Interviewd by Bridgette Steinmetz
Published in Playboy South Africa December 2011
The guy who took a gun to a sword fight… Harrison Ford will always be Indiana Jones, yet at 69, he has brought enough famous characters to life who speak to several generations simultaneously. His movies have hauled in billions, but he manages to stay untouched by all of Tinsel Town’s smoke and mirrors.
PLAYBOY: You recently starred in the very popular Cowboys & Aliens movie. Do you think there are aliens out there?
HARRISON FORD: Frankly, I don’t really think about it very much. I’m sure there’s life in other places in the universe. I think the concept that we are singular is a kind of human vanity. But more than that, I don’t give it that much thought.
PLAYBOY: What was your first reaction when they pitched you this role and you saw the words “cowboys and aliens” in the title? Sometimes science-fiction can be tricky. Were you reluctant at first?
HARRISON FORD: The truth is, I read about 30 pages and I called my agent and said I’m not interested; I don’t get it. (laughter). And he said well, why don’t you finish the script? So I did, and I thought there was something very original about it as a film, but I didn’t really relate to the characters yet until I went and met with Director Jon Favreau and began to talk to him about the character and its utility in the film. Then I began to become more intrigued by the opportunity of playing this character.
I have to find an element of believability, a kind of emotional reality that I can relate to.
PLAYBOY: How was it working with Daniel Craig?
HARRISON FORD: Well, I can tell you that it was a pleasure in that he’s very accomplished and he’s very sensitive to the storytelling process. He is also very generous. In the measure of it all, this is a Daniel Craig movie: he’s the one with the mystery; he’s the man that it’s all based on.
PLAYBOY: What is Harrison Ford like? You seem to have a kind of mystery about you.
HARRISON FORD: Well, I think part of the mystery that you may be talking about comes from what characters you’ve seen me play in the past. The mystery is in how that part folds into this one. Daniel was wonderful in making space for the character that I play.
PLAYBOY: In the film, as Jon Favreau says, there’s a moment where there’s basically James Bond and Han Solo on screen at the same time, and the fans are really waiting for… some confrontation… some resolution…
HARRISON FORD: Well there was one moment when Daniel’s character was going to carry a gun for the rest of the movie and I was going to carry a gun for the rest of the movie. I had come to town, not only because he had been part of the reason my son was locked up, but I had come to town because he had stolen my gold and I wanted him dead, or I wanted my gold back. And if we were going to go through the rest of this movie, both of us armed, we had to have a unity of purpose. So there was a moment where we had to come to terms with the fact that we were both standing on the same step, as it were, and we needed each other. I needed his weapon, and he needed my capacity to bring the rest of the town with us to try and get these people back. And it was clear that it was an obligation and both of us realise that it’s probably better that we just let it (the animosity) go right there. So there’s a moment where they come to terms with each other very early on.
PLAYBOY: You have played iconic characters and you have had a really long, successful career. What gives you passion on your job?
HARRISON FORD: I love storytelling. I love the problem-solving aspect of film-making. I like working in collaboration with talented people. I like not having to have a real job.
PLAYBOY: It’s not boring; it never gets boring?
HARRISON FORD: Not for me, because I never feel that the job is ever over. I used to build houses with a Russian lady architect and I would say, “I saw the plan, I know I agreed last week that that was fine, but I’ve got another idea now,” and she would say, [he speaks with a Russian accent] “Okay, no limitt forr betterrr.” No limit for better. That’s my motto. There is no limit for better. You keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get the best possible version of a scene, of a moment, of a movie. And that’s what makes it continually challenging and interesting for me.
PLAYBOY: You have said that part of what you enjoyed about this particular character is that you didn’t have to please the audience or make him lovable. Does that almost become a burden sometimes with all those other characters?
HARRISON FORD: When it’s the job to be the leading man, I don’t think about it as being a burden. I think about it as key to one of the challenges, one of the obligations to the job. I just understand it that way. So I never thought of it as a burden. If I was playing the leading man, I would enjoy it. Playing this kind of character has got a different kind of pleasure attached to it.
PLAYBOY: Do you also just get a thrill trampling on your image by doing something completely wacky like this?
HARRISON FORD: Not just for the sake of itself. Though I don’t think I have any particular respect for my image either. I don’t have any stake in my image; my image is not something that I’ve calculated that I want to end up with. My image is the sum total of all the experiences that people have had with me in films.
PLAYBOY: Daniel Craig said, “Harrison is not going to like hearing that, but he’s a real pleasure to work with.” Why would you not like that? You don’t like flattery do you?
HARRISON FORD: (laughs) I don’t know why he would say that. I’ll ask him. Maybe it’s because there’s this sort of (laughs) aspect about the legend of who I am, in that people think I am a kind of a curmudgeon, grumpy. So yeah, I’ve got no patience with flattery.
PLAYBOY: I have a history with you by the way. I had a phone interview scheduled with you but you called me at home about a day early, and I hung up on you and I said I cannot interview you now, and it was terrible… (laughter)
HARRISON FORD: Did I call you back the next day?
PLAYBOY: You did call me back the next day and that is basically the heart of my story: I think you were the only actor I’ve ever met who would do anything like that. And my only conclusion is that it’s because you used to be a carpenter; somebody who had to be in on time, respect his clients. You’ve had a real job before…
HARRISON FORD: Well, acting is actually a real job… It really is for me, and I think maybe many people don’t approach it as a real job, and that’s why you think that a lot of people don’t approach it as a real job, because a lot of people don’t.
PLAYBOY: Do you still do any carpentry, maybe in your spare time?
HARRISON FORD: Yeah, I do. I’m actually working now. I worked yesterday. We are finishing, hopefully, a new house, and I was over there working yesterday.
PLAYBOY: Is it nice to kind of get your hands dirty and do something different?
HARRISON FORD: I enjoy the work, yeah.
PLAYBOY: What is more satisfying: to have a piece of furniture or something finished that you made from beginning to end, or to finish a film? Because as an actor, it’s not like you wrote the screenplay, and you are only part of a…
HARRISON FORD: Well one of the things that I like about acting is that it gives me a sense of community. When I was a young person, I never liked team sports, I never was very social at all. I was always a kind of a loner. And I find a sense of community, a sense of group, a kind of tribal experience, when I work with a group of people that are making a film. And I love that opportunity to work with people. I also love the opportunity to work with all of the people that are working on my house and that’s a lot of fun for me.
PLAYBOY: And the finished product?
HARRISON FORD: The finished product? It doesn’t matter to me whether I sign my name at the bottom of it. I need to feel that I’ve done a good job on my part of it.
PLAYBOY: So what’s next for you?
HARRISON FORD: The goal is to get a job. I’m 69 years old, and there’s not that much work. I mean, I don’t spend my time trying to get a job, but the goal is to continue to work. I love the work, and it keeps me involved and active and interested.
PLAYBOY: How long can you go without working without getting itchy or longing for…
HARRISON FORD: (laughs) I can go a year, a year-and-a-half. I have in the past, but there was a whole period of time when I did two movies a year. I can’t do that anymore.
PLAYBOY: Do you read a lot of scripts?
HARRISON FORD: Well, I read those scripts in which I have a character in them that might be offered to me. I don’t read anything that I’m not offered.
PLAYBOY: There is a school of actors who just read every script and go for something that sounds interesting, or start their own production companies and develop films.
HARRISON FORD: I do, from time to time, develop things from books, but I’m not so interested in doing that job of development. I have other things that are of interest to me in my life, and other things I want to pursue. I don’t want to be doing the movie business all the time. So I’m happy to feed opportunistically when something comes along.
PLAYBOY: Do you know that your movies have earned in total $3.6 billion at the box office?
HARRISON FORD: It means nothing to me.
PLAYBOY: And what would you do if you had that $3.6 billion yourself?
HARRISON FORD: It means nothing to me. I don’t think anything would change. I don’t think about the money at all. The object of success is to be enabled by that success, to have more options, better choices, the next time.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any patience with how stars are created nowadays?
HARRISON FORD: I don’t know how stars are created nowadays…
PLAYBOY: I’m thinking of American Idol, Star Search, America’s Next whatever.
HARRISON FORD: Well that’s what I’ve never understood, wanting to be a movie star. I’ve never understood wanting to be famous. I’ve only understood wanting to have work.
PLAYBOY: Is it more annoying to be famous nowadays than it was 30 years ago for you personally?
HARRISON FORD: I don’t service the process of being famous. I have all these guys all the time coming from TMZ, and they jump out of a car and they’ve got a camera right in my face and they start talking to me. And it’s clear to me if I ever talk back to them what will happen. Eventually they are going to stop.
PLAYBOY: And do they stop?
HARRISON FORD: Well they haven’t yet, (laughter) but I’ve never talked to them, because I’m not in that business. They are in this business of jumping stars or famous people, and trying to get them to talk to them. I might as well say to that guy, look, I’m not in this business. I don’t do this. That’s not what I do. I’m an assistant storyteller, that’s what I do.
PLAYBOY: Are you a good storyteller when there’s no camera rolling?
HARRISON FORD: Jokes? I can tell good jokes.
PLAYBOY: Do you have one right now? (laughs)
HARRISON FORD: No.
PLAYBOY: Not even a one-liner?
HARRISON FORD: No, no. Mine tend to be a little long and usually rude. (laughter)
PLAYBOY: Well PLAYBOY Magazine likes that.
PLAYBOY: Have you kept anything memorable, any souvenirs from any of your movies that you just loved and kept in your house?
HARRISON FORD: No.
PLAYBOY: Not a whip, not a hat?
HARRISON FORD: No. I don’t like to be surrounded by movie stuff in my house.
PLAYBOY: Is it a kind of sanctuary away from the business then?
HARRISON FORD: It’s just another world, it’s just another world.
PLAYBOY: Has playing such iconic characters in the past ever felt like a heavy load for you?
HARRISON FORD: (pauses, begins to tell a joke) So, this woman goes into the grocery store, she looks around, and she says to this guy working in the produce department, “Where’s the broccoli?” He says, “Sorry lady, we are out of broccoli. We’ll have some tomorrow.” A couple of minutes later this lady is calling over the pile of potatoes, “Hey, hey,” she says, “I can’t find the broccoli. Why don’t you have any broccoli?” He looks at the same lady, he says, “Lady, we are all out, we’ll have some tomorrow.” A couple of minutes later, this woman walks up to him and says, “Why don’t you have any broccoli?” He says, “Lady, do me a favour, how do you spell dog?” She says, “What?” He says, “How do you spell dog, like in dogmatic?” She says, “D-O-G.” He says, “How do you spell cat, like in category?” She says, “C-A-T.” He says, “How do you spell fuck, like in broccoli?” She says, “There ain’t no ‘fuck’ in broccoli.” He says, “That’s what I’m trying to tell you lady!” (laughter)
PLAYBOY: I can’t remember jokes. That’s an art to remember jokes.
HARRISON FORD: You have a machine. (points at recorder.)
PLAYBOY: Yeah I do, but in general you don’t have a machine.
HARRISON FORD: No. But I remember because I like stories. I also like the construction of jokes; I like the way jokes are made. That’s actually what, in a way, interested me in making movies: how you put a brick on a brick and you have the foundation for a character and you add bricks to finally make something that makes sense to the overall telling of the story.
PLAYBOY: You produced a movie last year, called Extraordinary Measures. How did it feel being on the other side, not in front of the camera?
HARRISON FORD: I do that from time to time, but I don’t do it unless there’s a part in it that I’m trying to make for myself. I don’t want to just produce movies that other people are going to be involved in. But I don’t mind producing something that might have a part for me in it that I think is interesting and that I wouldn’t otherwise get. In other words, if it were a movie that wouldn’t get made if I didn’t have a hand in producing it.
PLAYBOY: You are turning 69… Do you give much thought about the idea of aging in Hollywood?
HARRISON FORD: No, I have a 10-year-old kid at home, so I plan to live forever. (laughter). It doesn’t make me feel young or old, it makes me feel a part of the process of growing up and it’s always a pleasure to see this process of learning, and growing; to be a part of that.
PLAYBOY: But besides the 10-year-old kid, you also have two sons that do somethingcompletely different with great success
HARRISON FORD: My son Ben runs a restaurant called Ford’s Filling Station. He does very hard work.
PLAYBOY: And your other son is a great furniture designer.
HARRISON FORD: He’s not a designer, he’s actually an entrepreneur, he has several businesses. One of them is importing high-end furniture, but he also has a clothing line. He lives in Chinatown and he also is a Martial Arts teacher.
PLAYBOY: It seems like 90% of Hollywood offspring try to get into the entertainment industry. Did you talk them out of it?
HARRISON FORD: No, I don’t think I ever…
PLAYBOY: Are you are great cook yourself?
HARRISON FORD: We cooked more when Ben was still busy growing up. We would cook together a fair amount, yeah, but I don’t feel responsible for his becoming a chef. It is something that he wanted to do and something that he worked very hard at, and that is why he’s so successful, I think, because he’s talented and he works hard. I like to eat, and I like to cook, but I like to do meals in minutes. I’m not interested in something that’s going to take a long period of time.
PLAYBOY: Any specialty that you cook in five minutes?
HARRISON FORD: No, nothing very special. I just like simply grilled meats and fishes and fresh vegetables.
PLAYBOY: Broccoli? (laughs)
HARRISON FORD: Yeah, broccoli is good.