Ever since audiences fell in love with him as Han Solo in Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the famous Spielberg franchise, Harrison Ford has elevated the heart rates of fans male and female. Now he's trying something new: playing a "bad guy" in Cowboys & Aliens with Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde. The movie legend sat down with Buzzine to talk about being a fan of animated kids' movies, why he choses the projects he picks, and how he stays diverse in his characters while bringing as much as he can to the story...
Emmanuel Itier: Which westerns did you love when you were a teenager?
Harrison Ford: I didn’t go to movies much when I was a kid. I still don’t go to movies much. I like working in movies, but I somehow just don’t end up going movies very much, actually. So I don’t think I have a favorite western, to tell you the truth.
EI: Never in all of your life?
HF: I also don’t do favorites. I got five kids; I don’t have a favorite kid. I’ve got a bunch of airplanes; I don’t have favorite airplane.
HF: No. Again, you don’t want to eat the same thing over and over again. After you’ve been having steak for a long time, beans taste fine. So I like variety and I like changing things up, and I don’t think in terms of favorites.
EI: In that case, doing Cowboys & Aliens must have been a good change-up.
HF: It was nice to have an opportunity to play a character part and ignore the usual responsibilities of a leading man and indulge myself in creating a character where I didn’t have to apply for sympathy to the audience. They could hate me, and I wouldn’t disadvantage the film.
EI: But your character started as kind of a bad guy but then becomes a good guy…
HF: But then it wouldn’t have been worth following him if the circumstance of the story described hadn’t changed him. What we want to see is people. Our understanding of them is clear enough so we watch how they affect the story, and then we’re also able to track how the story affects them. One of the things I always think about when I’m trying to create a character is: what’s the utility of this character to the telling of the story? How can I help tell the story? That’s the simplest way for me to describe how I make choices. In each scene, in each line of dialogue, that’s the reference. How can I help tell the story? Haven’t I said this already before? Why am I saying this again? Let me find something more to bring to the meal. When you do that, when you alloy your character to the story, then you find that that gives you a strength; that you know if your concentration was totally on your character, if you’re really the kind of actor who said, “My character wouldn’t do that,” well then how the hell do we get to this next part of the story? Figure out how to make your character a person who would do that. Take the responsibility of being part of the foundation/building blocks of the story.
EI: What were your initial reactions and thoughts when you heard about this project called Cowboys & Aliens?
HF: I saw the title, I read the first 30 pages, and frankly I called my agent; I said, “There’s nothing for me in this.” He said, “I remember you distinctly telling me that you wanted to be in movies that people want to see, right?” I said, “Yeah, I did,” and he said, “Well, this is the kind of movie that people go to now.” I said, “Oh okay, I take your point.” So I read the rest of it, and it is. I hadn’t had much experience. I said I don’t go to movies, so I didn’t have much experience with this movie, and I didn’t have any reference to the comic book or that part of the whole thing. So if you read the whole screenplay and you don’t know what the tone of it is going to be, you don’t know whether the director wants to make a comedy or wants to make an adventure, some more serious ambition. Then you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. So I went and talked to Jon [Favreau] about that. That’s what I wanted to know. What’s the tone of this? Will you be ambitious to control the tone of it? Because that was another question. As I talked to them, I began to develop a lot more confidence in the idea. I learned that the script was still in development, so some of the questions I had about the character were things that I could still have an influence over. I met Daniel [Craig], who was involved with the picture from very early on and who was willing to make a little space for my character for further development, and I developed confidence in the project.
EI: Did you have any direct input? I didn’t know this, but one of my colleagues told me that, in Star Wars, when you get encapsulated in kryptonite, whatever it is, Princess Leia says, “I love you,” and you say back, “I know.” And in the script it was, “I love you too,” but you weren’t too fond of that that would take something away…
HF: You didn’t know that? Somebody told you that?
EI: No, I didn’t know. Someone told me that. It gave me a whole new level of respect for you, and I love your movies. But was there something in here where you said, “This is not really for me. This is not my character.”
HF: I don’t like to take credit when it’s a collaborative process and there are a lot of people involved in it. It doesn’t work that way. If you have an idea, and the idea seems useful to the director and he embraces it, that’s good thing. But you bring an ambition just to realize the best result, and I don’t take ownership in that really.
EI: I really love some of your movies. Hollywood Homicide was fun, between comedy, and I really love your character in Morning Glory also, but it’s very difficult to understand what the public wants and which kinds of people are going to see the movie. Can you tell me something about this? Something changed. Do you know? We don’t know where we are going…
HF: We’re not going to the movies, is what it would amount to. Kids are going to the movies. Movies are coming to our homes, as the older audience has now decided they’d rather stay home and rent a DVD or watch it on cable television than go to a theatre, and that’s a whole different business. It’s also a whole different experience which people are now used to having. But the true virtue of a film is that you go into a specially built box where they turn out the lights and turn up the sound, and you sit in a room with a bunch of other human beings, and you feel a sense of community because the lights are out, you’re uninhibited, you’re in a context where you can be encouraged to feel by the music, by the story, and you feel something in community, and it makes you feel human -- and that’s the virtue of a theatre experience. It’s not replicated when you’re at home and you say, “I think I’ll go take a pee,” and you go and take a pee. Then you decided to go to the refrigerator and then you go back, and people you’ve been watching with have decided to read the book, and blah, blah, blah -- it’s just not the same thing. So that’s what happened to the movie business. As well, the culture has become very segmented. We’re broken down into a different demographic usually based on age now – this segment of the audience, from 16 to 25 men like this, 16 to 25 women like this, and then men over 35 don’t like that but they do like this... It’s hard to make a movie with the cost of money and the cost of technology -- the sophisticated technology we use these days -- that will satisfy the investors with a return on their investment.
EI: A long time ago, I remember you said, “It’s very difficult for me to do independent movies, especially after the time of Star Wars.” In London, in a press conference, we asked, “Why don’t you do independent small movies?” And you said, “That’s a different type of movie that generally I don’t do.” Are you thinking now to do small, independent movies, also for TV, with interesting characters for you, or not?
HD: I’m more interested in seeing something on a bigger screen. I really just think that you can play with an orchestra or you can play in your own cocktail lounge. I like playing with an orchestra.
EI: Why don’t you go to watch movies?
HF: I’m not really trying to make sense here. [Laughs] I’m just explaining what the truth is. I do other things. I have other things to do somehow. When I do go and it’s a good movie, I have a great time. I go to movies with my 10-year-old son. We go to kids’ movies.
EI: Kids’ movies are good these days…
HF: Animation movies are perfect. They’re darn good. Some of them are really good.
EI: Are you watching your own movies?
HF: Oh, I always watch my own movies. You have to. I don’t watch them after they’re made; I watch them while we’re making it and I can still have some influence over the outcome here.
EI: But you go to premieres and you see your own movies there, right?
HF: Oh, no, no. When lights go out, I go to the bar. [Laughs] I’ve already seen it 20 times, and I probably sat in the back of a test screening of it and saw how people react and talked to people about it. I work here.
EI: Does this movie live up to your expectations when you saw it in completion? Because doing the special effects-heavy movies are always a leap of faith with previews and all that…
HF: Absolutely. I saw it at various stages, and I had real faith in the ambitions and skills of Jon and the other people involved. I thought we had a pretty good shot. I knew intimately the cowboy part of the story because that was the part that was first finished, and then the visual elements are the last things to come in, so I wasn’t so sure about the alien part, but I was pretty convinced that we were solid on that. But in this day and age, you really don’t know how an audience is going to react to it. We still don’t know, having played it for test audience and things.
EI: You said previously you had to call your agent and you told them you want to be in movies that people see. Did you see you lose touch of what people are seeing?
HF: No, I just realize that, with fewer opportunities because fewer movies are being made, I had to make sure that – I’m 69 years old – if I want to continue to work, you’ve got to be available for that kind of movie as well, which is the kind of movie that younger people are interested in going to.
EI: There’s a lot of talk of a new Blade Runner movie, of maybe developing it into a TV series and things like that. How do you feel about it?
HF: I don’t have any feeling about it whatsoever. It was an interesting part of my professional life. I’m glad I made that movie. I’m glad that it eventually got released without the hideous voiceover, and I don’t have a judgment about how wise it is to revisit it. The ambition every time that I’ve been involved in a sequel to a film or on movies, I’ve had a number of iterations. I always felt that we were responsible for bringing something new to the characters and to the experience of the audience. If they go into it with the ambition and some very good idea of how to bring something new to it, maybe it will be successful. I wouldn’t feel bad if I were not invited to the party, because I would understand that they would want fresh blood to be spilled. So there you are. They’re making another Jack Ryan movie and I’m not involved, so that’s the way it is.
EI: Can you tell me something about the work of Ana de la Reguera in this movie?
HF: I can only tell you that I didn’t have a chance to work her. I chatted with her on the set. She’s a very charming lady, and I think she’s wonderful in the part that she has. I’m glad we’re able to attract her interest and have her in the film. The movie business has become a very international business, so I think that’s wonderful that there are opportunities for actors from other cultures and other countries to work in different places. Very pleased that she was part of our effort.
EI: You’ve had a wonderful career. Is there something you really wanted to do as an actor? I asked the same question to Jack Nicholson and he said, “I want the role of a man that is not young anymore but could love and desire something.” So is there something that you want to do still as an actor -- a role, something?
HF: Yeah, but I don’t have a poetic face to put down Old Jack. What I’m interested in doing is something I haven’t done. That’s exciting to me. This is the first villain I’ve ever played. Having a chance to do character parts now is very interesting to me. I’m a workman in the industry. I work on building movies. I think of myself as a craftsman, so wherever I can be useful, where I can be gainfully employed, where I can be engaged and challenged, that’s where I want to be.
Universal Pictures' 'Cowboys & Aliens' is released on July 29, 2011.