellence. One studio executive told him he was hopelessly lacking in "star quality," and at age twenty-four, Ford took a carpenter's job building a new recording studio for Brazilian composer Sergio Mendes. Despite the fact that his only knowledge of carpentry came from a book he checked out of the Encino Public Library, Ford discovered he possessed a natural gift with tools, and before long the novice builder was earning a respectable living constructing everything from decks to bookcases. He occasionally supplemented his income with small television and film roles whenever he could land them.

Perhaps the most fateful casting of his career was for a role that Ford very nearly passed up. A promising young director named George Lucas offered him a supporting part in his film American Graffiti, but Ford walked off the set in disgust when he learned that he would be paid only $485 a week--less than half what he was earning as a carpenter. Luckily, he changed his mind when the studio offered him an extra fifteen dollars a week. The film was a surprise hit, and, more importantly, it marked the beginning of a lasting friendship between director and actor. When Lucas was unable to cast the role of Star Wars' cynical space adventurer Han Solo, he asked Ford to read for the part and, at the age of thirty-four, the actor-turned-artisan was a star in one of the most phenomenal blockbusters in the history of cinema.

Although Star Wars made Ford a minor star, he had no luck replicating its box-office magic until Lucas's The Empire Strikes Back welcomed Han Solo back to the silver screen. The following year, as Lucas and Steven Spielberg were unable to schedule filming around Tom Selleck's commitment to Magnum P.I. on their first collaborative effort, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ford stumbled onto the role he was born to play. His performance as roguish archaeologist Indiana Jones was an unqualified critical and commercial smash, and made Ford both a household name and an international sex symbol. Accordingly, his career flourished; most notably, he strengthened his reputation as a commanding, intelligent actor in Ridley Scott's cult classic Blade Runner, and in Peter Weir's police thriller Witness (his performance in the latter film garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1985). Moviegoers responded favorably to his gift for portraying ordinary men who grapple with extraordinary circumstances while never losing sight of the irony of their situation--a quality which made huge hits out of Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games, The Fugitive, and Clear and Present Danger. The same wry perspective made his corporate fable Working Girl a hit on par with his man-on-the-run blockbusters.

Ford has two adult sons from his first marriage to Marquardt. That marriage ended in divorce in 1979, and four years later Ford married screenwriter Melissa Mathison. The couple has since boasted one of Hollywood's most stable marriages, and they have two children of their own.

Fans of Ford's action-oriented films thrilled to the 1997 releases of The Devil's Own, in which he played a tough-on-terrorist (Brad Pitt) New York policeman, and the hijacking-themed actioner Air Force One, in which he portrayed a tough-on-terrorism U.S. President. Ford next headlined a brace of romantic films: he co-starred opposite Anne Heche in the action-tinged romantic comedy 6 Days, 7 Nights, and appeared opposite Kristin Scott Thomas in the Sydney Pollack-directed drama Random Hearts, about a cop and a congresswoman who become involved after they discover that their recently deceased spouses were lovers. Fans will be happy to know there is another Indiana Jones adventure in the works, but don't hold your breath. "There's another script," Ford admits, but warns, "the last script took five years until everyone was happy."

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